Movie Review: Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher
Director: Robert Wiene

Rating: 10/10

cabinet-of-dr-caligari 3The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) is just shy of a hundred years old, but it remains totally unique. Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t had an abiding influence on cinema – it’s final twist has been imitated by films as different as The Wizard of Oz and The Usual Suspects, and it’s bizarre yet touching henchman is said to have inspired Johnny Depp’s performance in Edward Scissorhands. But there’s nothing else remotely like it, and there never will be.

It was one of the first films to present a coherent style and aesthetic, in the belief that cabinet-of-dr-caligari 1style says something. Director Robert Wiene turned Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz’ story about the sinister Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss), who sets in motion a series of murders carried out by his somnambulist henchmen, Cesare (Conrad Veidt), into a showcase of Expressionist visuals, in particular the remarkable set designs by Robert Herlth and Walter Rohrig, with their painted-on shadows and their warped perspectives curving in at the top like an old Betamax tape.

cabinet-of-dr-caligari 4Over the years it’s been subject to all kinds of interpretations – Caligari, with his power to send people sleepwalking to their doom, has been seen as a proto-Hitler – but looking at it now, rejuvenated on this sparkling print, it’s the sexual subtexts which leap to the fore. At the centre of the story is a love triangle. Best friends Franzis (Friedrich Feher) and (the not very Germanic sounding) Alan both hanker for Jane (Lili Dagova), or say they do. Actually, Franzis seems quite content to stand aside and let Alan have at it, but he’s truly heartbroken when Alan dies, stabbed one night by Cesare. Maybe Alan was Franzis’ true love all along? That might explain why he seems so uncomfortable, and almost faints, when he visits Jane’s parlour (a modern audience will be quick to spot the way the hang of the curtains, and the round light-fitting dangling between them, precisely recall a certain part of the female anatomy).

As for Cesare, look past the heavy makeup and the stricken expression, and he’s cabinet-of-dr-caligari 2almost beautiful, a youngster too (we learn he’s 23), with the shaggy hair, narrow waist and trim physique of an X-Factor contestant. When he’s not laying down in the cabinet-cum-coffin, he stands bolt upright, and he’s about the only thing that does in the entire film. So perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that the life-size painting of Cesare that Caligari uses as a display piece to attract the crowds bears more than a passing resemblance to a giant phallus with a face. In which case, maybe all those backdrops of drooping lamp-posts and drunkenly tilting walls aren’t there just to look pretty – maybe they’re telling us something about the state of this little town’s libido?

cabinet-of-dr-caligari 6Expressionism as a metaphor for sexual dysfunction and repression? Cesare a walking hard-on – or more politely, the rising Id? A broken window standing in for a broken hymen? Put into words, it sounds crass and programmatic; put into moving images, these things have a way of cutting deep. The moment when Cesare bears Jane away across twisting rooftops is justly iconic, but it gains much of its impact from the scene immediately preceding it, when he snatches her from her bed. Here, for once in the film, you’re very aware of something real happening, of bodies struggling against each other.

But what does all that have to do with Dr Caligari? The common denominator, surely, is living a lie. Eventually, we discover that Caligari is leading a double life, but perhaps he’s not the only one. Maybe sexual guilt of one kind or another demands it of us all?

That said, theories will only get you so far with a movie like Caligari. One of the most fascinating moments in the film comes late on. Jane is sitting enthroned in the courtyard of a lunatic asylum like the Virgin Mary in heaven. Cesare’s there too, looking extremely dashing as he plays with a spray of flowers. What does it mean? Hard to say, but it’s gorgeous and troubling, and it’s power to resist final interpretation is part of its appeal.

This print retains a little damage but is generally very clean, with crisp detail and pretty cabinet-of-dr-caligari 5colour tinting. Some of the scenes have such immediacy, they look like they could have been filmed yesterday. It’s a lovely way to experience a movie that has never been surpassed as evocation of nightmare and neurosis.

Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari is being released theatrically in selected cinemas around the UK and Eire from 29th August.


DVD Review: Sake-Bomb

Starring: Gaku Hamada, Eugene Kim, Josh Brodis, Mariane Barnes
Director: Junya Sakino
Rating: 8/10

sake-bomb 2A sake bomb, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is a cup of sake dropped into a three-quarters-full pint of beer and downed in one. In this case, metaphorically speaking, the beer is Southern California, and the cup of sake falling into it is one Naoto (Gaku Hamada), a young Japanese man who comes to LA for a week’s holiday in hopes of tracking down his long-lost love Olivia and finding out why she left him without a word.

Tasked with assisting him in this endeavour is Naoto’s American-born cousin Sebastian (Eugene Kim), who confounds stereotypes of polite, hard-working Asians by being rude, lazy and unemployed (he whiles away his days posting sarcastic vlogs and watching his collection of vintage Asian-American porn). Sebastian takes an instant dislike to Naoto, who has all the virtues he lacks, but grudgingly agrees to drive him to San Francisco, Olivias’ last known whereabouts.

What follows is a fish out of water comedy with a twist. Because, while Naoto is sake-bomb 6embraced wherever he goes by westerners steeped in Japanese popular culture and thrilled to meet the real thing, it’s Sebastian who is the outsider, constantly at loggerheads with everyone around him and channelling his own very personal sense of inferiority into diatribes on the subtle racism concealed within 21st century multicultural discourse. And it’s this fearless engagement with a slippery topic which gives the film an impact far beyond that of your average buddie movie, culminating in a standout sequence (Sake-Bomb‘s equivalent of the deli scene in When Harry Met Sally) when Sebastian and Annie (Jessika Van), a Taiwanese girl, trade razor-sharp, ethnic-oriented insults in an increasingly frenzied tit-for-tat in an effort to get a rise out of each other.

sake-bomb 3At moments like these, Sake-Bomb seems to articulate a fresh, exciting new voice just as the early works of Spike Lee did. But there’s nothing hectoring about it. The vibe is relaxed and easygoing as the central duo encounter various cool characters played by bright young actors – Josh Brodis’ Michael, a charming gay guy who’s into cosplay, and Mariane Barnes’ Joslyn, a feisty redhead who writes comic books. The cinematography by Sam Yano is very interesting – bright, flattened, Technicolorish, as if to say you can’t be a visitor to California without also feeling you’re in a movie. The South Cal locations, Junya Sakino’s breezy, lyrical directorial style, the prevailing mood of bitter-sweet disenchantment in Jeff Mizushima’s excellent screenplay and, of course, the references to alcohol also call to mind the Paul Giamatti hit Sideways – and if you savoured that film, this one might well be your tipple too. It’s all wrapped around an inspired turn from (the actually Korean-American) Eugene Kim as a scurrilous comic antihero who scatters lethal wisecracks right and left like a ninja throwing handfuls of shuriken.

