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F.W. MURNAU S MASTERPIECE OF GERMAN SILENT CINEMA
Mobilizing the full resources of the Ufa Studios, F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise) orchestrated a colossal adaptation of Goethe s FAUST that ranks alongside Fritz Lang s Metropolis as the greatest achievement of the German silent cinema. Gösta Ekman stars as the titular alchemist who, struggling with his faith amidst a devastating plague, is offered the power to cure and the gift of youth... in exchange for his soul. As the diabolical Mephisto, Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh) delivers a performance of operatic scale and intensity, by turns charming, comical, and horrific. This special Kino edition contains the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation s meticulous restoration of the original German version of the film (with unique hand-painted intertitles), as well as a lengthier alternate cut prepared by the Ufa Studios in 1930.
- Two-DVD edition featuring the restored German version (with optional English subtitles) and the previous U.S. release version
- (The Language of Shadows: Faust) a 53-minute documentary on the making of Murnau s film
- New musical score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra in 5.1 Stereo Surround or 2.0 Stereo
- The lost screen test footage of Ernst Lubitsch s abandoned 1923 production Marguerite and Faust.
- Image Gallery
- Essay by film historian Jan Christopher Horak
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The Archangel (Werner Fuetterer) and the evil one are in a struggle for the world. Both are sure they know best. A bet is stuck for the sole of a religious alchemist named Faust as we can see he has knowledge of the elements yet maintains a moral attitude.
A grate plague appears and with all of his books and learning Foust can not save anyone. He turns to prayer and seems to get nowhere. So in a fit he burns his books; in the embers he spots a book that suggests he call on Mephisto (Emil Jannings.) He does so and is repelled at what he did. However after some dickering he accepts a one day contract to at least be able to help some of the plague victims. Naturally he is to reject God and sign in blood. And you guessed it things go wrong. He is tempted by youth, "Your Life was only the dust and mold of books.", and distracted with an Italian cutie Duchess of Parma (Hanna Ralph) just long enough for the sands to run out on him. From there things go down hill but the story heats up.
With the overwhelming visuals and great acting one tends to not notice the elements or threads that tie this film today to our society. Notice the standard circle and the calling upon the four corners as Faust calls three times the name Mephisto. Also notice the garlands that Gretchen made for the children. More interesting is the use of the flower with "She loves me...she loves me not."
Emil Jannings does such a good job that you almost find your self rooting for the bad guy.
Faust is an elderly scientist in the medieval mode, open to alchemy as much as chemistry. He works hard for a cure to the plague that is ravaging his home town. He also prays to God that the cure he's invented will be efficacious. Faust gives his concoction to a woman who dies almost immediately. He despairs. He starts burning his books, even a bible. One book is clearly an occult book, since it has a way to summon Mephisto to do one's bidding. It blows open on the fire. Faust sees the spell, tries it out, but immediately regrets it. Faust runs away from the lightening and fireballs that herald Mephisto's arrival. Mephisto is not one to be put off and eventually enters a pact with Faust. Mephisto will be his servant if Faust signs over his soul. Faust agrees, letting Mephisto come up with a cure for the plague. When one plague victim clings to a crucifix, Faust can't approach her, leading the locals to stone him. Mephisto whisks him away, turns him young, and sets him on a life of debauchery. Can true love with hometown girl Gretchen save Faust's soul?
Director Murnau (most famous for Nosferatu, his unauthorized adaptation of Dracula) is in top form with amazing special effects and great performances, especially from Emil Jannings as Mephisto. He's both creepy and comical, morphing to match whoever he's playing against. He's a classical demon (horns and wings) when debating the archangel, a wizen old man when dealing with old man Faust, and a young rake gallivanting around with the youthened Faust. His adeptness at corrupting Faust and others is horrifying and fascinating. The effects are a convincing blend of miniatures, camera tricks, and lighting. For a 1920s silent film, it's astounding.
Marlowe's Faust ends in a bleak and very hopeless kind of way whereas Goethe has Faust redeemed at the end with the idea that caring about others and love is the most powerful and most transcendent force in the universe and that, as it is the ultimate goodness, you cannot be damned if you can love.
This silent film is heavily based on the more hopeful version of the story by Goethe, containing elements of both part 1 and part 2 of Goethe's Faust. I strongly recommend this for anyone who is a fan of Goethe's version of Faust. I sort of wish it would get a remake, still set in the fifeenth / sixteenth century and with the same ending (even if people do find the idea of love redeeming you to be saccharine). I think we need stories like this. And it is a shame the Goethe version of Faust isn't more well known in the English speaking world.
This two disc DVD contains my now favorite silent film. This is the only film version of Faust to cover both Part 1 and 2 of Goethe's Faust. It strays a bit but the bulk of the story, particularly most of the Faust / Gretchen storyline is in tact. Most people only adapt the Christopher Marlowe version of the Faust legend if they are even familiar with it at all, which is sad because Goethe's version is the only one where Faust gets redeemed at the end. Faust is the German legend loosely based on a real life alchemist and self-proclaimed sorcerer. From this legend we get the demon name Mephistopheles AKA Mephisto, who in the legend, was not Satan himself but actually a high ranking demon.
This adaptation is from the director of Nosferatu. Apparently he loved to refilm many scenes several times in several different ways so at one point there were thirty different versions of this film floating around, some with differing dialogue, some with scenes shot slightly different, some with scenes missing, some with scenes added. Film historians have found five. This DVD contains two of them. An American release, and the original German version restored as much as possible to it's original content. The German version is on disc 1 with an option for English subtitles. The American cut is on disc 2. One scene that was changed in some versions is there's a scene with a bear. Some versions it's a man in a bear costume. Some with a live bear and in one cut the bear obviously actually hurt one of the actors but they leave it in.
I have seen people complain that Mephisto is too comical and not dark enough but clearly these people are not that familiar with Goethe's version of Faust. Mephisto was flamboyant, comical, but yes, evil. And that's what you get here. I have also seen the complaint that they "Tacked on" Faust going to Heaven and even the love story because "That's not in Marlowe's version." This is NOT Marlowe's Faust. Most of this version is based on the Goethe version of the story.
One thing that they changed for this film is one thing that they probably should have left alone. in Goethe's Faust the deal was for the ultimate experience, the moment Faust would wish to never end. In this film that's not the bargain. But considering how easily bored and distracted Faust gets at times I think it would have made certain parts better if that had been the deal.
In general though this is the only film version to truly tackle both parts of Goethe's Faust and they did it very well.
Most recent customer reviews
Every shot is an incredible work of art.