The next screening is F.W. Murnau’s visually extraordinary version of the classic tale of the man who sold his soul to the Devil in return for his youth
 
FAUST – eine deutsche Volkssage – a German folk legend
1926, 119 min, silent, dir. FW Murnau, script Hans Kyser; nach Motiven von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Christopher Marlowe, der Faust-Sage sowie dem Manuskript «Das verlorene Paradies» von Ludwig Berger, starring Gösta Ekman (Faust), Emil Jannings (Mephisto), Camilla Horn (Gretchen), Ufa AG Berlin
with English sub/intertitles, restored version by Luciano Berriatúa.
 
DATE: 17 MARCH
TIME: 5.00 p.m.
VENUE: Howard College, MTB West Wing 1st Floor, German Programme, Media Room F251
 
About the film:
In collaboration with the screenwriter Hans Kyser, Murnau fused Faust’s script from German folk legend and the works of Goethe, Gounod, and Marlowe (particularly using the latter’s tone). Faust’s tale is a classic one of a man who sells his soul to the devil. In an attempt to gain control of the Earth, Mephisto (Emil Jannings) wagers an angel (Werner Fuetterer) that he can corrupt the soul of the elderly professor Faust (Gosta Ekman). As the Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride demonically through the sky, Mephisto towers over Faust’s hometown unleashing a plague that spreads amongst its inhabitants. Faust, unable to find a cure for the citizens who are dropping dead around him, renounces both God and science invoking the aid of Satan through a mysterious book that he chances across.

Murnau, a perfectionist, shot multiple takes of each scene with only prime takes making the final German domestic cut of Faust. Only the prints made for export outside Germany were seen until recently, indeed this version was at one time thought to be the only version (it used discarded takes, errors, less impressive special effects, and human stand-ins for real animals). Using the nitrate duplicate negatives printed by UFA in 1926 (and an array of international sources) Murnau’s favoured domestic German version of Faust has now been meticulously reconstructed by Luciano Berriatúa for Filmoteca Española from which this newly restored transfer is sourced. (source: https://www.dvdbeaver.com/FILM/dvdcompare/faust.htm)
 
Siegfried Kracauer, after Caligari but still before Hitler, called Faust a simplistic battle of good versus evil that thoroughly vulgarized the nuances of the author, yet there is nothing simplistic about the raging storm of sights and emotions that makes Murnau’s film such a staggering experience. Goethe’s text is sampled throughout, but for Murnau, a poetic visualist with a disdain for intertitles, the image comes first—the screen’s chiaroscuro is sculpted with shadows and light, infernal beasts roam freely and the fate of the world rests on a wager between Satan and the Archangel. The greatest of wonders lies in humanity’s freedom to choose between good and evil, aged alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman) declares among the mortals, and since the cosmic bet hinges on the swaying of his soul, Satan makes things more interesting by spreading pestilence over the man’s hamlet. The unforgettable sight of gargantuan demonic wings engulfing the miniature burg with plague precipitates Faust’s spiritual decline, his inability to save the lives around him leading to despair and the magisterial crossroads rendezvous with Mephisto (Emil Jannings), the satanic trickster sent to show him the allure of decadence.
 
The words of their pact burn onto a blank scroll: Faust’s soul for “the power and glory of the world,” signed in blood. Rejected by the townspeople once the source of his miracles is revealed, Faust chooses pleasure and youth with Mephisto as his servant, the earth seeming to stretch before his eyes during a flight on an enchanted cloak. Here and everywhere, the pictures flow like supernal apparitions out of the characters’ subconscious, revved up by Murnau’s matchless illusionism; the tracking shots across the land during Faust’s magic carpet ride are awe-inspiring not as a special-effect template, but as an indelible visualization of the character’s burgeoning knowledge of the universe beyond the frame, expanding simultaneously with the awareness of his own potential for corruption. Films from the German Expressionism era, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to A Joyless Street and the Mabuse pictures, are famous for their fiercely stylized mise-en-scène, and to Murnau the medium’s very artificiality provided the keys to locating its truths. Rejecting “realism,” the director employs filmic elements (the camera’s angles and movement, rhythm, depth and width of composition) not to photograph the world but to re-envision it as a liquid canvas where the fantastic continuously infuses the mundane. It’s no coincidence that a book-length study of the countless stylistic wonders of Faust was later written by another (albeit considerably less baroque) believer in cinema’s theatricalization of reality, Eric Rohmer.
 
All welcome. For more details please contact: 
 
Dr Marion Pape
German Studies
University of KwaZulu-Natal
School of Arts
Durban, 4041
Tel: 0027-31-260 1086 / 2380
Fax: 0027-31-260 1242
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