From the opening titles, one knows what one is in for, with the subtitle “Approaches to a Lonely Master.” The documentary’s director, Alexander Bohr, has taken an overanalyzed and dull ‘approach’ to the life and career of master filmmaker F.W. Murnau.
Emphasized is Murnau’s deliberate separation from his family and early life, and his cinematic visual style based on fine art paintings, which portray Murnau as an Artist worthy of the admiration of the anal academic. But this unbalanced and all-too-short exploration of a complex personality shows favor for mulling intellectuality (is the flight of Faust and Mephisto in Faust  truly a “cinematic reflection” of Murnau’s wartime service in the German Air Force?) and not nearly enough for a contextual historical assessment of Murnau’s rich contributions to filmmaking techniques, his diverse choice of subject matter, or his lasting artistic achievements. Bohr does adroitly employ animated miniatures to illustrate for the viewer Murnau’s innovations in Phantom (1922) and Der letzte Mann (1924).
While it features some beautiful modern shots of the Europe of Murnau’s early life and films, this English-language version of the German documentary only comes alive when it features footage from Murnau’s Schloß Vogelöd (1921), Der brennende Acker (1922) Nosferatu (1922), Phantom (1922), Der letzte Mann (1924), Faust (1926) and Tabu (1931), and the mindnumbing and ultimately directionless narration is ignored. — Carl Bennett
Kino on Video
2003 DVD edition
Tartuffe (1926), color-toned black & white, 63 minutes, not rated,
with The Way to Murnau (2003), color and black & white, 35 minutes, not rated.
Kino International, K320, UPC 7-38329-03202-9.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, no English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 5 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 11 November 2003.
Country of origin: USA
This DVD edition of the video-based documentary appears to have been produced in a high-definition format (downconverted here for standard NTSC format), as the images are extremely clear and detailed. All of the footage from Murnau’s films appear to have been transferred from 35mm elements, which provide clearer but all-too-brief views from the films that are not entirely well-represented in home video editions.
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Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.