Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Classics: NOSFERATU and THE BLUE ANGEL on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kino Classics: NOSFERATU and THE BLUE ANGEL on Blu-ray

NOSFERATU(1922; F.W. Murnau)
I was just recently listening to Patton Oswalt's book ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND and in it he recounts the story of the first time he saw Murnau's NOSFERATU. Apparently he was quite young and with a group of kids at his local library. One of the librarians there thought NOSFERATU would be a nice little movie to project for the youngsters. In doing so, she apparently terrified them and Patton himself recalls it as a very formative experience for him. 
I have always been fascinated by the idea of children being exposed to films that frighten them at a young age. It seems a rather cruel thing at first, but in my experience and in talking to other movie fans, it often seems that a jarring first run in with cinema like this often has the effect of putting kids on the path of a fascination with film that is lifelong. I know that was the case for me. Horror movies seem to have a certain "gateway drug" quality about them. It kind of makes sense when you think about it. Films have the power to evoke in us such a wife range of emotions and fear being one of the biggest ones. Fear is of course such a primal emotion as well and one that we are aware of at a very early age. There is also a catharsis with fear and cinema that I think has certainly kept people coming back to them for a long, long time. So it stands to reason that a child experiencing what they might later understand to be that catharsis may find it memorable. The idea that something can scare you, even traumatize you but not actually physically harm you can be something of a revelation. And then there is of course that fragile grasp that some kids may have on what the difference is between reality and fantasy that plays in here as well. But for me, and I'm not sure of the first movie I saw that scared me (though it may have been YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN believe it or not), it created a fascination with this medium that has stuck with me my whole life.
I'm also kind of tickled by the fact that something made so long ago can still have an impact and leave a lasting impression. That is a true testament to the power of the moving image. One thing Murnau definitely has as on his side as far as lasting impressions go is Max Schreck. Talk about nightmare fuel. In all the 91 years since NOSFERATU's release, even with all the advances we've made in the field of special effects, few cinematic creations can rival the look and effect of Schreck and his character in this film. He really does not seem human. I can only imagine the impression he must have left on moviegoers back in 1922. I could see him being the impetus for making some folks believe vampires were a real thing. It is one of those performances and he is one of those actors that are truly unforgettable.

"The Language of Shadows" - a 53 minute examination of Murnau's personal history and his early films, focusing on the making of NOSFERATU specifically. It goes into fine detail about the pre-production, locations and the process of filming the movie. The locations are one of the main focuses here and there are lots of present-day shot comparisons to show how little some of the locales haven't changed much since the time the film was made.
Also included as an extra are a collection of excerpts from Murnau including: JOURNEY INTO THE NIGHT (1920), THE HAUNTED CASTLE (1922), PHANTOM (1922), THE FIANCES OF THE GRAND DUKE (1924), THE LAST LAUGH (1924), TARTUFFE (1925), FAUST (1926) and TABU (1931).

Kino's Blu-ray transfer looks quite nice here and makes the disc a recommend. The fact that the film was tinted  in some scenes helps add to the otherworldly feel overall. And one nice thing about the Kino Blu-ray is that it has English intertitles as opposed to the subtitles of other releases. Some of these intertitles were preserved and some have been recreated.

The music feature here is Hans Erdmann's original 1922 score in both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.

THE BLUE ANGEL (1930, Josef von Sternberg)
In this early collaboration between von Sternberg and his muse Marlene Dietrich,  she plays a nightclub singer who begins to obsess a prudish school teacher (Emil Jannings). The teacher stumbles across Lola Lola (Dietrich) because some of his students have been frequenting the establishment (a speakeasy) where she works.
I first read about THE BLUE ANGEL in Danny Peary's Guide For The Film Fanstic (my favorite book if all time), one of many many films I was in need of discovering at the time. Seeing the movie mentioned there not only made me want to see it, but also lent an air of legitimacy to it (via Peary's endorsement) that I had not previously attributed to the film.
Marlene Dietrich is one of those actresses that was just made for the movies. Or rather it seems like movies were invented to show off personalities like hers. Though THE BLUE ANGEL was not her first film, she was relatively unknown before it and it could easily be considered her "breakout" as we would call it today. Danny Peary said of her in THE BLUE ANGEL, "With her casual manner toward men. (She was ready to skip out on lovers when she got bored and restless) her lack of ego (but a profound knowledge that she is the only one who will take care of her), her ironic attitude toward the hypocritical world and its strict moral code--men like the tyrannical professor condemn her but secretly desire her--her willingness to satisfy her own physical needs no matter who gets hurt, and her tantalizing beauty, she personified sinful sex, available to any man who would get in line."
Dietrich performs one of her most famous songs in this film,  "Falling in Love Again", which Madeleine Kahn would later parody with her song "I'm Tired" in Mel Brooks' western spoof BLAZING SADDLES. The Beatles even covered the song at one point. And Christina Aguilera contributed her own cover version to the soundtrack of the 2008 film THE SPIRIT. The song has indelibly becoming iconic and this is due in no small part to Dietrich and her performance in THE BLUE ANGEL. Another factor is if course von Sternberg and his own personal obsession with Dietrich. This was the beginning of his technique of photographing her in a lovely soft-focus kind of way that would be a part of the six Hollywood films they would make together. It has often been said that von Sternberg 'discovered' Dietrich and it is one of the earliest accounts of a director doing so for an actress. To my mins it is also one of the earliest examples of a director photographing an actress in such a way as to accentuate her beauty and thus help create an obsession with her with a wife audience as well. Dietrich is quite captivating in THE BLUE ANGEL (as she always is, but here she is younger than I'm used to seeing her) and it's not difficult to see why she would become one of the icons of cinema for all-time.

Josef von Sternberg filmed German and English versions of the film concurrently and both (including a restored German version) are included in this good-looking Kino set. The original German version (with English subs) runs 107 minutes and the English clocks in at 104 mins.
Additionally, this set includes a scene con patio between the two versions, Dietrich's screen test for THE BLUE ANGEL and interview and concert footage from her as well.

NOSFERATU and THE BLUE ANGEL can be purchased via Kino's site or Amazon and other retailers.

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