Shadow of the Vampire
Director: E. Elias Merhige / Script: Steven Katz / Editing: Chris Wyatt / DoP: Lou Bogue / Music: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich / Willem Dafoe / Cary Elwes / Catherine McCormack / Eddie Izzard
Art feeds upon itself.
Having just reviewed a Murnau double-bill, I thought it high time I revisited this playful curio…
Writer Steven Katz parlayed an interest in F.W.’s Nosferatu, into this conceit: what if its star, Max Schreck, had been an actual vampire after all? What might have happened when Murnau came to film his masterpiece?
The resultant script mixed black humour with some nicely judged nods to the period (1922), though looking back now, Director Elias Merhige didn’t plug all the leaks; lingering shots of a locomotive pulling away might’ve justified its rental cost, but do little for pace. Then again, the symbolism of the engine’s name – Charon – is of tangential relevance here, hence why he might’ve wanted to ram that one home.
For me though, it’s the players that make this one work. Malkovitch is great as Murnau, capturing the nuanced obsession of a man possessed of the Truth; in this case, knowing that this brave new art-form – Cinema – has the potential to reveal bare truths. Theatre had always done that, of course, but live performance is always transitory; in the moment. By contrast, Cinema fixes that moment for eternity, opening up new possibilities for appreciation of craft. Malkovitch’s character – the visionary director Murnau – both knows and relishes this.
Alongside, we have an endearing Eddie Izzard as Gustav and a shimmering Catherine McCormack as Greta; two supporting players in both Murnau’s vision and this tale, unfortunately. I don’t say this lightly, as both actors are capable and charismatic on and off-screen, yet they’re under-used here. Watching this, one gets the sense that there’s much, much more to their parts that didn’t make the cut…
One glaring reason, might be the fact that this is Willem Dafoe’s show – and everyone knows it. It’s entirely possible that this realisation only emerged during the edit, hence why sub-plots were cut to give him ‘breathing room’ on-screen. Why not? In Dafoe’s hands, Shreck’s a remarkable creation, exhibiting oddity / aloofness / black humour / unnerving fear on-demand (delete as appropriate). The part was written for him, after all, so I’d be amazed if there wasn’t a degree of collaboration between him and Merhige along the way. Surely all that was required, was to wind Dafoe’s spring, point him in the right direction and let him go: no wonder he received an Oscar nod for this outing.
If ever you find yourself at a loose end and fancy a night of seminal Mittel-European horror (as one does) then why not team Nosferatu with this loose companion piece, sit back and let the warm waters of oblivion take you in their arms? It works for me…
Why him, you monster? Why not the… Script girl? Oh. The script girl. I’ll eat her later.