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Nosferatu

Directed by F. W. Murnau

Germany, 1922

RNCM Concert Hall, 31 May 2015

The classic horror film, now almost a century old, is all shadow and suggestion. This screening was accompanied by Darius Battiwalla on organ. Although absent from the stage, he was apparently able to follow the film on a small screen.

It is an unnerving experience still to watch Nosferatu, not least because of Max Schrek’s appearance and performance: he looks, as much as a human being can, like a bird of prey. Claw-like hands, a crouching appearance (as though always ready to pounce), hooded eyes, unspeakably feral on those rare occasions when you look at them close to.

What Murnau does with consummate artistry is to present Nosferatu in so far as possible as shadow, as though this were his essence, the substance of his being: a solid blackness. And few moments in cinema are as scarily effective as the one where we see Nosferatu’s shadowed claw rest (we have charted its invasive progress) over the heart of a fearful, just awakened young woman. When the claw becomes a fist, a sudden movement, she writhes in agony then lies still. Such is the choreography of terror – and it’s one reason why Nosferatu will always be a film of great interest.

A memory: seeing Nosferatu in a packed Cinema 1 in the now recently departed Cornerhouse with the Brodsky Quartet, I’m pretty certain, providing a live accompaniment. (This must have been in 1988 or 1989.) Darius Battiwalla’s organ did as good a job of keeping you on edge.

For certain, I will be seeing Nosferatu again one day.

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