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"Shadow of the Vampire" is inspired by the brillant and eccentric
director F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent film "Nosferatu", considered by many
to be the greatest vampire film ever made.
This production has grown out of the fascination of writer Steven Katz for
Murnau's legacy. The legendary director is remembered for many cinematic innovations,
but this story is launched by Murnau's well-documented and relentless pursuit
of realism film.
"Shadow of the Vampire" depicts Murnau's tyrannical treatment of
his cast and crew and the mysterious events, disappearances and deaths that plague
the production as it moves to increasingly remote locations.
Eventually it transpires that Murnau's obsessions have led him to cast a real
vampire in the film. When, near the end of the production, the filmmakers find
themselves stranded on a remote island with the vampire, they come to understand
that there is only one way to survive: by finishing the movie.
Eddie showed up at the London Film Festival screening of Shadow
of the Vampire.
Click for the larger pic
(Izzard fan, Randy G. sent me this great review of Shadow
of the Vampire which she recently caught at the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival)
Too often the opening credits of a film are ignored or an audience
simply will use this time for idle chat. During a recent screening of Shadow of
the Vampire at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival a blessed silence was present
during the exceptional artwork accompanying the credits. The sepia tones set the
mood and timeline for the film to follow. An audible round of applause greeted
Britcom, Eddie Izzard's name. I am guilty. I was one of about 20 whooping and
hollering for Eddie.
The film traces in a loose docudrama format the making of Nosferatu, the first
silent horror film about Dracula, by German director Murnau. The director in his
quest for realism, it seems has hired what may be an actual vampire to play the
lead in his film!
Mr. Izzard's performance as a silent film hack, long on ego and short on talent,
is notable and very funny. And it about time he had a film in which his talent
for drama and comedy can be combined. But this film really belongs entirely to
Willem Defoe as Max Schreck who walks (or rather skulks away with the entire film).
His portrayal as a vampire turned film actor is the highlight of the film and
we follow his progress as he changes from merely a blood sucking creature of the
night into a moody and demanding film actor making Nosferatu director Murnau's
(John Malkovich) life a technical nightmare.
The film is flawed but fun and during the course of the film humor seeps into
all corners as we watch the rag tag film crew in their efforts to follow Murnau's
'struggle to create art.' We note how the vampire no matter how scary has to endure
the tedious process of film making just like all the other actors.
Eddie Izzard (Gustav Von Wangenheim)
A genius of stand-up comedy whose concert tours of Europe and America regularly
sell out and whose videos constantly top the best-selling lists, Eddie Izzard
was called "the funniest man in England" by no less than John Cleese.
He is also building a strong reputation as one of Britain's brightest acting talents.
Among his film credits are THE AVENGERS, THE CRIMINAL, MYSTERY MEN, CIRCUS, THE
SECRET AGENT and an unforgettable performance as the pop manager from Hell in
Eddie Izzard on Gustav, bad acting, and vampires:
"As you see in the film, silent film-making was quite a curious
way of acting because someone is just telling you your every emotion as it comes
up. I thought it would screw with my mind -- John Malkovich saying 'OK you're
feeling this,' 'what did you think then?, 'who's that coming out of that hole?,"
etc. But actually it works, and it's quite fun really. You almost have to do nothing
except react to what's happening in front of you. It's a bit like improvisation.
I've done quite a lot of improv and you often have a narrator saying 'it was a
stormy day and so Dr Zhivago arrived.' This is what John Malkovich has become
-- the narrator of the scene -- and I'm the actor. I think you have to make your
reactions much larger too. I might have underplayed it a bit because Gustav in
the actual NOSFERATU had some big bad acting. He does some movements which seem
very over the top now. He wasn't a good actor. He was not their main choice, he
wasn't even in the top ten. So he's not that great and does seem very over the
top except for when he's with the vampire. But, when he's with Count Orlock he
does put in a pretty good performance; maybe he's just scared out of his wits.
How to be a bad actor is quite tricky really. In the end I think I might have
been slightly better than a bad actor. However, people might go 'no, you're a
terrible actor' and if that happens then I've done it well because he was a bad
From Izzardfan MariaK (who went to the Toronto Film Festival and
saw Shadow of the Vampire):
What can I say - I was very impressed with Eddie's acting ability. It was character
acting and he suited the part well. John Malkovich and Willem Defoe were brilliant.
There were several "Eddie" lines in the movie that you just couldn't
overlook and the audience caught on very quickly.
There was one scene where Eddie says "I'm not happy! and all I could think
of was....."with my wash" (said by a small dog). I was not the only
one that had the same thought as many people started laughing immediately after
Just before the movie started we were all pleasantly surprised when Elias Merhige
and Willem Dafoe showed up and said that there would be a question and answer
period after the movie. I did take a picture of them but I was
so far away I'm not sure if will be any good.
Unfortunately I could not stay after the movie as I had to get back to work but
I'm hoping they will put a bit of information in the Toronto National Post about
I can tell you that this movie is surely the turning point for Eddie and will
go and see it again when it is officially released.
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE: On one hand, this is the JFK of moviemaking movies;
this VERY fictionalized tale of the making of the classic German silent horror
movie Nosferatu libels most of its real figures, depicting director F.W. Murnau
as a kind of cinematic Dr. Frankenstein and actor Max Schreck as a genuine vampire!
But as a metaphor for the filmmaking process itself, it's fascinating, involving,
and often very funny. A surprising and gratifying effort from director E. Elias
Merhige, who made the definitively difficult Begotten several years back. -- Glenn
Kenny, Premiere Magazine
From Coming Attractions:
One of the seminal films of the silent era was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu,
the first great vampire movie. It starred a fellow named Max Schreck, who was
brilliant in it, but remains a man of mystery of which almost nothing had been
heard of before or since.
