Schloss Vogelod DVD
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Directed by F.W. Murnau
Produced in 1921
Main Language - Silent with English subtitles
Suffused with an atmosphere of the uncanny, Schloss Vogelöd contains ideas and sequences that Murnau would revisit in later works such as Nosferatu and Sunrise, says Graeme Hobbs.
As a hunting party of aristocrats wait in Vogelöd Castle for the October rain to clear, their bonhomie is interrupted by an unwelcome visitor in the person of the portentous, beetle-browed and enigmatic Count Oetsch, a man suspected of killing his brother, whose widow, the Baroness Safferstätt, is also due to arrive shortly. Shocked to hear of the Count's tactless appearance at the castle, it is only when she learns her deceased husband's spiritual advisor, Father Faramund, will also be arriving, that she decides to remain. Over the next three days, the truth about her ex-husband's death will out.
Suffused with an atmosphere of the uncanny - Murnau asked art director Hermann Warm for a style that would suggest 'the semi-conscious' - Schloss Vogelöd has an air of foreboding imbued into its setting, with its leading characters weighed down with torments and deep secrets. In the case of the troubled baroness, her high-necked outfits at times provide a literal sign of the suffocation she feels.
Murnau aficionados will recognise situations and sequences that he would adapt for use in his later films: a flashback in which the Baroness is seen arranging flowers and greeting her husband looks forward to a similar situation with Ellen and Hutter in Nosferatu (1922), and a taloned hand intruding into a guest's nightmare to Orlok's eerie entrapment of his prey in the same film; the shot of a priestly figure prowling at the top of a staircase raises the figure of Emil Jannings in Herr Tartüff (1925), while the physical manifestation of the heavy, looming weight of guilt on a character is something Murnau would utilise more fully in Sunrise (1927).
As is to be expected with Murnau, the care with which the film is assembled becomes more apparent on a second viewing, with its strikingly deep-set compositions and subtle touches such an antlered hallway suggesting a menacing, prickly past to one character as he climbs the stairs, or bare branches at a window echoing a hopelessness and lack of solace.
One of the film's end title cards reads, with heavy irony, 'evening calm', but there is little comfort or honour to be found in its final handshakes. It is striking how Murnau has transformed source material that in other hands might leave us indifferent, giving us the lingering taste of a society beset by fear, lies and cowardice.
Graeme Hobbs on 25th July 2011
Author of 275 reviews
One of the earliest and eeriest works by the legendary filmmaker F. W. Murnau, Schloss Vogelöd: Die Enthüllung eines Geheimnisses [Castle Vogelöd: The Revelation of a Secret, often referred to as The Haunted Castle] provides a vital glimpse into the development of the expressionistic style that became Murnau's hallmark and legacy.
A party of aristocrats assemble at a country manor for an autumn hunt. But a long-lingering question threatens once more to rear its head: who really murdered the Baroness's late husband?
With a riveting nightmare sequence that foreshadows the nocturnal fantasias of both Nosferatu and Phantom, and a masquerade conceit that looks backward to Feuillade and forward to Murnau's own Die Finanzen des Großherzogs, this languorous mood piece represents the latent material that will figure into a master director's later breakthroughs.
Publisher: Eureka / Masters of Cinema
Length: 81 mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3
Cat No: EKA40337
Format: DVD B&W
- Original German-language intertitles with newly translated English-language subtitles
- The Language of the Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and His Films, a 31-minute documentary featurette by Luciano Berriatua on the early works of Murnau
- An illustrated booklet containing a newly translated essay on the film, vintage writings on Murnau, and more.