F. W. Murnau

F. W. Murnau

Silent filmmaker F. W. Murnau lived from 1888 to 1931 and had made a total of 22 films. Of the 21 films Murnau directed, 8 have been completely lost, leaving 12 surviving in their entirety. Murnau’s technical mastery especially in the way of special effects, montage editing and elaborate camera techniques, make all of his films extremely exciting to see, as he was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays he had seen at the age of 12. Murnau’s revolutionary use of the floating camera (also given the title the ‘unchained camera’), is often described as being the first time a filmmaker made great use of a moving point of view shot. Murnau’s most popular film is his 1922 horror classic Nosferatu. Although it wasn’t originally a commercial success due to copyright issues with Stoker’s novel, the film is now considered a masterpiece of Expressionist artwork and actor Max Schreck’s frightening rodent like portrayal of Dracula is looked at by many as the defining cinematic version of Dracula. Murnau then adapted Goethe’s Faust in 1926 and because Murnau was brilliantly distinctive with his use of canvas and practical effects, Murnau beautifully constructed one of the most haunting and fantastical vistas of heaven and hell ever placed on celluloid. Murnau’s next film The Last Laugh (1924) tells the story about a hotel doorman played by Emil Jannings who is devastated after losing the one job that brings him respect and happiness. The Last Laugh purposely was made to not include any title cards so there was no reading for the audience and the story had to be only expressed through visuals. The worldwide success of Nosferatu, Faust and the Last Laugh won Murnau a Hollywood contract with Fox, and he immigrated to America in 1926 making a total of three films including Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), 4 Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans was extremely well received and many film scholars today regard it as one of the greatest films of all time. Even though Sunrise was not a financial success, it received several Oscars at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. In winning the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production it shared what is now the Best Picture award with the movie Wings. In 1931 Murnau traveled to Bora Bora to make the film Tabu with documentary film pioneer Robert J. Flaherty, who left after artistic disputes with Murnau, who had to finish the movie on his own. A week prior to the premiere of the film Tabu, Murnau died in a Santa Barbara hospital from injuries he had received in an automobile accident that occurred along the Pacific Coast Highway near Rincon Beach, south of Santa Barbara. Only 11 people attended Murnau’s funeral in Southwest Cemetery in Stahnsdorf near Berlin. Among them were Robert J. Flaherty, Emil Jannings, Greta Garbo and Fritz Lang, who delivered the eulogy.



F. W. Murnau
F. W. Murnau Featured Films

Articles and Essays on F. W. Murnau

Last Laugh, The (1924)

Last 1

“One day you are preeminent, respected by all…a minister, a general, maybe even a prince. But, what will you be tomorrow?!” In the opening shot of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic The Last Laugh the film camera excitingly swoops into a fancy and luxurious hotel as you witness a elderly doorman who feels proud of his respected […]

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Faust (1926)

Faust 1

F. W. Murnau was one of the boldest and imaginative artists working during the silent period of German Expressionism. Along with his horror classic Nosferatu, his creation of Faust is considered one of the greatest of all supernatural fantasies; and the visionary Murnau was so distinctive with his use of canvas that he constructed one of the most haunting vistas […]

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Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu 4

To watch F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror masterpiece Nosferatu is to see the vampire movie before it became a trendy pop icon of commercials, jokes, skits, franchises, books and over 100 different films. Nosferatu is the greatest of all vampire films, and its surreal and haunting tone and intensity gives off the feeling as if its creators were truly in awe of […]

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F. W. Murnau

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