Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888–1931) was a perfectionist, an aesthete and, in many ways, a visionary, whose poetic, painterly, literate and highly cinematic sensibilities brought to the golden age of German cinema new concepts of film form based on a synthesis of all the elements then in vogue – from Caligari-like horrors to an expressionist use of actors’ bodies through to a rugged, sometimes optimistic naturalism (especially in his American period). Murnau’s films embrace the modern world and the new technologies of cinema, but never lose sight of their roots in a romantic and often-superstitious German past; even after the director arrived at Fox studios in Hollywood to much fanfare in July 1926.
Although Murnau’s death at the age of 43 – in an automobile crash – is considered one of the great losses to film history, he still managed to direct an extraordinarily diverse slate of 21 features across a period of only 12 years, and completed at least five or six films that remain landmarks in the medium’s history: Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Faust, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, City Girl and Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. His work in Germany and the United States exhibits an extraordinary inventiveness and dynamism in which “space becomes the central object” (Gilberto Perez). Although Murnau is commonly compared to his compatriots Lang and Lubitsch, his films have an exploratory quality and a way of opening onto the world that draws them closer to the work of Renoir, Ophuls, Mizoguchi, Sjöström and Malick. This season presents most of the key works of Murnau’s brief but extraordinary career, moving from his exploration and expansion of the forms of expressionism, the horror film and the Lubitschean Ruritanian comedy (Nosferatu and The Grand Duke’s Finances) to the full flowering of his talent in Hollywood and beyond (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Tabu: A Story of the South Seas).
The Brink of Life: F. W. Murnau, Cinematic Visionary
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) – Wed 9 Nov, 7pm
The Last Laugh (1924) – Wed 9 Nov, 8.50pm
Nosferatu (1922) – Wed 16 Nov, 7pm
Faust (1926) – Wed 16 Nov, 8.25pm
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) – Wed 23 Nov, 7pm
The Haunted Castle (1921) – Wed 23 Nov, 8.35pm
The Grand Duke's Finances (1924) – Wed 23 Nov, 9.45pm
Australia's longest-running film society, Melbourne Cinémathèque screens significant works of international cinema in the medium they were created, the way they would have originally screened.
Melbourne Cinémathèque is self-administered, volunteer-run, not-for-profit and membership-driven.