Shadow Of The Vampire  

Review by Spoot

I went to see Shadow of the Vampire last week and I am of two minds on it so I will split my review into two parts. I am writing this as a collage of my opinions, without any synopsis of the plot, but I am assuming most people reading this have already read some of the reviews and previews of the movie and so will be able to understand my references. If not, my apologies.

The first part of my review concerns Eddie, which after all is the main reason why we Izzardites will see this movie. As far as Eddie is concerned, I was very gratified! He was very good in it,funny and quite convincing as the shallow, egocentric ham actor Gustav, and though he was not at his
handsomest, he made wonderful use of his expressive face. I cannot wait to see him in a leading role!

He was wonderful in his scenes as Gustav, with his twenties slicked back hair and his cigarette holder. Very reminiscent of an Agatha Christie movie, which BTW he'd be wonderful in. He really does play this kind of
character very well, as he did in The Secret Agent as the supercilious Vladimir. What's funny is that Gustav is so full of himself and so self absorbed that he is incapable of realizing that Shreck is really a vampire.

And then he plays Hutter in the movie within a movie. He plays him atrociously, truly a bad actor. I saw the original Nosferatu though, and as bad an actor as Eddie portrays, the real Gustav was much worse. So maybe
Eddie was too subtle and nuanced to ace this part of his role. Anyway he is very funny, pitiable, except that the character Gustav is too in love with himself to be aware of his lack of talent.

The second part of my review concerns the movie, which was a disappointment, although an interesting one. The Director was very weak on plot development and on continuity and story. As a result, scenes seemed to be missing and some seemed out of sequence. After a while it was head scratching time, with alot of "huh?" going on in one's mind. It just was a mess and even Eddie's role was affected, of course. What is really frustrating, is one can see the potential for a very powerful movie in this mishmash, and it is glaringly obvious that just a little editing and maybe a few crucial reshot scenes might have done the trick. Maybe the DVD edition, or the Director's cut, will fix this film.

However the art direction was lovely, moody and evocative, the acting all around was terrific, with Dafoe giving a strange and disturbing performance, sometimes a bit over the top, but then sometimes very powerful. But Malkovich turned out to be the star of the movie, it was his character arc that defined the movie, and his unmooring from humanity that is the theme. That premise - which one is the vampire, the one that lives in the ruined castle, or the one that makes art out of life - that is the theme that is buried by the disjointed way the movie was put together.

Also top notch and very haunting is the soundtrack of the movie. I was very affected by the music and I know I'm gonna check out the CD when it comes out.

Sorry folks that I can't be totally positive about this movie but it's worth going to see Eddie's performance. I know I will go see it again, just to stare at him. I actually was concentrating so much on the story in the beginning that I forgot to watch him sometimes!


@ London Film Festival 2000
Review by Angela Lamb

S.O.T.V, is a part biographical and part fictionalised account of the making of FW Murnau’s 1922 film, “Nosferatu”, which is, in some people’s opinion, the definitive film of the vampire myth. For those unaware, “Nosferatu”, was based on Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula”, and was retitled by Murnau, after Stoker’s widow and estate refused to give him the rights to the book.

Great attention has been paid to the overall aesthetics of this film, starting with its initial stylised deco title sequence and continuing with the sepia/black and white action/vocal captions, that appear throughout. You already begin to get the feeling that this is not an archetypal Hollywood film and this feeling is further endorsed within the duration of the piece, you have instead, manouvered into arthouse cinema. It is apparent  that Murnau’s original film has also provided a direct influence on the overall outcome of this film, it’s documentary element cohesively merges with the narrative of “Nosferatu”. This correlation is enhanced by the interdispersal of original footage and reconstructed b+w footage throughout the piece.

Its cast consists of a diverse mix of actors, including John Malkovich (FW Murnau), Willem Defoe (Max Schreck/ Count Orlock), Eddie Izzard (Gustav Van Wagenheim), as its main characters, alongside what appears to be a prominently UK cast. Two of the most notorious personalities to emerge from the original film, are its Director, FW Murnau, and its lead, Max Schreck, who took method acting to an altogether more intensive and alternative level.

Murnau is very exacting, giving word-for-word direction (with no freedom or opportunity for improvisation from his actors). He also thinks of film-makers as scientists, recording memory and experience, rather than being artists or purely a film-maker (even wearing white labaratory coats and goggles – to possibly emphasise this sentiment). He is so engrossed in his art that he will go to the ultimate lengths , even death, to finalise his vision on celluloid. As we see, he also chooses to keep most of his crew uninformed of the hidden dangers of this film process, specifically, Schreck/Orlock, who has taken to inhabiting the local spooky and pretty damn sinister cave, with the exception of Gustav, who is fully aware much to his own horror. Where Schreck is, as far as both he and Murnau are concerned, vampiric and thus displays the attributes of that behaviour/lifesyle. This results in one dilema for Murnau, will he be able to complete his epic before his cast and crew are reduced to corpse-like appetisers for Schreck?

Schreck is a person who is caked in mystery, himself. Other than being known as “an actor of no distinction”, there is little known about him, so maybe he was the ideal candidate to play Orlock. What we do know is that he took method acting to an extreme which possibly no other actor has since instigated, the film’s premise is that Schreck is the real thing, a vampire who has been promised the neck of his leading lady, Greta Schroeder (Catherine McCormack), if he delivers a great performance. This leads to a battle between Murnau and Schreck. Schreck keeps in character at all times throughout the shoot (maybe partly due to the fact that he isn’t actually an actor, as Murnau later reveals, and also because he’s a tad barmy or eccentric depending on your viewpoint).

Greta Schroeder is an artistically tempremental and sultry actress, chosen by Murnau (who appears to having a

relationship with her, amongst other things), and suggests that this may be her one chance to break into the film business.

Gustav Van Wagenheim, is the hapless individual who has the unenviable task of dealing with the monstrous figure of Orlock. He bears more than a few passing similarities to Eddie, in terms of his mannerisms, which are made more apparent in the moments in which we see him playing against Schreck’s Count Orlock, as it is dependent solely on gesture (as this is one of those new-fangled silent movies!). The similarity can also be seen in the vocal posturing as Gustav discusses the progress of Murnau’s film with other cast members and in his general conversations. Eddie has been furnished again with big hair, but much more importantly, a decent and bulky proportion of dialogue, which has also been well scripted.

Throughout the film, everyone, as we can observe, gets increasingly spooked due to Schreck and his eccentricities, and it takes it’s toll profoundly on first cameraman, Wolfgang Muller.

The film has the full ingredients of horror and documentary, spooky underlighting of faces, extreme make-up, good dialogue (in it’s documentary sections), eccentric characters, atmospheric soundtrack, superstition and great one-off, comical improvisations, especially from Schreck. Schreck can be observed throughout the piece losing control and losing the plot simultaneously, to the extent that even Murnau is getting disturbed by his behaviour, but still continues to roll the camera.

In the end, who is madder Murnau or Shreck? You decide....

In conclusion, this is an excellent film which has been beautifully directed and scripted, which provides a good combination of both drama and comedy, in equal contrast. It would be enjoyable to see more of this kind of cinematic product coming out of the Hollywood factory and breaking the occasional mould.

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