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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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Faust
(1926)
 

The devil claims the earth as his own. A dazzling archangel declares it is not and never will be so. The devil proposes a wager for possession of Earth. If he can corrupt but one man, Faust, all the earth will be his. If he loses, he must leave back to Hell. The devil hovers over Faust’s village.

Plague, death, panic, frustration, resignation. Faust is pious, but cannot call upon God successfully to lift the veil of death. In a moment of false revelation, Faust is tempted to call upon the devil. The wry devil manuevers Faust into accepting dark powers for a day. Faust cures some of the plague, but is outcast when he cannot bring himself to touch a crucifix.

Not realizing his new powers have already failed the test, he accepts the devil’s temptation of youth. The devil has his way. Slowly, all Hell breaks loose (so to speak).

Faust falls for the pure Gretchen, but under the guidance of the devil Faust corrupts Gretchen. She struggles through the birth of their child and its death. But amidst all this suffering, which the devil is really enjoying, something happens to redeem the tragic situation.

Emil Jannings’ performance as the devil in Faust (1926) is both charming and mirthful. Under F.W. Murnau’s direction, Jannings expertly hits dramatic poses that look as though they are modelled after a stylized illustration. But can it be something other than posing that Jannings, a truly great actor, brings to the role? Some modern critics make Jannings out to be nothing more than a pompous overactor. We say that Jannings’ Faust role must be taken as a visual device at director Murnau’s control first and as characterization and a plot device a distant second.

Gösta Ekman as Faust has far more to do with his character and his performance. All characters and situations revolve, like a medieval concept of the solar system, around Faust. Faust is the one who changes during the course of the film. Camilla Horn is lovely as Gretchen, in her first real film role.

But what of the overall effect of the film on viewers? Murnau does depart from the text of plays and legends. The film cannot be considered a faithful adaptation of the Goethe play. But isn’t it something more? Something representative of a new art? At its most shallow assessment, the film is nothing more than stylistic eye candy.

A more sympathetic and enthusiastic assessment of the film places it as one of greatest achievements of German silent cinema and of the UFA studio in particular. Murnau had carte blanche access to UFA resources to help bring his vision to celluloid. Faust is a triumph of art direction, costume design and makeup. Texture, light and shadow, and movement within the frame are all of upmost importance.

Nearly every shot is framed dynamically; either centered to indicate the balance of divinity, otherwise framed in strong angles, tilted framing, and dynamic composition. Nearly every shot indicates the deliberate visual design of director Murnau. Faust features some of the most striking images committed to film, and it is nothing short of a stylistic masterpiece. Our own first encounter with Faust was of jaw-dropping awe.

We find ultimately that the film serves the viewer first as a rich Germanic fantasy, and second as a special-effects extravaganza. — Carl Bennett

2009 Kino International DVD edition

Faust (1926) [German release version], black & white, 106? minutes, not rated,
and Faust (1926) [USA release version], black & white, 116? minutes, not rated.

Kino International, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, two single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, two-disc standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 17 March 2009.
Country of origin: USA
Kino’s revised home video edition of Faust presents two versions of the film: the featured Filmoteca Española restoration of the German release version (with optional English subtitles) and the previously-available U.S. release version.

The set also includes the documentary, The Language of Shadows: Faust, on the making of Murnau’s film (53 minutes); a new musical score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra presented in 5.1 stereo surround or 2.0 stereo; recovered screen-test footage of Ernst Lubitsch’s abandoned 1923 production of Marguerite and Faust; an image gallery; and an essay by film historian Jan Christopher Horak.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2006 Eureka Entertainment DVD edition

Faust (1926), black & white, 115 minutes, classification PG.

Eureka Entertainment, EKA40210 (MoC 24), unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, two single-sided, dual-layered DVD discs, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, German language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £23.99.
DVD release date: 19 June 2006.
Country of origin: England
This new Eureka edition has been transfered and progressive-scan encoded from the recently-recovered German-language print that features exceptional clarity in the A-camera shots not available in the American print commonly used for previous home-video editions.

The film is accompanied by an orchestral music score.

The supplemental material includes a full-length audio commentary by David Ehrenstein and Bill Krohn, a 20-minute video essay by Tony Rayns, a 20-minute video comparison by R. Dixon Smith of the German and English lanugage versions of the film, a stills and promo art gallery, and a 20-page booklet including a new essay by Peter Spooner.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2001 Kino on Video DVD edition

Faust (1926), black & white, 116 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K207, UPC 7-38329-02072-9.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 5 June 2001.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 8 / additional content: 4 / overall: 7.

The presentation of Faust in this Kino edition is virtually identical to the 1996 laserdisc and videotape editions. A very-good 35mm print, with some speckling, dust, processing inconsistencies, emulsion damage and scratches, has been utilized by edition producer David Shepard. The image framing appears to be generous, with no distracting or obvious cropping. The slightly-windowboxed video transfer is otherwise detailed with well-balanced graytones that hold image detail in deep shadows. There is so much smoke in this film, and smoke is so hard to render smoothly under MPEG-2 video compression, there are bound to be several opportunities to notice compression artifacts in the DVD edition. There is generally a flatness to the many graytones that make up moving smoke and some posterization of the subtle gray transitions can be noticed if you are looking for it. Otherwise, the video transfer appears to be flawless — that is, until reevaluated on high-definition equipment. Revisiting the disc now points up the flaws of the source material and the older, softer video transfer. We have chosen to lower our rating of the video quality to bring our evaluation in line with the quality of today’s DVD releases, the film could benefit from a new restoration of the surviving film materials and a new high-definition video transfer.

The print features the main titles in German. All of the film’s intertitles have been digitally set in English in the American Uncial typeface to make them look contemporary to the print, which we think is unnecessary if they are not the original intertitle cards.

Another fine orchestral score by Timothy Brock and the Olympia Chamber Orchestra accompanies the film. Brock manages to evoke musical images in a Germanic tone, and that ominous tone is always an appropriate mood setter for this film. We wish that all video editions of silent era films could afford this orchestral treatment.

The supplementary material includes an extensive photo gallery and a brief essay on Faust in the insert booklet by Jan Christopher Horak. We heartily recommend this edition of Faust as a fine example of what home video editions of silent films should strive to be, and as a tremendous surviving example of the great German films of the 1920s.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2002 Eureka Entertainment DVD edition

Faust (1926), black & white, 115 minutes, classification PG.

Eureka Entertainment, EKA40034, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, dual-layered? DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English? language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles?, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
DVD release date: 21 January 2002.
Country of origin: England
This edition has been mastered from 35mm print source materials.

The presentation features an audio commentary track written by film historian Peter Spooner and read by Russell Cawthorne.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2005 unknown South Korean DVD edition

Faust (1926), black & white, 115 minutes, not rated.

Unknown South Korean company, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, Korean language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 2005.
Country of origin: South Korea
This South Korean edition showed up for sale on eBay late in 2005 and is obviously mastered from the same David Shepard-production edition as the 2001 Kino edition reviewed above.

The presentation features the same Timothy Brock music score.

Other F.W. MURNAU films available on home video.

Other silent era EMIL JANNINGS films available on home video.

Other GERMAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other HORROR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
F.W. Murnau filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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