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Sunday, June 26, 2011
A Trip Back in Time for NOSFERATU at Lyric Hall
There are a few horror films which have particularly shaped me into the fan that I am today. And on the short list of these would certainly be F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, which has long been one of my favorites, and also among my picks for the most frightening motion pictures ever made. And this weekend, the Captain and myself were blessed with the opportunity to witness it as it was meant to be seen--on a big screen in a theater, with a live musical accompaniment.
I first discovered Nosferatu as a college student back in the early 1990s, having come across an old VHS copy at a street fair in Brooklyn. I'd heard a lot about it, but it wasn't until I saw it that I truly became mesmerized by this German Expressionistic masterpiece. I instantly became a champion for the film, publicly exhibiting it on my college campus during my time in the English Club (hey, it was based on Bram Stoker's novel, right?) and showing it to everyone I could. I even had a rare opportunity to head to Greenwich Village with some of my college pals to actually see the movie in a proper theater, with a live piano accompaniment. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but little did I know I'd have the chance to revisit it.
Fast-forward some 15 or so years later, and there we were, converging on New Haven's historic Lyric Hall for a unique exhibition of Nosferatu, this time with a live jazz ensemble accompaniment, no less. And it truly was a thrill to witness one of the most powerful horror films ever made, in such a way.
The venue alone made it worth the trip. Lyric Hall was an old vaudeville house going back a hundred years, and exactly the kind of intimate theatrical setting in which the movie might have originally been seen in 1922. Decorated with ornate chandeliers, elaborate moldings and gorgeous paintings, it was the ideal place to immerse oneself in such an experience. Sure, they were using a projection of the 2007 Kino DVD special edition release, but so what? That's the version with the remastered picture and restored tint, which only made it all the better.
The Lyric Hall Theater Orchestra, a small ensemble made up of guitar, tuba, accordion, saxophone, drums and assorted bizarre electronic noisemakers, put together an eccentric and engaging score for the film, which was especially effective during its more original portions. The droning, accordion-led music helped paint a nightmarish picture of dread that made me see the picture in a way I never had before.
That said, if I had to gripe about anything, it would be the noticeably inappropriate musical choices that peppered the score at periodic intervals. For instance, what would possess them to employ the theme to the movie Ben during the rats scene on the ship? Or "Happy Trails" as we watch Hutter gallop toward Count Orlock's castle? Or the Motown hit "Please Mr. Postman" at the moment he sends off his letter to his wife? While amusing, such post-modern, ironic touches only served to undermine the power of the film, and turn it into something to snicker at, rather than be terrified by. Much of the music actually worked against the film, which a good score should never do. Unless it was their intention to turn it into a comedy, which was not clear from the advertising at all.
Nevertheless, the music was, by and large, quite ingenious and suitably foreboding, in an unorthodox fashion. I can honestly say, that even after all these years, I've managed to see Nosferatu in a new light, taking away from it something I never did before. So you can imagine my delight when it was announced that in the fall, Lyric Hall will be presenting John Barrymore's 1920 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. If only they can restrain themselves from the snarky musical interjections, that should be a lot of fun--and you can bet that the Captain and I will be on-hand with proverbial bells on.
Nosferatu has meant a lot to me through the years. I've shared it with close friends, with my children, and now, with my dear Captain Cruella. And I'm honored to have seen it not once, but twice on a big screen with live music. 2012 will mark the 90th anniversary of the film, and I'm already gearing up for a year-long celebration here in The Vault of Horror. So as I see it, this weekend's screening was the perfect warmup...