Now screenwriter Steven Katz got the idea that it might
be an interesting speculation that the reason why no one has heard of Mr. Schreck
before or since was that he was a REAL vampire living, or rather UN-living in
a ruined castle in the Czech woods.
So with the joke of the picture set, he and director Elias
Merhige have made both a reconstruction of how films were made back in the 1920s
and a really wicked comedy at the same time.
John Malkovich plays F.W. Murnau as a man obsessed. Unable
to get the rights to "Dracula from Bram Stoker's widow, he changes the name
of the vampire to Count Orlov and another few changes. He and his producer Albin
Grau (Udo Kier) have assembled the top actors and crew available in Berlin, but
to the dismay of all his coworkers, Murnau wants to film much of the work on location
in Czecholsovokia. Here, they are told that they would meet up with the mysterious
Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), who is supposed to be a method actor who has to be
completely in character 100% of the time.
But the real deal was something completely different. Things
go wrong almost immediatley, when Schreck attacks first the leading man (Eddie
Izzard) and nearly kills the cameraman (Ronan Vibert).
Murnau isn't very happy with the turn of events.....
This is one of those films that must be seen for the performances.
Wilem Dafoe is delectable as Shreck. He gives it one of those hammy performances
which both dazzle and tickle the funnybone. It has Oscar nomination written all
over it. Malkovich brings the his usual intensity to the part of the obsessed
director, and his constant battles with his coworkers are wonderful to behold.
Fritz Wagner (Cary Elwes is a blast as the replacement cameraman and ametur pharmicist
to the leading lady (Catherine McCormack), who herself does a nicely done bit
of scenery chewing.
All in all, this is a really fun film, just the thing for
Christmas viewing. 3*
-- Eric Lurio
of the Vampire
Dir: E. Elias Merhige (USA) | Globe & Mail (thanks Peggy!)
The idea is intriguing. Suppose that F. W. Murnau, the German visionary who directed
the classic Nosferatu back in 1922, had engaged in a singular bit of typecasting:
The vampire he recruited was the real deal, passed off as a "method actor"
named Max Schreck. Now let's visit the obsessed Murnau (who better to play him
than John Malkovich?) on the movie set, and watch as he strives to keep the peace
between his all-too-credible star and an all-too-vulnerable crew. Yep, a terrific
idea, but the execution is a little flawed, especially in the last act. The result
is an adequate horror flick about the making of a great horror flick. However,
from the true nature of acting to the voracious appetite of genius, the script
does raise a veritable checklist of fascinating aesthetic issues. Too bad it cheats
a tad on the answers.
Britain's Eddie Izzard had a fine time playing a bad actor in
the coming Lions Gate tongue-in-cheek thriller ``Shadow of the Vampire.''
This is a movie-within-a-movie about the filming of F.W. Murnau's
silent screamer, ``Nosferatu.'' Izzard plays real-life actor Gustav Von Wangenheim,
who portrayed ``Nosferatu's'' leading man. (He's not the vampire; that was Max
Gustav was quite the ham. ``He did a lot of big bad acting,''
In this movie, Willem Dafoe plays a real vampire, passing himself
off as an actor, with John Malkovich as the unsuspecting director. Dafoe, with
his weirdly sexy persona and minimally fleshed face, is a perfect bloodsucker,
and already there is buzz on his performance. It is time for all the studios to
start pumping prestigious Oscar hopefuls.
From IndieWire (added 05.23.00/thanks Peggy)
A much weirder return to the past comes in Merhige's "Shadow of the Vampire,"
(which Lions Gate will release this Fall), which stars Willem Dafoe as actor Max
Shreck in the great Murnau-directed vampire flick "Nosferatu." But in
this slight, surreal, comic retelling, Shreck is an actual 400-year-old vampire
out to suck the blood of everyone on Murnau' set.
Though the interplay between Dafoe's Shreck and John Malkovich's Murnau is enjoyable,
the overall film feels quite thin. Director Merhige creates some engaging interplay
between actual clips from the original film, and color and black and white footage,
as well as the trademark image of ominous shadows shooting along walls, but the
highlight of the film is truly Dafoe's performance, alternatingly creepy, hilarious,
"Also... finally Eddie Izzard has a great film under
his belt. Eddie has had terrible luck with his films so far. Attaching himself
to pretty cool projects that somehow just dont quite come all the way together...
Well here, in this film he is perfection as the actor that plays the role of Thomas
Hutter, the Jonathan Harker-ish role, in Nosferatu. His make up, his hair, his
accent. Perfect. When he first meets Count Orlok at the castle... it is literally
a GREAT hair-raising scene. "
from the NY Tim"
of the Vampire, by E. Elias Merhige, is also in Directors' Fortnight. It's a comic
fantasy in which F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) is making his classic vampire film
Nosferatu with his star Max Schreck, only Schreck is really Dracula, an actual
vampire (Willem Dafoe). Murnau is a trippy perfectionist ham who will do whatever
it takes to get his masterpiece finished, and Malkovich's flamboyant toughness
is a boon. He's a showy sadist who knows that he has to have drama even in his
real life. The movie feels a little leaden, despite a glorious turn by the British
comedian Eddie Izzard as a silent film actor who can pop his eyes with the best
That is until Dafoe shows up. With his parchment-pale countenance
and devotion to character - the strangest professional ever seen on a film set
- he is beloved by the crew despite the fact that he's eliminating them one by
one. "The German stage needs you," someone says after this real-life
Nosferatu grabs a bat out of the night air and hungrily drains it.
Dafoe uses his natural gravity for laughs; his Dracula is
a vain lizard who hijacks the production with ideas of his own in this movie that
mocks the self-absorption of the artist. "
The first real good look at Willem Dafoe in makeup