Director – F W Murnau
Starring – Gosta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn
Run Time – 1hr 47mins
Release Date – Monday 18th August
Label – Masters of Cinema/Eureka!
A demon named Mephisto (Jannings) wages a bet with an archangel that he can turn any religious man over to the darkside. The bet is accepted and if Mephisto can corrupt any man then Earth will be ruled by the devil. Faust (Ekman), a intelligent and religious man, is the target as Mephisto wreaks havoc upon Faust’s village. His faith is greatly tested as his prayers to God for mercy go unanswered. He burns his bible and Mephisto strikes, making Faust a generous offer: he will be a powerful man for one day. Faust’s day of power isn’t enough as he makes another pact with Mephisto but this time the devil will keep Fausts soul forever when the time runs out. It seems the archangel will lose the bet…
Based on Goethe’s version of the German legend Faust, this film version treats its source material with respect. The story is an important part of Germany’s cultural history and one of its most known works of literature. The tale of the devil attempting to lure man to the darkside has been used countless times since, in many forms of media, although none have been received as warmly as Murnau’s vision for the tale when it comes to cinema.
The plot concerns itself with a whole range of emotions depicted by numerous characters, not just Faust. The story is not just about good versus evil or God versus the Devil but it is also about greed, desire and desperation. A strong cast convey through their body language and facial expressions what could have otherwise been lacking due to the film being silent. Jannings as the evil Mephisto is outstanding and is an intimidating presence on screen. He is iconic in this role.
The imagery and filming techniques used in the film are outstanding for their time and would influence countless other film makers. Murnau’s last German film, before leaving for America, illustrates the directors ability to utilize special effects in a time when they were little used or little understood. Scenes featuring the devil towering over a town, skulls appearing in water and people flying away on a magic carpet are remarkably impressive for the lack of resources available at the time. While some are now deemed simple effects back in the mid 1920’s these were unseen wonders. Most of it is accomplished by superimposing one shot over another, which creates some iconic shots for Faust. The devil’s face gurning over the town at the start of the feature is frightening.
Murnau’s direction was years ahead of some of his peers, the use of multiple cameras and takes was deemed unnecessary back then – as far fetched as it may seem now. It is a shame that a lot of his work is now lost and others only exist as small clips of what has survived. The approach to cinema has clearly changed since Murnau’s era, people think it is a sin against cinema to allow such great works to disappear or be destroyed like his work has. Yet the fact steps weren’t taken to treat film better in the early 20th century shows that it wasn’t deemed important enough to preserve. This re-release from Masters of Cinema is a perfect example of how times and opinions change. MoC have treated Faust with a great deal of respect and tried their hardest to restore the film. There is now a market for old classics of cinema being restored to their former glory and issued on blu-ray for film buffs to collect. Despite this new collective mindset some films remain lost, seemingly forever, and Murnau is a victim of this.
The release comes with the ‘export version’ that was sold to English speaking territories, although the picture quality isn’t as good.
There is a 52 minute long German documentary on the making and history of Faust, named The Language of Shadows. It covers a lot about the film from the difficulty casting the role of Gretchen to the numerous takes required for Murnau to get the shot he wanted. This caused numerous issues with negatives and versions sold aboard as the footage Murnau didn’t use for the German release of Faust were spliced together for other markets – as a result they are full of errors. The documentary offers a fascinating look into Faust and Murnau’s methods.
In a 40 minute long extra Tony Rayns talks about the history of Faust and that of it’s key players. Rayns knows a great deal of information on the movie and his talk is ideal for those wanting to learn more about F.W. Murnau and his last German film.
Finally there is a comparison of the film’s original German version and the international version. For over 50 years Faust existed in its foreign export negative until the original German negatives were found. The amount of effort into restoring and reconstructing Faust is impressive and the differences are very noticeable. The 27 minute long extra features footage from both, side by side, so the viewer can see for themselves just how different in places they were.
Faust is a marvel of cinema regardless of era, it has aged that well. Murnau’s vision is grand and epic, he achieves them both perfectly. A classic movie.
10 out of 10.
Amazon order page: CLICK HERE