The Undead

The other night I went with my neice to see Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre, a remake of F.W.Murnau's 1921 classic Nosferatu. It's a long time since I saw a Herzog film and I didn't know quite how I would go with it. The professionally and constitutionally dispeptic film writer John Walker's summary in the 1995 Halliwell's was not encouraging: 'Excruciatingly slow retread of the German silent film' he wrote. Yes, it is slow. Excruciatingly? No, I didn't think so. Camilla, who is 23, did. She also found it funny. And it is. But for me it was ... totally absorbing. Some of the time I was thinking about how it was made - the rats that invade the European city once the Count has arrived were a strange and changeable colour, because they were white Hungarian laboratory rats that had each been painted grey; the city also changed because the good people of Delft, where most of the European scenes were shot, would not allow even a limited release of re-painted lab rats on their clean streets and so the production had to move to Schiedam for those bits; the colour, as Walker does not fail to point out, is 'quite dreadful' at times. But ... as drama? Extraordinary. It probably does not surpass Murnau's version for sheer creepiness and starkness of image; on the other hand, there is nearly sixty years of European history between the two films and that counts. The film is about the contagion of history. And the tragedy that our shared dream of immortality has become. And the doomed eroticism that seems sometimes to be our one consolation, however inconsolable we may be. The slowness was like a bath. You could sink into the images because they lingered so long on the screen, as long as Isabelle Ardjani's white neck and dark hair, say, or Klaus Kinksi's immortal loneliness or even the foolishness of Bruno Ganz, the innocent who brings the plague back yet again. The ship motionless upon the ocean with its dusky, dried blood red sails and dead captain lashed to the wheel. The processional of coffins into the great empty square of the city. The shadows ... 1979 was when the governments of the Us and the Uk moved nuclear armed Persching and cruise missiles into Germany, a major play in the endgame of the Cold War. Where are those warheads now? Somewhere. At the end of the film, when Klaus is dead, having stayed too long in Isabelle's bed, and Isabelle is dead too, thinking she has prevailed, and her lover Bruno has become Klaus' avatar and is galloping across what look like salt pans or perhaps the deserts of Iraq with 'so much still to do', is chilling: there is a world out there that is yet to be infected with evil but he will do what he can. Which will be everything. Anyway. We walked away into the warm night apparently not much affected by what we had seen. Told stories about funny t shirts we had seen coming down the street. I kept thinking about the Gypsies who warn Bruno against going up to the Castle: their absolute knowledge that evil is there and can be awakened, along with their absolute refusal to do so. And, I guess, their forbearance, their stamina, once, yet again, it has been.

No comments: