Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Murnau's Faust

Ailz bought this movie cheap, then lost interest when she discovered it was a silent. She remembers being chucked out of a cinema halfway through a double bill because the second film was adults only. She's always wanted to catch up with the one she was barred from and thought this might be it. It isn't. My best guess is the forbidden fruit was the Burton/Taylor Dr Faustus with a supporting cast of Oxford students. Does that have female nudity? Probably.

Anyway, I thought it was time somebody watched it.

Murnau made a number of very great movies. Faust isn't one of them. It's the 1920s version of a special effects blockbuster- simple-minded but full of sequences that make you go "Wow!"  There's much to like- the production design for instance- studio-bound, oppressive, with steepling sets that block out the sky.  Emil Jannings is good fun as Mephisto- you never saw such gurning!- and the unknown actress who plays Gretchen- Camilla Horn- is affecting.  Murnau wanted Lilian Gish but she stipulated she'd only play ball if she was allowed to bring her own cameraman with her.

Like everyone else who's tried to make drama out of the Faust legend- Murnau comes up against the problem that the big crisis happens in Act I. Will Faust sell his soul to the Devil? Once that question's been answered there's nothing much for the character to do but noodle around for an hour or so. Gosta Eckman is impressive as the older Faust, but limp as the randy youth he turns into. Murnau's solution is to sideline Faust and making the second half all about Gretchen. Yes, but Gretchen is an entirely passive character. Things are done to her.

Things liven up at the very end- as they do with Marlowe. Will Faust wriggle out of his bargain? In some versions he does, in some versions he doesn't....

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