Friday, October 26, 2018

Faust (1926 film)

Based on the German folk legend, Faust is the story of a wager between an archangel and a demon over the soul of the titular character to see if he can be corrupted or stray from corruption. Directed by F.W. Murnau and screenplay by Hans Kyser, the film is a simple tale of good versus evil as it relates to a man at the center of this wager. Starring Gosta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Wilhelm Dieterle, Frida Richard, and Yvette Guilbert. Faust is a rapturous and eerie film from F.W. Murnau.

The film revolves around a wager between the demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) and an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) similar to the story of Job about a man’s devotion to his faith where they bet on the soul of an elderly alchemist and the decisions he would make in his life. It’s a film about a man who has good intentions of wanting to help people but in making a deal with Mephisto, the titular character (Gosta Ekman) would put himself into trouble. Hans Kyser’s screenplay follow Faust as someone who is trying to create a cure for this growing plague that is happening in this town with the locals turning to Faust for help. Faust struggles to come up with a cure where he struggles with his faith until he finds a passage in the Bible about a pact made with Satan that could give him the power and glory to help others. Upon making the deal with Mephisto, he is given a one-day trial to see what he can do as well as become a young man again where Faust accepts this pact where he later pursues an innocent young woman named Gretchen (Camilla Horn).

F.W. Murnau’s direction is definitely stylish as it play into that period of precised framing devices and compositions that is common with German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. Shot at a studio in Germany, Murnau would use the full-frame aspect ratio to great lengths where he would employ wide shots to get a look of the setting including a lavish wedding sequence involving a duchess. Much of Murnau’s direction emphasizes on medium shots and some close-ups to play into the choices that Faust makes as it also include some dazzling visual effects shot of superimposed objects or things onto another shot which was considered groundbreaking for its time. Notably as Murnau would create these shots and compositions that play into the drama including moments in the third act where Gretchen’s affair with the young Faust would lead to trouble. Even as its aftermath would have Murnau create these precise compositions as well as elements of fantasy through these effect shots that add to the despair that Faust would endure. Overall, Murnau crafts an intoxicating yet haunting film about a man selling his soul to a demon.

Cinematographer Carl Hoffmann does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography to play into the interiors of the buildings including Faust’s library early in the film as well as family home that Gretchen lives in and the streets at night. Editor Elfriede Bottrich does terrific work with the editing in creating rhythmic cuts and montages for some of the dramatic moments including a few moments in the wedding and fantasy sequences. Art directors/costume designers Robert Herlth and Walter Rohrig, with additional contributions on costumes by Georges Annenkov, do brilliant work with the look of the sets as well as the exterior streets and the costumes that characters would wear including ceremonial robes for the people carrying the dead. The film’s music by Jean Hasse from its 2007 restored edition is superb for its piano-based score that play into the drama and suspenseful moments in the film as it adds a richness to the visuals.

The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Hanna Ralph as the Duchess of Parma, Eric Barclay as the Duke of Parma, Werner Fuetterer as the archangel, William Dieterle as Gretchen’s brother Valentin, Frida Richard as Gretchen’s mother, and Yvette Guilbert as Gretchen’s aunt Marthe who creates potions as she falls for Mephisto unaware of who he really is. Camilla Horn is fantastic as Gretchen as an innocent young woman who is devoted to God until she is given a necklace that would later put her in trouble due to her affair with the young Faust that would bring her to ruin. Emil Jannings is brilliant as Mephisto as the evil demon who coerces Faust to make a pact as he would do everything Faust wishes for with a lot of trouble as it’s just a charismatic performance from Jannings. Finally, Gosta Ekman in an amazing performance as the titular character as an old alchemist who is struggling with his faith until he makes a deal with Mephisto where he becomes young again and given all of the things he wants until he deals with the chaos that he creates pondering about the decision he made.

Faust is a phenomenal film from F.W. Murnau. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a riveting story of faith and desire, and a hypnotic music score, the film is definitely a gorgeous silent horror film that play into these grand visuals with a story that play into the faults of man. In the end, Faust is a sensational film from F.W. Murnau.

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

I'm not crazy about silent films but I really want to search this one out.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-This is a film worth seeking out as I recorded it from Turner Classic Movies. I'm not sure if it's available for streaming and with the news about Filmstruck yesterday, it might not be available for long. Fucking AT&T.

Dell said...

I have heard about this one, but haven't seen it. I do want to check it out. Hope I can find it.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-I'd always suggest checking out Turner Classic Movies although I doubt finding it on a streaming service right now will be more difficult as Filmstruck is about to go out of business next month and they're not taking on any new subscribers.