- on Thursday, 19 November 2015 08:08
- by Frank Wilkins
There are few things more unforgettable and terrifying in the cinematic annuals than Emil Jannings as Mephisto in F. W. Murnau's Faust. Who? That's your first response. I know, I know. Unfortunately, when it comes to horror, the entire silent era of filmmaking gets overlooked as worthy contributors to that expressive genre. All that's about to change, hopefully, with the release of F.W. Murnau's final German film, Faust, on blu-ray.
And then you too will see for yourself the majesty of Mephisto's wings as he takes Faust on a ferocious flight over an unsuspecting city. Tempting, isn't it? Absolutely. When you see Faust, you will soon understand how the seven long months Murnau spent making the picture did more to revolutionize the medium of film (and bankrupt the studio) more than any other film at the time of its release. Two cameras. Elaborate set designs. And special effects that, to this day, I have no guess as to how they were constructed. In the era of CGI everything, the physicality of Murnau's masterpiece is simply breathtaking.
As a film, Faust is the blueprint of genius. While it is true that Fritz Lang's Metropolis would trump it only a year after its release, there is no doubt in my mind that if there was no Faust, there would be no Metropolis. It is that dazzling of an experience. And when so much is communicated by music and lighting and stage design and towering shadows, experience is the best way to describe watching a silent movie.
Written by Hans Kyser and based upon Goethe's original work, Faust is the story of an elderly chemist's battle against the spread of a deadly plague that is ravishing his community. Dismayed by the amount of death around him, he turns away from the word of God, stops his prayer, and makes a pack with the devil. He is, of course, just a pawn in a much larger game as the devil – fulfilling a bet he made with an archangel – plots against humanity's rise. Faust finds himself young again. He falls in love and, by falling in love, begins to see the devil and his deal with the devil for what it is. Starring Gösta Ekman, Camilla Horn, and Werner Fuetterer as the archangel, it is Jannings as Mephisto who simply steals every scene.
Jannings, a theater actor, might have been disappointed with the limitations in the silent era as far as acting went but throughout Murnau's classic adaptation he is simply chilling. Interesting enough, Jannings was awarded the very first Oscar in 1929 and, to date, is the only German actor to have won the Best Actor Oscar. But here – as Satan himself – he completely transforms his oversized frame as he busies himself with causing human misery, complete with a wicked grin and foreign glowing eyes. Jannings simply nails the role and gives an incredible performance the singular beast with many names.
He is summoned by the reading of a supernatural book. Much like any film with a supernatural book in it. Nothing special, right. Well, hang on because the summoning scene – full of flashing circular lights that create a spiral around Faust while he reads – is just about the most incredible work of pure sound and vision. There is no doubt in my mind that Murnau had total control and every single scene resonates with his vision for the look and feel of the Faust's journey alongside the devil.
Faust, release by Kino-Lorber, is a visual masterpiece that truly does not disappoint. No matter if this is your first time watching or your second, there is no way that it will be your last. Faust only gets better with age.
MPAA Rating: R for some language.
Runtime: 85 mins
Director: F.W. Murnau
Writer: Hans Kyser
Cast: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn
Genre: Drama | Fantasy | Horror
Tagline: Now she was in his power!
Memorable Movie Quote:
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Release Date: December 6, 1926
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: November 17 2015
Synopsis: The demon Mephisto wagers with God that he can corrupt a mortal man's soul.
Available on Blu-ray - November 17, 1926
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Region Encoding: A
Digitally restored in HD from 35mm archival elements and accompanied by either a haunting piano score by Javier Perez de Azpeitia or an orchestral score by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Faust on blu-ray is an exquisite release. This black-and-white feature is dense with stark shadows and – in spite of its age – manages to keep defined lines throughout. Digital artifacts are not problems here. Presented with the original German language art intertitles that were preserved as flash titles in the source material, the movie is literally new in almost every way.
Included on the disc is a 53-minute look at the restoration process. It is easily worth the price of the release alone. There is also a bit of interesting footage from Ernst Lubitsch's abandoned take on his version of the film. The second disc in the set includes a DVD featuring the 1930 alternate cut of the film, with a score by Timothy Brock and the Olympia Chamber Orchestra.
- The Language of Shadows: Faust (53 min)
- Marguerite & Faust Test Footage (10 min)
- Bonus DVD: 1930 cut of Faust