F. W. Murnau

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Friedrich Wilhelm "F. W." Murnau (December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era, and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s. Although some of Murnau's films have been lost, most still survive.


Early years

He was born as Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in Bielefeld, Province of Westphalia. He attended the University of Heidelberg and studied art history. He took the name "Murnau" from the town in Germany named Murnau am Staffelsee. Openly gay, he was said to be a towering, imposing man at 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) tall[1] with an icy, imperious disposition and utterly obsessed with film.[2] He was a combat pilot during World War I and directed his first film Der Knabe in Blau ('The Boy in Blue') in 1919.

German films

Murnau's most famous film is Nosferatu, a 1922 adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula for which Stoker's widow sued for copyright infringement. Murnau lost the lawsuit and all prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed, but bootleg prints survived. The vampire, played by German stage actor Max Schreck, resembled a rat which was known to carry the plague. The origins of the word are from Stoker's novel, where it is used by the Romanian townsfolk to refer to Count Dracula and presumably, other undead.

Nearly as important as Nosferatu in Murnau's filmography was The Last Laugh ("Der Letzte Mann", German "The Last Man") (1924), written by Carl Mayer (a very prominent figure of the Kammerspiel film movement) and starring Emil Jannings. The film introduced the subjective point of view camera, where the camera "sees" from the eyes of a character and uses visual style to convey a character's psychological state. It also anticipated the cinéma vérité movement in its subject matter. The film also utilized the "Unchained Camera Technique", a mix of tracking shots, pans, tilts, and zooms. Also, unlike the majority of Murnau's other works, The Last Laugh is technically considered a Kammerspiel film rather than expressionist. Unlike expressionist films, Kammerspiel films are categorized by their chamber play influence, involving a lack of intricate set designs and story lines / themes regarding social injustice towards the working classes.

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