DVD Picks & Passes
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) - Pick
Titanic (1997) - Pass
Too late for Halloween, but still an all-time classic, Vatican list pick Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror has never looked better on DVD than in Kino’s new two-disc “Ultimate Edition.”
An unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu was dogged by a copyright lawsuit in which all copies of the film were ordered destroyed. Fortunately, rogue prints survived, preserving this pioneering silent German expressionist classic.
With the film itself now in public domain, Nosferatu has long been widely available on VHS and DVD — in mostly poor editions. (Kino’s previous edition was among worthy exceptions.) The new restoration, though, surpasses previous editions, with a high-definition transfer of a new restoration and an orchestral performance of the original 1922 score by Hans Erdmann.
Though diminished by decades of pop-horror incarnations, the vampire remains uniquely evocative of both dread and fascination, horror and seductiveness. Monsters from werewolves to Freddy Krueger may frighten, but don’t attract.
By contrast, the vampire suggests the horror of evil working on our disordered passions. Murnau’s Nosferatu is almost unique in imagining the vampire (Max Schrek) not as darkly handsome, but corpselike and ghastly. Even so, his dread fascination remains troubling; the hero’s wife seems repelled but also mesmerized even as she seeks to destroy him.
Like Dracula, Nosferatu has been the subject of numerous Freudian and sociological interpretations. Murnau’s film, though, alters the equation in ways that upend such interpretations. Search it for allegory and you may find that the imagery remains simply, unsettlingly, itself.
Regrettably, Nosferatu all but eschews the traditional role of Christian iconography (e.g., crucifixes and holy water) in vampire mythology. On the other hand, the vampire’s deathly vulnerability to sunlight is first seen here.
Also new on DVD, James Cameron’s Titanic celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new three-disc collector’s edition. Still (and probably forever) unparalleled as a box-office phenomenon, Titanic can be viewed from many angles — romance, tragedy, spectacle — but is perhaps most usefully seen as a sort of salvation myth. “He saved me,” Rose says, “in every way that a person can be saved.”
But saved from what? The PC bugaboos of our age: chauvinism, privilege, social constraints, patriarchy. Free-spirited Jack “saves” repressed Rose from the “slavery” of marriage to a boor through the gospel of “If it feels good, do it.”
Romantic Enlightenment ideals are celebrated to the exclusion of self-denying virtues: honor, duty and heroism. Cameron even denies the laurel of heroism to upper-class men who willingly went to their deaths while third-class women and children were saved, making the good men ridiculous rather than noble.
Cameron casts the ship itself as the scapegoat, the embodiment of all that is reviled under the rubric of Dead White European Men. For Rose, it is a “slave ship.” When sneering Cal says “Not even God can sink this ship,” clearly the ship must sink — not to vindicate God, but to refute male hubris. Give me a break.
Nosferatu: Macabre menace and unsettling imagery. Silent. Teens and up. Titanic: Large-scale disaster menace and carnage; problematic sexually themed content including an off-screen illicit affair; a suicide; artistic nudity; some profane and obscene expressions.
- November 18-24, 2007