Shadow of the Vampire
Some of the best films are when a director takes a well know genre and twists it around. Shadow of the Vampire is such a film. "Nosferatu," made by F.W. Murnau in Germany in 1922 is still considered one of the best horror films ever made. The premise of Shadow is what if the actor playing the vampire, Max Schreck, wasnt acting? What if he really was a vampire? It would explain the incredible realism that this film presents almost 80 years after its making. F.W. Murnau (John Malkovitch) is the unstable genius that is directing the film. Driven by the need to create the perfect silent film be looks beyond the method of the actors to strive for true realism. He is also uncaring, concerned with little more than his film. Driving his crew to extremes he pushes the limits of the young film industry. Willem Dafoe is Max Schreck, the decaying vampire. Schreck is ancient and pushed on in his unnatural existence by his insatiable appetites. Promised the blood of the leading lady, Greta (Catherine McCormack), he can not control himself. In one of the many darkly funny moments Murnau scolds the vampire for killing the cinematography. The chastising was not for the loss of life but the delay in the shoot because Murnau would have to return to Berlin to hire a new one. Murnau orders the count not to devour any more of the crew to which Schreck replies "we dont need the writer". Even back then the star of a film made outrageous demands! This film works on several levels due mostly to excellent direction and writing. It is an inside spoof of Hollywood today with the eccentric director, the under appreciated writer and the self-adsorbed star. It is also a dramatic look at the loss of self, the director to his film and the vampire to his forced existence.
The acting is Oscar caliber. Malkovitch as usual does not disappoint. His Murau is arrogant, self centered and so full of hubris that you will find yourself loving to hate the character. This role would have come off as a self-parody in the hands of any lesser actor. Hes mad, mad I tell you! In such a dark film as this Malkovitch provides not only some of the best horror and drama but his over the top insanity gives much needed comic relief. Dafoe is brilliant as the vampire playing an actor that is cast as a vampire. The irony of the situation sets up for many great moments in this film. The interaction between the director and vampire is one of sardonic antagonism. These two actors command the screen. There is a battle of wits going on where both feel they have the upper hand. Where most movies have the vampire afraid of sunlight or stakes, here the director threatens him with the results of schedule delays and cost over runs. This adds a little poke and prod at the whole Hollywood attitudes. Even in the heavy makeup the famous face of Dafoe hits the mark each and every time.
E. Elias Merhige directs this film as a cross between a standard gothic horror and difficult to pull off, film within a film genre. The lighting is reminiscent of the original 1920s horror while maintaining modern standards. He shifts to the film in a film by collapsing the frame to the circular view common in those silent classics. I have the original and each scene we see being filmed here is take for take the same. This attention to detail adds to the overall feel of the film. Merhige does well in the balancing act required to keep the audience interested not only in the main behind the scenes story but also in the film being made.
The disc is excellent. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video holds up as artifact clear even in the darkest of scenes. The color balance is near perfect and the change to the silent full screen mode propels you back to the turn of the last century. The sound is 5.1 Dolby. It makes fairly good use of the rear speakers for a full and rich sound field. The sub woofer is used sparingly, mostly for ambiance rather than special effects. This disc holds its own for extras. There are three interviews, the director, DeFoe and producer Nicholas Cage. Its interesting to hear the perspective of a noted actor as a the producer of a film. Of course Cage has a great family tree in cinema, His uncle is Francis Ford Coppola, and his cousin is Sophia Coppola, but excellent directors. There is also a making of feature and a a commentary track along with the usual trailers to round things out. This is strange but very interesting and very well done twist on the gothic horror.