October 22, 2010

More From That Odd Little Collection

Well let's see. I've turned you on to Henry Darger, the janitor from Chicago. And there's always been the ghost of B. Traven in just about every blog I've done.

I'll let you find out about Chicago's own Wesley Willis (known as part of the savant-garde) on your own, if you've never heard of him. A lot of his lyrics are pretty NSFW and his post-punk punk rave schizophrenic music and art / cityscapes lifestyle rant madness is really something you should experience probably at night. Later.

Since we're coming up to the Halloween season - which means I will be inserting Nosferatu in the machine for when the kiddies stop by - I thought about Max Schreck, the guy who played Count Orlok in that movie.

What's strange about this guy is that so very little is actually known. Outside of his small body of work and his marriage to Fannie (another silent film "star") there is a huge blank space where a biography should be.

There aren't any written because nobody knows enough about him to put in a book. And that gets my bells and whistles... er... belling and whistling... the minute I see it.

(Enlarge the picture. Go ahead.)

And, of course, since there is all this blank space, what it gets filled with is dubious. People say that during any filming no one would ever see him unless he was in full make-up. He had a "strange and obscure" sense of humor. He even "took long walks in dark forests for recreation." And so forth. Who knows?

It has been remarked by contemporaries that he had a special talent for getting across the plight and condition of people who were "different." You could expect perhaps someone like that having had bad experiences growing up and then transferring that understanding to his acting. But nobody knows because nothing is known of his childhood or his young home life. At all. There is still a theory that there was no such person as Max Schreck (the name means "fright" in German). That it was the concoction of one or more people who perpetrated a hoax on the movie going public of the era. That's been shown to be a stretch, but you know how things sort of linger.

What Schreck does in Nosferatu is command attention. I love the movie - and I consider myself a minor silent film buff - but it is typical silent-movie turgid and absolutely bland EXCEPT when Schrek is on screen. It's like two different movies.

To say he "inhabits" the role of the vampire doesn't even come close to being "it". The plain fact is that, when he's on screen, there is no disbelief to suspend. It's just real. That's all I can say. And that scene where Harker accidentally cuts his finger with a knife at dinner while sitting next to the Count and starts to bleed a little....... yeeeeech is that ever creepy. And I'm a cynical 50ish old crud.

There's a marked difference between eras in horror films. Pretty much because we can, there's always got to be the ugly, brutal, blood-curdling reveal somewhere along the way. And that's the genre. But we should also pay homage to the suggested presence of horror as having a special power all it's own. Though that suggestion always happens in the horror genre, I'm talking about where the awesome "reveal" doesn't happen. Where the continued suggestion of dread is the horror. And then it lingers. I think those kind of atmospheric yarns are more in my league. And Schreck was perfect for it. Whoever he really was.

Mwa ha ha...


B.E. Earl said...

Such a great film. Hard to believe that there really hasn't been a better vampire film made since then. Some have come close (and the original television min-series of 'salem's Lot came the closest), but none have exceeded what Murnau and Schreck achieved so long ago.

Did you ever see Shadow of the Vampire? The fictionalized story behind the story of Murnau, Schreck and Nosferatu? It's a lot of fun.

RW said...

Never saw that. I think the "silent" had something to do with it. It's more terrifying when it's just all in your head...

Brian said...

Shadow of the Vampire is very good.

But we should also pay homage to the suggested presence of horror as having a special power all it's own. Though that suggestion always happens in the horror genre, I'm talking about where the awesome "reveal" doesn't happen.

I think the really good horror movies of the last 30 years or so get this, too, even though the baseline of what they will show has shifted to the more graphic. We have to remember that Nosferatu's mere appearance on film (or Lon Chaney's in the Phantom of the Opera) was pretty damn shocking for the time.

The best example I can think of is actually Hellraiser. Though there is some extremely graphic gore depicted in it (though really not much compared to more recent torture porn like the Saw or Hostel movies), by far the creepiest aspect is all the stuff that is just talked about, referred to, suggested...but not actually shown.

Of course, the novella on which the movie was based is even better, in this regard...

sybil law said...

I always like the suggested scariness more than the overt stuff. Like, I KNOW that blood is fake and no one's actually DYING, but when things are left to my own imagination, well - my mind is pretty freaking sick.
That guy is just creepy looking in general, much less in makeup!!