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Thursday, November 12, 2015

FAUST (1926)

Grabbed by Hollywood after the international success of THE LAST LAUGH/’24, F. W. Murnau had two more German silents to finish. First, stumbling over his film-within-a-film TARTUFFE/’25, then recovering with this phenomenal, ultra-lux version of Goethe. (With more laughs than he got out of Moliere.) Adapting classics make for ‘iffy’ projects, but Murnau isn’t afraid to make this a tremendous show rather than a stuffy lecture. Maybe the well-known storyline freed him from spelling everything out, jumping right into the swirling cauldrons of Black Death, unsaintly redemption, and pacts with the devil as wingéd angels fight over the fate of mankind. The plotline isn’t so far off from Gounod’s German-maligned operatic reduction starting with our wizened philosopher/scientist regaining youth (and love) by signing the devil’s contract in blood. Murnau, with Carl Hoffmann on camera, brings it all to life with nearly unending visual astonishments. Many effects no more than beautifully designed/executed double-exposure tricks, others using models or mix-and-match trompe l’oeil via mattes, models or simple juxtapositions of scale. Some still confound analysis or are simply so artistically confident (those flights over the medieval cityscape!), you can only gape. Beautifully paced as storytelling, the acting now looks somewhere between ripe . . . and rot. (As the devil, the incorrigible Emil Jannings makes Charles Laughton look like a minimalist.) But the film is so all-of-a-piece, it still casts its powerful spell. One of the great Big Screen experiences, should you get the chance; meantime, KINO has the latest (and slightly shorter/106") definite foreign cut. Unmissable.

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