Faust (1926)

by guest writer

Faust (‘Eine Deutsche Volkssage’) is, as the original title suggests, a German legend. As in every type of folk tale we know of, basic facts are mixed with supernatural elements. As for the real Doctor Faust, it seems he has been a wandering scholar and conjuror who went through Germany at the start of the 16th Century claiming to cure the sick and practice magic. There were soon rumours that he was employed by the devil. All these facts were noted in the ,,Faust books” and somewhere along the journey the artful doctor was transformed into a noble old scientist. The story’s interpretation has been immortalized in various works of art, most notably the tragedies of Cristopher Marlowe (end of 16th century) and Goethe (start of 18th century). Many cinema pioneers were inevitably attracted by the supernatural elements of this legend: Georges Méliès, the Lumière brothers, George Albert Smith, Marcel L’Herbier, etc.

Murnau’s interpretation is the most complete, being a visual simphony of wind, flames and smoke. All these touches of genius were accomplished in a period when there were no computers to create startling effects of the kind Hollywood uses nowadays. To achieve what he wanted, F.W. Murnau stopped at nothing, using methods that may seem cruel and often made life decidely uncomfortable for the actors. An example of this extreme is the scene of the terrible plague that shakes Faust’s faith in God and himself. Emil Jannings had to stand for several hours on a metal grid above a model town while his cloak was blown aloft by powerful electric fans and clouds of soot were pumped out from beneath his feet. These are the true revolutionary moments in cinema.


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