The film is perhaps a little less sunny and evolved, a little more angry and conflicted sake-bomb 5than it at first appears. You could argue it contradicts its own plea to move beyond stereotypes by employing stereotypes itself (there’s a predictably racist redneck traffic cop who makes condescending jokes, and all of the non-Asian women in the film are presented as promiscuous and disposable). And entertaining though he is, Sebastian is disturbing figure – the more so, the more you think about him – because he’s not just at odds with his Asian heritage, he seems to have a palpable, if unexpressed, hostility towards his western upbringing too. But all this comes with the territory. Much more than just a fun movie with a fusion flavour, Sake-Bomb is a rare film that actually has something to say, and it might even be remembered in times to come as an important one.

The DVD has with 29-minute interview with director Junya Sakino, and a very lively 23-minute film festival Q&A. Both have slightly dodgy picture and sound but are full of fascinating insights. Sakino talks in a very honest way about his background (born in Japan, moved to LA when he was 19), how he got into movies, the problems of getting the film financed, and he even cheerfully fields a question about penis size. There’s also a full 4-minute version of the spoof porno Sebastian watches in the film, Yellow Curry on White Rice, supposedly the work of his hero Long Wang and starring Mary Carey of Celebrity Rehab fame.

Blu-ray Review: Frau im Mond

Starring: Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Klaus Pohl
Director: Fritz Lang
Rating: 7/10

"Frau im Mond" Gerda Maurus, Willy FritschFritz Lang’s sci-fi movie about a trip to the moon (his last silent film, released in 1929) is a sheer joy for its steampunky visuals, but drama-wise it now seems a bit lopsided, seeing as we don’t actually blast off until 73 minutes into its three hour running time. Before then, we’re firmly stuck on Earth as we meet smooth young industrialist Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch). Working in secret, he has built a rocket that will travel in space, but some unscrupulous businessmen get wind of his research and attempt to steal it. When that doesn’t succeed, they use strong-arm tactics to force him to do their bidding and take one of their henchmen along on his perilous voyage. All of which is interesting and well-handled by Lang – especially a scene of the cartel watching images of the moon’s surface sent back from an unmanned probe that has to count as one of the earliest found footage sequences in cinema. Even so, you’re keen to get onto the main attraction.

When it finally occurs, it’s all as reliably spectacular as you would expect from the "Frau im Mond" Gustl Stark-Gstettenbaur, Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus (v.l.n.r.)director of Metropolis – the scale model of the rocket; the countdown sequence with floodlights and swarming crowds; Helius and his gang of plucky astronauts with their slicked back hair and mountaineering clobber, looking like refugees from a Kraftwerk concert. But don’t expect the pace to pick up from here. The flight to the moon lasts a leisurely forty minutes, partly because the film has to laboriously explain stuff that modern viewers know all about, such as G-force (which the astronauts survive by strapping themselves into flimsy bunk beds). Not that Lang probably needed much encouragement to tarry. Crude and Wendy house-like as it is, Helius’ space capsule represented the best thinking on the subject at the time (Hermann Oberth, the leading expert in the experimental field of multi-stage liquid fuel rockets, was a consultant on the film), and the director was obviously only too eager to show off that they’d done their homework. Never mind though, because the harder they try to make everything seem plausible, the more quaintly charming is the end result, and there are plenty of touches to keep you amused, such as the various trick-shots that Lang uses to create an impression of zero gravity.

What happens once they actually get to their destination feels like an afterthought, as the characters run around and clash on a moon that turns out to have a breathable atmosphere (which they discover after one adventurous soul steps outside in what is basically deep-sea diving gear). But you probably won’t be too bothered about that either, as it’s all so beautiful. Created on the vast Ufa sound stages with elaborate backdrops, craggy cliffs, bubbling pools of mud and forty truckloads of Baltic sand, Lang’s moon is a glorious thing, even if it’s not very scientific.

"Frau im Mond" Gerda MaurusThe film could have been better still with tighter proportions and a more high-powered storyline, but even as it is, science fiction fans are likely to find it pretty irresistible. Watching this little projectile wobble through space while the elegant folk within cling to leather hand-straps – it’s like those engraved illustrations you see in old Jules Verne books coming to life before your very eyes. Just one thing – you might want to mute the piano score and put on your favourite sci-fi soundtrack instead. The HD transfer is somewhat granular but it has startling presence and depth, and apart from some print damage towards the beginning, it’s very clean. It comes with a brief (14-minutes) but mind-blowing German documentary that explains this film’s all too real place is history. Apparently, the publicity around the movie helped inspire a state-funded rocket programme involving an erstwhile assistant of Oberth’s, a certain Wernher von Braun, and the Woman in the Moon became an emblem on the side of the dreaded V-2 rocket.

Blu-ray Review: Akira Kurosawa, Samurai Collection

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Misa Uehara
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Rating: 9/10

It’s extraordinary to think that this box set represents only part of Akira Kurosawa’s output during the ’50s and early ’60s. What we have here are his period movies in the sword-fighting genre. At the same time as getting these in the can, he was also making important and weighty films with modern-day settings such as Ikiru, The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low, as well as more meditative costume dramas. It was a stream of productivity that few, if any, directors have matched.

Comments about HD transfers and extras follow on from discussions of the individual movies.

