Thursday, February 10, 2011

#188. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Directed By: E. Elias Merhige

Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier

Tag line: "An Unspeakable Horror. A Creative Genius. Captured For Eternity"

Trivia: The part of Max Schreck was written specifically for Willem Dafoe

In the early 1920's, German director F.W. Murnau made a film based on Bram Stoker's classic novel, Dracula

With Max Schreck playing the part of a bloodthirsty vampire, Murnau's film, Nosferatu, remains, to this day, a masterwork of horror.

Released in 2000, Shadow of the Vampire is a fictional account of the making of Nosferatu, but with a slight modification to the story; this time around, Max Schreck is not merely an actor portraying a vampire. In a twist that is certainly among the most ingenious in recent memory, a real-life vampire (Willem Dafoe) has been hired by Murnau (John Malkovich) to play the role of an actor named Schreck who will, in turn, play a vampire in his new film. 

And how did Murnau convince an actual vampire to star in his movie? By promising him the throat of the leading lady (Catherine McCormack) once filming was completed. 

For Murnau, it's the perfect arrangement, the ultimate truth for his artistic endeavor, but can he control the beast he has so callously unleashed on his unsuspecting crew?

With Shadow of the Vampire , director E. Elias Merhige has done more than create a brilliant film, with top-notch performances delivered by its two stars (Dafoe was nominated - and rightly so - for an Academy Award for his chilling portrayal of the vampire). Merhige has also delivered an engrossing parable of morality vs. artistic endeavor, and the accountability of the artist towards the creation of his art. 

From the opening scene, it’s apparent that Malkovich's Murnau is a man obsessed; he considers himself an artist, and is convinced that his tool, the motion picture camera, will one day prove more expressive than paint and canvas. He knows that images committed to film - aside from being in motion - are permanent, and Nosferatu will stand as his testament to future generations, the ultimate proof of his creative skills. It is for this reason, and to this end, that Murnau so willingly offers up the blood of his crew to a monster.

But then who is the real monster of Shadow of the Vampire? Schreck is a killer, but only because nature has made him one. Murnau, on the other hand, risks the lives of those who depend on him, all for the furthering of motion pictures as a legitimate art form. Schreck kills to survive, and to a degree we can pity him his pathetic existence. Murnau’s demons, unleashed time and again throughout the film, are the by-product of a seemingly self-centered personality, and this makes his transgressions almost impossible to forgive.

As evidenced in Shadow of the Vampire, the pursuit of a filmmaker - or indeed any artist - to achieve immortality through their work is often a double-edged sword, and the most frightening thing about a double-edged sword is there’s no way of knowing who will be cut by it.


Klaus said...

Great review of one my favorite films. Willem Dafoe is amazing in his portrayal of Max Schreck - the vampire. What an ingenious screenplay!

I know a good number of people who didn't care for this movie - and I could never understand why.

It's fun to watch Nosferatu (1922) back to back with Shadow of a Vampire (2000) to see what a remarkable job that Elias Merhige did with this film.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Klaus: Thanks so much. Here's another movie I was lucky enough to catch on the big screen when it was first released. I saw it with a friend from work, and we were both very impressed with Dafoe and Malkovich, as well as the film's use of humor ("You will have no closeups! ZERO!").

Merhige does do a wonderful job recreating NOSFERATU, and the story twist itself is second to none.

emre said...

I really enjoyed watching Cary Elwes a British actor doing German accent in this film. It was professional.