The box set opens with Seven Samurai (1954), but as the BFI’s standalone Blu-ray of this hugely celebrated masterpiece has already received wide coverage, we’ll pass straight on to Throne of Blood (1957), Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Toshiro Mifune in the role of the captain who distinguishes himself in battle and then has his head turned by a supernatural prophecy delivered by an evil spirit. Inevitably, he takes matters into his own hands, egged on by his wife (Isuzu Yamada), who is hardly less scary than the spirit and who argues convincingly that if his superiors get wind of the prophecy he’s dead anyway.

kurosawa-box-set 7Despite the western source material, this is one of the most “Japanese” of Kurosawa’s period dramas. It’s infused with the influence of Noh theatre, from the formal, near-statuesque compositions to the elaborate costumes and mask-like makeup, to the stylized acting which in the case of Mifune requires him to express himself in a series of animalistic growls and yelps (apparently Kurosawa turned down the treble on the male voices in post-production to heighten this effect). It’s an elevated, refined approach to match Shakespeare’s status in western culture, and as a consequence Throne of Blood is not perhaps the most immediately accessible of Kurosawa’s films.

That said, it boasts some outstanding set-pieces, particularly the early encounter with the evil spirit in her glowing white pavilion, with its build-up of flickering lightning and its pans through thickets of grotesquely tangled branches, atmospherically shot in the studio. And it concludes with a great death scene for Mifune that does Shakespeare one better and that ranks among the most memorable moments in the whole of Kurosawa’s oeuvre.

It’s also, if anything, even darker than Shakespeare’s play. Whereas Shakespeare’s kurosawa-box-set 8Macbeth is a character singled out for a tragic fate, Kurosawa makes it clear that Mifune’s power-hungry thug is nothing out of the ordinary – the lord he eventually kills slew his own master and breaks treaties without warning, when it suits him. “Every samurai longs to be master of the castle,” says Miki, the Banquo figure, honestly. The evil spirit lives in a part of the forest that has been used as a dumping ground for human bones, and it seems to be born out of the general destruction. Throne of Blood is about violence feeding on itself and begetting more violence, and it is a cycle that occurs at ever-accelerating speed, with events that span years in the play seeming to happen in a matter of weeks in the film.

Like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood is presented in 4:3 format. There’s a little grain to the transfer and some persistent but unobtrusive scratching to the print, but the imagery – all that gleaming armour, all those flickering banners, the electrifying moments of the supernatural – punches through strongly, with inky blacks and ghostly whites. It comes with a very lively and knowledgeable audio commentary by Michael Jeck, which examines the film’s debt to Noh drama and the ways in which it differs from Shakespeare’s play.

kurosawa-box-set 5Outwardly at least, The Hidden Fortress (1958) is a complete contrast to Throne of Blood. Whereas the earlier film is formal, buttoned-up, consciously elevated, tightly controlled, this tale of a small, ragtag group stuck behind enemy lines is sprawling, playful, serio-comic, and it seems to exult in all things lowly. Offering a worm’s eye view of events, the plot concerns a pair of farmers turned soldiers who had hoped to make their fortune in war but have ended up on the losing side and are desperately trying to find their way back home. Not entirely willingly, they fall in with General Makabe (Mifune), who is zealously guarding the losing clan’s hoard of gold and its young figurehead, the Princess Yuki Akizuki, and plans to smuggle the girl and the gold out of enemy territory using the peasants as cover.

On the surface it looks like it ought to be one of the most fun and light-hearted of kurosawa-box-set 6Kurosawa’s films, but the tone is soured by the bitterness of the director’s worldview. It’s as though he had expended all of his good vibes on Seven Samurai and had only bile and hatred left. It’s a pitilessness expressed in the visuals, in blank, baleful skies and arid landscapes (much of the movie was shot on the volcanic slopes of Mount Fuji). Sympathetic characters are in short supply. Makabe is a snob who bullies the pair of peasants and treats them like vermin and then acts surprised when they live down to his expectations. But then again, there’s no point in getting too sentimental about them. They’re treacherous and base, dangerously shrewd when they’re not blinded by greed, and it’s a given that if they were left alone with the princess they would rape her.

Luckily, the princess herself is delightful, as played by Misa Uehara – a tomboyish figure in the 16th century Japanese equivalent of a tight blouse, hotpants and knee socks, constantly flexing a cane like a dominatrix. She’s the only one who seems at all enlightened, the only one who speaks out against the cruelty and inhumanity all around her, although even in her case the kind-heartedness is more theoretical than actual and she treats her lowly helpers more or less as non-persons.

kurosawa-box-set 4Yet notwithstanding Kurosawa’s misanthropy, The Hidden Fortress captivates and sparkles. The story sweeps you up headlong, and the set-pieces are among the most big and energetic Kurosawa ever attempted. An early scene, for instance, where our two hapless protagonists have been taken prisoner inside a enemy fortress and then get caught up in a mass escape, is like something from a silent era Cecil B. DeMille spectacular, a churning ant-heap of bodies, all grubby skin and shiny leather. A later sequence, where they stumble comically into an intense, firelit religious festival and do their best to fit in, is one of those Kurosawa originals that has been imitated to death since (most notably in Disney’s The Jungle Book).

The Tohoscope (Japanese widescreen) film stock has a rawness unlike the slickness of Kurosawa’s later ‘scope movies, rough-textured, scratchy-looking, with blotchy blacks and glaring whites, but it’s ideal for the earthy subject matter, and it comes up very sharply on this HD transfer, with no grain or dirt, a high contrast, and plenty of detail in the moiling crowd scenes. Throughout, there are moments that stick in your mind for their beauty, as when the group set off on their trek to the freedom, then turn and see, in the distance, that their mountain hideaway is being burnt to the ground and that they have escaped just in time. The film is accompanied by an 8-minute interview with George Lucas (who borrowed the two lowly characters and the princess for Star Wars); he talks enthusiastically about Kurosawa’s visual storytelling and use of long lenses.

Yojimbo (1961) is tied with Seven Samurai as the most influential film Kurosawa ever kurosawa-box-set 2made. It’s the granddaddy not only of the spaghetti western, but also of the Mad Max films and their progeny. It brought a new tone to the Japanese adventure story: violent, mocking, cynical. The opening is arresting: a lone samurai (Mifune again) wanders into a small town and as he strolls down the deserted, windswept main street he sees a dog trotting along with a severed hand. The plot – the hero playing two rival gangs off against each other to ensure their mutual destruction – is famous, largely because Sergio Leone stole it for A Fistful of Dollars, but don’t feel too bad for Kurosawa, because he lifted it from the Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest.

kurosawa-box-set 1Even if you come to the movie already knowing what is going to happen, Kurosawa’s parade of genre-defining moments will still leave you in awe: the weaselly representative of law and order, eager to have his palm greased; the tireless coffin-maker; the clueless but vicious thugs (including a troll-like giant with a big mallet – how many times has that trope been borrowed by now?). And then there’s Mifune’s nameless samurai – outwardly callous and irreverent, with no respect for anything and operating according to his own unintelligible code. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that this is a man who knows it’s uncool to seem to care about anything.

It’s probably the one Kurosawa film with a theme tune that you go away humming – a jazzy, cocksure melody that perfectly captures this liberating nonchalance. Throughout, both the script and the direction have a sheer panache which is exceptional even for such a clever filmmaker, with every beat, every sight gag, falling neatly into place, and it features some of Kurosawa’s most inventive camerawork – as in the moment when Mifune appears at the bottom of the street, while a pair of feet dangle in the foreground (they belong to a curmudgeonly sake-seller who has been punished for helping him).

Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and even to some extend The Hidden Fortress feel like grand artistic statements. Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro don’t; they present themselves as nothing more than entertainments, smart, slick, rather heartless. But even so they are packed full of a sly critique of Japanese society. As Philip Kemp points out in his accompanying audio commentary, Yojimbo can be read as an attack on the rise of the yakuza and their sinister involvement with big business, and it also offers a total debunking of the notion of bushido, the way of the warrior (Mifune’s character breaks all the rules by being dirty, by taking payment for his services and at one point by disgracefully losing his sword, although then again you can argue that he’s not so much anti-heroic as a new kind of hero who reckons nought to these things).

Sanjuro (1962) is, among other things, a humorous portrayal of the dangers of conformity and the habit of judging people on outward appearances. Both vices are exhibited to a comical degree by a group of hopelessly blundering young samurai who get themselves in hot water when they try to mount a crusade against the political corruption they see all around them. Fortunately for them, Mifune’s scruffy but worldly-wise samurai is there help them out, and together they attempt to rescue an honest chamberlain who has been taken prisoner by the crooks and their private army.

This is the closest Kurosawa ever came to making a Howard Hawks movie. It’s an kurosawa-box-set 3altogether gentler affair than Yojimbo, and a modern audience will be wise to its twists and turns. But Mifune is in his element, and Kurosawa has endless fun using the samurai – who follow Mifune around like ducklings – to create various groupings and compositions. There’s much creeping around at night, spying and infiltration of the enemy HQ, daring rescues and escapes, plots and counter-plots, but all played out in a relaxed, good-natured way, and there’s even time for some comedy of manners when they spring the chancellor’s elderly, over-refined wife and try to get her to scramble over a garden wall. Kurosawa isn’t really known for his verbal wit, but the script is particularly elegant, littered with sharp and pithy remarks.

Both Yojimbo and Sanjuro were shot in gorgeously smooth widesceen which, bar a handful of tiny scratches, comes up beautifully on HD. Sanjuro is especially crisp – you can see the shiny worn patches on Mifune’s kimono, and a scene where a row of ostentatious decoy palanquins goes filing into the woods looks particularly picturesque. By way of extras, Alex Cox provides a pithy, 9-minute potted survey of Kurosawa’s life and career, plus a 5-minute intro in which he reveals that the arterial spurt in the film’s final quick-draw showdown was created with three gallons of chocolate syrup.

This box set also features a 49-minute discussion of Kurosawa’s achievement and influence by Tony Rayns, and an illustrated booklet with essays by Philip Kemp. Watching these films in sequence only enhances your appreciation of all the things that make a Kurosawa movie different from any other – the director’s signature sweeping pans, his bravura set-pieces, his boldness in shaping narrative, the stock company of actors who reappear in different roles and become familiar faces, and even such trademarks as the typical Kurosawa weather – either withering heat, drenching rain or howling wind. His take on the world may at times be depressingly bleak, but Kurosawa’s films continue to exhilarate with the brilliance of their ideas and execution.

Blu-ray Review: The Werner Herzog Collection

Starring: Klaus Kinski, Bruno S., Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz
Director: Werner Herzog
Rating: 9/10

“A man doesn’t have to be as a big as the tower he builds,” remarks a character in The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. Werner Herzog’s exploits behind the camera seem at odds with that assertion. Working in often hostile territory, with difficult actors who fight him all the way, he sometimes appears to be in competition with his mad protagonists over who can suffer and achieve and persevere the most. Watching this mammoth 8-disc box set which gathers together films and documentaries from the first twenty years of his career, it’s possible to have quite a volatile reaction to the man – admiring, yes, but decrying his excesses, infuriated by his recklessness. The appeal of the major movies themselves, however, is much more straightforward – it’s the appeal of simple, mythic stories luminously told.

Talking of luminous, this seems like a good moment to mention the picture quality of this box set. All of the key feature films have received 2K HD transfers which are of a uniformly high standard, with no grain or artefacts, an extraordinary depth and clarity and crisp, airy colours. Given the trying circumstances in which many of these movies were made, it’s a tribute to the craftsmanship of Herzog’s cameramen, as well as to the technicians involved in supervising the transfers.

Most of the feature films come with various audio options – English, German, the original mono or stereo or 5.1 surround sound – and with commentaries by Herzog, in that instantly recognizable voice of his, ultra-civilized, light and refined. Incisive, articulate, eccentric, sometimes mystical, sometimes matter of fact, always honest, touching on the same themes again and again, these commentaries add up to a fascinating and rounded portrait of the director in their own right.

Speaking about Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Herzog reveals that the script was written in 2 ½ days on a coach trip with his soccer team, and that it was made on a budget of $360,000 with one 35 mm camera stolen from a Berlin film school. And yet this tale of conquistadors exploring the Peruvian jungle on a quest for El Dorado is still the most widely celebrated of his movies, routinely listed among the greatest films ever.

herzog-box-set 10You only have to look at the opening scenes to see why: the extraordinary shot of Pizarro’s expedition trailing endlessly down a sheer, slippery, mist-shrouded cliff-face, as out of place in their heavy armour and stiff, ceremonial garb as though they had been dropped there from outer space. Cut to them slogging through swampy, clinging jungle (at one point you can see Herzog’s brawny hand reaching into frame to effortlessly push a toppling sedan chair back into position). A little while later on, off they go, twirling along on flimsy rafts over seething rapids, the cast drenched and cowed – as well they might be, become presumably those heavy costumes would have dragged them straight to the bottom.

It’s hard to think of any other film where the sense of place is so imposing and makes herzog-box-set 9such a statement. A lot of the time, it’s enough simply to watch these people trying to exist in the climate, melting away in the heat and humidity. But there’s also Klaus Kinski (who got a third of the tiny budget as his fee) in the role he was born to play, the dangerous second-in-command who sees something in the jungle that mirrors his own savagery and who leads his fellows unerringly into revolt, social breakdown and finally death.

Aguirre was an historical fantasy, inspired by a handful of references. Herzog’s follow-up, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974), was based on a well-documented case, famous in its day – the never-solved riddle of a young man who was found abandoned in Nuremberg’s town square in the 1820s, standing there like a statue and giving every impression of having been born yesterday. He was able to utter only one sentence, couldn’t walk or even move without assistance, and displayed no understanding of the most basic concepts that people take for granted.

herzog-box-set 1Cleaving closely to the facts as recorded by Kasper himself, the film shows him being puzzled over by local worthies and treated with more kindness than not. Befriended and instructed by an elderly philanthropist, a whole new layer of strangeness emerges when Kasper learns to talk and express how he thinks. Although he was twice the age of the actual Kaspar, who was only 15 to 17 years old when he was found, Bruno S. was the ideal candidate for the role. His own story was almost as sensational as Kasper’s: locked up and brutalized by his prostitute mother, as a child he lost the power of speech and was institutionalized. Wide-eyed, vulnerable and childlike, he gives a remarkable performance as he goes from being unable even to use a spoon to becoming an amateur philosopher and the darling of high society, writing his eagerly awaited autobiography.

Herzog shoots all of this with a sense of sympathy and wonder. The story isn’t exploitedherzog-box-set 2 for comedy or drama; instead, through the enigma of Kasper Hauser, Herzog examines the enigma of what it means to be human and exist in the world. This seemingly quiet, modest film thus tackles issues which could hardly be more fundamental and important, and it does so with lightness and charm. Bathed in a contemplative stillness, it’s perhaps the most sunny film Herzog has ever made, and the meticulous recreations of period detail make the world it portrays as magical and surprising to us as it must have been to the real Kasper.

Herzog’s next feature, Heart of Glass (1976), is perhaps the hardest of his films to get one’s head around. Set in Bavaria amid spectacular mountain scenery, it concerns the plight of a glassmaking town whose master glassmaker has died, taking the secret of his special ruby glass with him. Fearful of ruin, various characters hunt for the missing formula. Complicating things is an enigmatic folkloric element as Hias, a burly cowherd-cum-soothsayer, foretells a Biblical doom for the town.

Herzog took a very strange approach to making the film. In the accompanying commentary, he explains that he placed some of the actors under hypnosis to heighten the otherworldliness of their performances, and that he even had a plan to appear on screen and hypnotize the audience too. Something of this trance-like mood certainly translates to the finished product, but not perhaps in the way he hoped, because the resulting film is pictorially striking but almost impenetrably remote. (And there’s a sinister subtext – was he using hypnotism to try and deepen his control over his actors? And was isolating his cast and crew in the jungle on films such as Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo another way of doing the same thing?)

Stroszek (1977) was offered as a consolation to Bruno S. after Herzog backed out of casting him as the lead in his film version of Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck, opting for Kinski instead. (Written very quickly, it borrows from the arc of Buchner’s classic play and even – perhaps not intentionally, one suspects – has a rhyming title.) Drawing on the circumstances of Bruno S.’ own life, it’s a Fassbinder-like tale of amour fou among marginal folk. Bruno S. plays a street musician and sometime drunkard who gives his heart to a homeless prostitute. Persecuted by a pair of young thugs, they hatch a plan to move to Wisconsin, only to find that the American dream has its own way of grinding you down.

Bruno S. brings all of his Kasper Hauser mannerisms with him to his second outing with Herzog, and whereas in the other film they were an undoubted asset, here they’re a bit of an obstacle; he seems completely isolated in himself, and lacks the sensitivity and awareness to convince as a man in love. But the location shooting – blackened, run-down Berlin tenements, the flat umber terrain and oily railyards of Wisconsin – elevates the story to the level of poetry, and there’s a certain good-humoured unexpectedness to the whole enterprise – Bruno S. looking as splendidly out of place in the New World as those conquistadors did in the Amazon.

Nosferatu - Phantom der NachtHerzog’s next two films saw him returning to the German romantic milieu that had worked so well for him in The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) is a loose remake of F.W. Murnau’s renowned silent film, but there’s not a great deal of Murnau in it (or Bram Stoker for that matter, although Herzog restores Stoker’s original names to the characters, which Murnau didn’t use because he’d omitted to secure the rights to the book).

In Herzog’s hands, the Dracula story becomes another of his tales about the deadly tug Nosferatu the Vampyr (Werner Herzog, West Germany / France 1979, 107mins)of the unknown. Stuck in a sexless marriage (they sleep in separate beds and his wife Lucy, played by Isabelle Adjani, is conspicuously virginal), Bruno Ganz’s Jonathan Harker is champing at the bit to get away from the dull charms of his home town Wismar. Herzog mounts his arduous trek to Dracula’s castle as a spiritual ascent (a great deal of it is accomplished on foot, and fans of Herzog will know that he has a strong belief in the meditative value of walking). The Count, when we meet him, is feral but also priestly. Descending on Wismar, he transforms it into a place infested with rats and coffins in a way that perhaps fulfils Harker’s subconscious desires. But Lucy (who has a much bigger role than her counterpart in the Murnau film) puts up stern resistance and turns vampire hunter or, if that won’t work, sacrificial victim: she and the Count are battling for Harker’s soul.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Herzog’s handling of genre conventions is uncertain (he plays the traditional warned-at-the-inn scene early on almost for laughs), but the encounters between Lucy and the Count are staged with a powerfully morbid sensuality – he’s like a slug devouring an orchid – the locations are very striking, the set-dressing creamily attractive, and the scenes of Wismar (actually shot in Delft, with 11,000 rats) sinking into cynical revelry as the dead bodies accumulate are suitably nightmarish (and actually a homage to the plague scenes in another Murnau film, Faust). It may not exactly be scary, but the movie carries with it a strong, unsettling whiff of the night, if only because it is so drastically nihilistic, suggesting as it does that even if only death and madness await beyond the horizon, that is still better than ordinary life in Wismar.

There’s yet more death and madness in Woyzeck (1979). Klaus Kinski gives a fine performance as the lowly, mentally disturbed soldier tipped over the edge by the news that the woman with whom he’s had a child has taken up with a dashing drum major who is everything he isn’t. Buchner’s play seems to wither slightly on screen – the satire of the authority figures who lord it over the central character and badger him with advice and demands comes over strongly, a sense of his hellish torment less so. Still, it impresses as one of the most beautiful of Herzog’s films on this HD transfer. The picturesque small town setting, the scenes of the marching band parading through the street and the fair in the town square all come up with ravishing freshness and pretty, Frith-like colours, and there’s a shot of Kinski running through a field of green-headed poppies that has an almost psychedelic intensity.

Now for Fitzcarraldo (1982). This, of course, is the one with the steamboat being herzog-box-set 6dragged over a hill. But there’s much more to it than that. In some ways it’s the most conventional of Herzog’s films, and he’s not above engaging the audience with some low-brow but effective ploys. For instance, when he first introduces Klaus Kinski’s maladroit music buff who wants to build an opera house in the jungle, he ensures our sympathy by pairing him with Claudia Cardinale’s feisty brothel madam. We like Claudia Cardinale very much, it goes without saying, and if he’s with her, we like him too. Job done.

herzog-box-set 7But if this is a Herzog who’s milder and more eager to please than we’ve seen before, that’s not because he’s lost any of his ambition. Fitzcarraldo is also the most expansive of his films; it has the opulence and generous dimensions of a grand opera house. It’s exhilarating, the unflagging skill with which Herzog introduces us to various worlds – first off, the world of Manaus, then the richest city on the planet, where Fitzcarraldo’s heart flutters when he sees Caruso on stage and the great singer seems to look straight at him; then the shabbily colourful frontier post of Iquitos, Fitzcarraldo’s home town, with its crumbling plaster and sprays of flowers; then the world of the steamboat which Fitzcarraldo takes upstream (in the hope of claiming a rich parcel of land for a rubber plantation), with its drunken chef, its engineer who is also a spy and its captain who is half-blind but who can navigate the river system by the taste of the water; and finally the world of the indigenous natives.

The steamboat’s tense, thrilling encounter with these natives is full of excitement and suspense, and the film’s portrait of them is a triumph. Fitzcarraldo doesn’t exploit them, he wouldn’t know how; they help him for reasons of their own which are hard to fathom, but let’s just say he’s not the only one interested in making a grand gesture.

Only after this do we get to the film’s famous set-piece, as the three-storey steamboat isherzog-box-set 5 winched, painfully slowly, up a forty degree gradient with the aid of a giant capstan, and there’s more to come, including an ending as serene and elevated as any in cinema. Perhaps because it seems, superficially, like a retread of Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo has never received the recognition it deserves, but it’s a masterpiece on the largest scale, and every frame of it is breathtakingly gorgeous on this HD transfer.

herzog-box-set 8If Fitcarraldo flows like a river, Cobra Verde (1987) glitters like a heap of dry bones. Kinski’s crazily detached, almost contemptuous performance as a South American bandit turned slave trader makes him seem like a bystander in his own story, and you sense that whole sections of the script (based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin) were despairingly junked by Herzog, who finally seemed to run out of energy on this, the most ragged of his films. (In his commentary, Herzog explains that Kinski became increasingly unmanageable, culminating in a moment when he attempted to kill the director with a rock while they were filming the 360 degree pan which opens the movie.) It has some striking moments though, as when Kinski’s character is kidnapped and bundled off, rolled up like Cleopatra in a blanket, to meet the mad King of Dahomey. And it makes use of some stunning locations, especially the historic slave fortress of Elmina in Ghana. It’s a film you watch yearningly, wondering what it would have been like with a different leading man.

As well as these major feature films, this box set also includes several experimental pieces (including the visual essay Fata Morgana) and a number of Herzog’s documentaries. Exploring odd corners of human experience, some of these are mainly of interest because Herzog found these things interesting, or because they pair up with the feature films in illuminating ways – for example, Land of Silence and Darkness, about a deaf-blind woman, clearly relates to Kasper Hauser as it questions what it is to experience the world. But they also include the charming How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck, which consists of interviews with auctioneers who’ve perfected the art of talking at tongue-twisting speed, and the delightful Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner – a misleading title, because the subject, Walter Steiner, was actually a ski jumper, or rather a ski flyer. Sky flying is the next step up from ski jumping, and the documentary shows competitors shooting off giant ramps and reaching speeds of 140 mph, with Steiner himself making jumps of 170 metres. Shot, in 1975, in grainy 4:3 format and offering the sight of a young, woolly haired Herzog clutching a microphone and talking intensely into the camera, the piece now has an irresistible retro kitsch appeal; it feels like the germ of a Wes Anderson movie.

Turning to the extras, the one that will be of most immediate interest to Herzog fans is Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982). In this astonishing feature-length documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, Herzog was interviewed on location in the Amazon over the course of four years, during which he seemed to age at least ten. And no wonder. His first attempt to make the film was stymied by irate natives, who issued death threats and spread rumours that the film crew were rapists and arms smugglers, his second by the bad case of amoebic dysentery which struck down his star Jason Robards. Later, we see the director with his cast and crew in a camp on the Eastern foothills of the Andes. He’s like a mayor of a small town, dealing with security issues and bringing in prostitutes to keep the native extras occupied. The engineer who designs the pulley system for the ship-winching quits, afraid the cables will pull loose and kill everybody and predicting a 70% chance of catastrophe, but Herzog ploughs on, taking the risk. The jungle gets to everybody. “The trees are in misery, the birds are in misery, they don’t sing, they just screech in pain”, says Herzog in one extraordinary rant. The whole thing climaxes in the never-to-be-forgotten sight of Herzog and Kinski, hunkered over the body of injured cameraman Thomas Mauch, arguing furiously about Kinski’s performance while the steamboat they’re standing on is being tossed around like a box of matches by the terrifying Pongo de Mainique rapids – a scene of complete lunacy.

Although Les Blank’s film is justly famous, the South Bank Show from 1982 also included here is perhaps even more startling for its insight into the toll a decade of extreme filmmaking had taken on Herzog. Accompanying him home to Bavaria and the magical landscape of his childhood, the documentary finds the director at his most mystical and opaque and not, perhaps, entirely lucid at times. At one point he talks about how Kinski threatened to walk off Fitzcarraldo ten days before the film was due to wrap, and how he responded by telling Kinski that he had a rifle and nine bullets and that he would shoot Kinski in the head eight times and then kill himself. He’s not joking, and it’s absolutely chilling.

“Would I really want to be stuck up the Amazon with this man?” is the question you herzog-box-set 12might well be asking yourself after watching a scene like that. And even without such frightening glimpses of the director’s dark side, you can have enough of Herzog’s view of the world – which so often seems to take little or no account of the joy of everyday relationships or the actual experience of life as most of us live it in towns and cities, and which barely recognizes the existence of women beyond the most basic mother and whore archetypes. But when Herzog sets aside symbolism for humanism, as he does in The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and Fitzcarraldo, there are few directors who can see so deeply with the camera or move you so intensely. And if you do want to experience the world of Werner Herzog at length, this lavish, technically excellent box set is the ideal way to do it.

Blu-ray Review: Locke

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Coleman, Ruth Wilson
Director: Stephen Knight
Rating: 8/10

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The only face we see in Locke belongs to Ben Hardy’s titular character. It’s a mature, bearded face – patriarchal almost – tired but resolute, attached to a powerful shoulders and a big chest, and the lilting Welsh voice that emanates from it makes you think of a kindly preacher.

The site engineer on a mammoth building project, Ivan Locke has abandoned his work on the eve of an all-important, hugely expensive concrete pour in order to drive from Birmingham to London, to be at the side of a woman he scarcely knows (Olivia Coleman) – a fragile, lonely spinster with whom he had a one-night stand, and who is now giving birth to his baby. He’s doing it because he thinks it is right, because it’s what a man ought to do. The trouble is, when he talks like that, his co-workers and wife think he’s nuts – “Is this a joke?” his boss asks, “Are you wearing a fucking red nose?”. This has to be a sign of a breakdown or mid-life crisis – no one bothers with this “man’s gotta do” stuff any more. And at least at the beginning, you tend to think they have a point.

But then you watch him and start to wonder. Apart from a few unobtrusive elisions, the film takes place in real time and consists entirely of him driving, driving and fielding the angry and worried calls that pursue him like Furies down the M6. Trying to calm the expectant mother when there are complications with the birth, trying to placate his wife (Ruth Wilson), trying to talk a stressed, half-drunk underling through next day’s pour and deal with some last minute obstacles. The drama and occasional comedy of the film come from his efforts to handle these crises, while trapped in a car, by himself, with just a sense of his own unravelling life for company and with calls stacking up to give him yet more bad news.

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But what makes Locke, in its quiet way, so provocative is its celebration of old-fashioned notions of manly virtue. Ivan’s burly, patriarchal demeanour is an anachronism, but the film suggests that it shouldn’t be, and that the world would be a better place if men expected more of themselves. Where it runs into trouble is in the way it contrasts male resoluteness and can-do with female helplessness and morbidity. While the men in Locke eventually dig deep and pull together in a crisis, the women spiral into hysterics and destructive tantrums. Ivan’s wife is spiteful and petty, cruelly casting doubt on his paternity – “If she fucked you, she fucks everybody” – and refusing to give him the telephone number of a town councillor he urgently needs to get in touch with. As for the woman who’s having the baby, there is a strong suspicion she’s only doing it to draw attention to herself and throw his life into disarray. When we learn that the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, it’s hard not to judge her for that too, as though her body is holding onto her trump card with a merciless grip. It’s worth noting that the (off-screen) actresses play these parts with a relish and conviction that makes them totally believable, but all the same it all seems likely to ruffle the feathers of female viewers.

Although Locke is a film that could only be made with modern technology, it feels in locke 1many ways like a throwback to an earlier era of British drama when theatre, film and TV were more closely intertwined (an era which its fifty-something writer/director Stephen Knight is the perfect age to remember with nostalgia). Ivan recalls the harried, tormented male leads of John Osborne’s plays – there’s even a hint of Ibsen’s Master Builder – and his monologues have a weight and density that seem made for the stage. Watching Locke is like watching a theatre piece playing out in the confines of a BMW, with you riding shotgun. At its centre is a performance from Tom Hardy which confirms he can simply do anything. When the manly mask slips, when Ivan’s emotions get the better of him and his face lights up into a smile or dissolves into tears, it’s momentous, revelatory, like the ground rocking beneath your feet. Together, Hardy and Knight have created a character study that is intimate, occasionally harrowing and in the end deeply uplifting – at least for a male audience. (You also learn a lot about laying concrete, which is a plus.)

The dis comes with a 9-minute featurette and an audio commentary with Stephen Knight which reveal some astonishing things. To give the feel of a live piece, they shot the whole film in sequence every night from beginning to end – twice – ending up with about 30 hours of footage after an exhausting week’s shoot. (The BMW was mounted on a low-loader – it’s a relief to learn that Hardy wasn’t doing his own driving.) Meanwhile, the other actors were gathered in the conference room of a nearby hotel, ready to phone in live when cued by the director. It’s an out of the box approach which pays off in a film which has the immediacy and pulse of real life.

Blu-ray Review: Faust

Starring: Gosta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, William Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert
Director: F.W. Murnau
Rating: 8/10

F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) is so familiar, such a bedrock of cinema, that it’s almost impossible to view it otherwise than through the lens of its renown and historical significance. That’s not a problem with the same director’s Faust (1926). Despite being a hugely prestigious production at the time, it’s one of his lesser known efforts now, and it thus provides a perfect opportunity to admire his skill as a director with fresh eyes.

faust 7And what a consummate skill it was. Murnau had a fluency with camerawork and editing, a control of tone and tempo, an ability to shape sequences for maximum dramatic impact, that was almost unparalleled in the silent era. Faust opens with a series of stunning, FX-laden scenes. First there’s a gusty airborne faceoff between an eagle-winged Mephisto (Emil Jannings), singed black by the flames of hell, and an angle in dazzling armour, who agree to have a wager on Faust’s soul. Then we cut to Faust (Gosta Ekman) himself, a whiskery old man hunched over a glass sphere full of flickering, luminous mist. Mephisto devastates Faust’s home town with the plague (the scenes of crazed, hysterical revelry among the townsfolk would be lifted by Werner Herzog for his ’70s Nosferatu remake). Unable to find a cure, Faust turns from God and summons the forces of darkness at an eerie, moonlit crossroads, and a shadowy, shiny-eyed Mephisto appears, doffing his cap to him. Finally, Mephisto tempts Faust with youth and earthly pleasures and whisks him off over Alps (shot by tracking the camera over a vast scale model) to the sumptuous wedding of the Duchess of Parma, complete with dancing girls and giant elephants (made of fabric, but looking startlingly real).

This first segment contains some of the most exciting imagery you’re likely to find in a faust 1film of this period, and it’s propels itself forward in rhythms that we still respond to – brisk, unflagging, building to crescendo after crescendo, now frightening, now spectacular. Faust was a massively expensive enterprise, the effects-driven tent-pole movie of its day (Ufa, the studio responsible for it, were in financial difficulties and attempting to spend their way out of trouble). At the other end of the scale from Nosferatu, which Murnau filmed quickly, mostly on location, reeling off one classic scene after another, this was a painstaking six-month shoot involving many retakes, all in the studio, under arc lights that were unbearably hot and flickered terribly and that made everything look a sickly green colour to the naked eye.

faust 4By all rights, Faust ought to be a much better film than Nosferatu, and yet it’s hampered by a conventional and pious moral framework and by the character of Faust himself, who is an acutely unsatisfactory figure for modern audiences. Early on, the script does a good job of bringing him to life – it takes as its key his sense of failure; others may think he’s a success, but he doesn’t. As soon as he becomes young and handsome, though, he simply evaporates off the screen. The really scary and compelling movie scientists pursue their mad quest for knowledge regardless of cost; Faust is a seeker after enlightenment who abandons his search just when he has the chance to plumb the secrets of creation, all because Mephisto waggles a pair of breasts in his face.

And what adds insult to injury is that we’re not even privy to his debauches. There’s a faust 2rather disappointing jump cut where Faust goes from kissing the Duchess of Parma to sitting there glumly, bored and sated, having tasted all of life’s pleasures, and the audience doesn’t get to witness a single moment of it (apparently Murnau planned to shoot at least one decent orgy for the American market, but it never happened). After that, the mood of the middle section of the film is light and comic operetta-ish as Faust returns home and romances a virtuous young girl, while Mephisto has to distract her watchful aunt. Nicely done though this section is – and it’s distinguished by a surprisingly fresh and touching performance by the lovely Camilla Horn as the girl Faust wrongs – it’s a relief when the sunny interlude turns to tragedy again and the scene is set for a demonically menacing burning at the stake sequence that pre-echoes the famous opener of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

Yet whatever its flaws, there are few films of the silent era outside of the comedies of Keaton and Chaplin that are more readily watchable than Faust. The trick shots, the mammoth sets and models by Robert Herlth and Walter Rohrig (the design team also responsible for Caligari), Emil Jannings’ gurningly satanic turn, the bravura set-pieces – all these are so imaginative and brilliantly wrought that you mentally edit out the pieties and moments of dramatic slack.

And Faust has never looked better than it does right now. At the time when the film was made, it was difficult and very expensive to copy negatives, so they would use inferior takes and extra footage to cobble together additional negatives which could be exported to distributors around the world, while the very best takes were reserved for the domestic and American negatives. For many decades, Faust was known only by one of these inferior export prints. This Blu-ray presents, as its primary version, a fresh transfer made from the domestic negative. Pictorially, it’s very impressive, with no print damage and a lovely deep contrast. In some of the scenes, Carl Hoffmann’s cinematography still has quite a crumbly, charcoal sketch-like quality, but that seems to have been a deliberate aesthetic as it matches the look of the intertitles, and it certainly adds to the at times hallucinatory, nightmarish quality of the movie.

The domestic version comes with three choices of score – solo harp or piano, and an excellent full orchestral score by Timothy Brock (the accompaniment to the crossing of the Alps and the visit to the Duchess of Parma’s wedding is particularly ravishing). Also present on the disc is the more familiar export version, which is somewhat murkier, grainier and scratchier but still very enjoyable. Among the extras, there’s a detailed 26-minute video essay comparing the two versions. It makes a convincing case that the “new” version is much superior in all areas – optical FX, lighting, composition, performances and editing (the “old” version is eight minutes longer). (Although one thing it doesn’t mention, which a few readers might be interested in, is that in the export version there are glimpses of bare breasts in the plague revellers scene and the vision of love that Mephisto gives Faust, but not in the domestic version.)

faust 3In addition, there’s a very thorough 52-minute German language “making of” documentary. This explains the complicated business of the multiple negatives and paints a detailed picture of the shoot. It would seem that Camilla Horn had a lot to put up with – Murnau (who originally wanted Lilian Gish or Greta Garbo for the role) dictated her every gesture (you can see by comparing the various takes how meticulously she followed his instructions) and in the burning at the stake sequence she was left tied to the post for hours, in solid iron chains, so that she would look convincingly exhausted, starved and broken (despite all of which, she fell in love with the director and allegedly remained so until the end of her days).

There’s also a 39-minute talking head piece with film historian Tony Rayns, who gives further background info on Ufa, on Murnau’s early career acting with Max Reinhardt’s theatre company and his and Jannings’ move to Hollywood. (Faust is a film about selling out, and ironically Murnau and Jannings were both trying to do just that – abandoning the faltering Ufa, they had already signed contracts with Hollywood studios. Faust was to be Murnau’s last German film.)

Finally, there an engaging audio commentary by film critics David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn. Eureka have really gone all out on the special features for this release, and taken as a whole they teach you a huge amount about not just how this particular film was made but about the filmmaking process in general at that period, and it’s all extremely fascinating.