Study Guide for Nosferatu and The Golem

1. Full Bibliographic Entries

(For short form: Short title, and omit {info}.)

Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror) . Dir. F. W. Murnau. Germany: Prana Film, 1922. {Henrik Galeen, script, from Bram Stoker's Dracula. Fritz Arno Wagner, cinematography. Silent, 90 min. NOTE: No offical prints exist, so running times and content may vary. Count Orlock, Nosferatu: Max Schreck, Knock: Alexander Granach, Hutter: Gustav von Mangenheim, Hellen (wife to Hutter): Greta Schroeder.}

Der Golem: Wie Er in die Welt Kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World) . Dir. Paul Wegener and Carl Boese. Germany: PAGU & UFA, 1920 (US release, 1921). {Paul Wegener, Henrik Galeen, script, from a Jewish legend. Silent, 90 min. Golem: Paul Wegener, Rabbi Loew: Albert SteinrŸck, Miriam: Lyda Salmonova.}

2. Comments and Questions

From The Oxford Companion to Film:

Nosferatu was pirated From Bram Stoker's Dracula, and a successful action for breach of copyright resulted in the destruction of official prints. Its importance lies mainly in introducing the vampire to the screen and in demonstrating Murnau's concern for visual effect and his exploration, with his camerman Fritz Arno Wagner, of film technique; negative film was used to suggest an eerie journey and speed-up motion for ghostly beings.

In discussing "The 'Videology' of Science Fiction" (1985), Garrett Stewart says that "Movies about the future tend to be about the future of movies." Less elegantly put, SF films nowadays obviously showcase the state of film technology. Note that this tradition is about as old as movies.

The Oxford Companion to Film on Golem:

[Paul Wegener had done a Golem film in 1914 (Der Golem), set at a time later than the events of the 1920 film.] Wegener returns to the creation of the Golem by the [sic] Rabbi Loew and the victorious fight against the Emperor's expulsion of the Jews from the Prague ghetto. The Expressionist sets in Gothic baroque style--narrow streets, crazy pointed rooftops, and chiaroscuro* lighting--aid the convincing portrayal of magic in medieval surroundings. Wegener's Golem served as a model for future film monsters. [*"Chiaroscuro": giving the illusion of depth.]

  1. Note the idea popularized by J.R.R. Tolkein of primary and secondary worlds. The primary world of a narrative is usually one fairly close to our everyday world; the secondary world is different. A human character may leave the primary world and go across the threshold to the Other Land. Or, an alien from the Other Land may irrupt into our world. How do Nosferatu and The Golem handle the two worlds? Given the alienness of the primary settings in these films, should we raise the numbers? (Third level is "tertiary.")
  2. In what ways is the vampire in Nosferatu like and unlike the Alien in Alien or more clearly science fictional creatures? Is the Golem like or unlike machine folk from Tin man to Robbie the Robot to the robot cops in THX 1138 to R2D2 to the Terminator to RoboCop?
  3. In studying Vivian Sobchack's Screening Space or many other works on SF and SF film, one might memorize the acronym "Mrs": Magic- Religion-Science. Most Horror and SF (and fantasy) can be put on spectra dealing with Magic, Religion, and Science. On such spectra, where do you put Nosferatu, with its explicit references to biology, and The Golem, which tells us a lot about technique.
    Do we learn more about how to make a Golem than we learn how Robbie the Robot was made? If we were to get silly and apply realistic values to the films, is the making of the Golem any less "scientific" or more magical than the making of the robot in Metropolis? Why is the technique of Rabbi Loew magic and that of Rotwang, the mad scientist in Metropolis science (fictional)?
  4. Joanna Russ and others have taught us to ask of SF stories, "Where are the women?" Good question. We might also ask of SF stories and films, "Where are the Jews"? In The Golem, we may be invited to ask the question, "Where are the Christians?" We see Jews (as imagined by German gentiles ca. 1920), and we see the gentiles of the Imperial Court-but do we see any Christians? Keep this in mind. All art is highly selective, as any student of satire can tell you. Al Bundy has a bathroom. Satiric characters like Al Bundy not only go to bathrooms but p*ss and sh*t there. What's with all these tragic heroes and heroines the last couple thousand plus years? And who gets to get laid in heroic fantasy? And who cleans up after all those banquets?! Etc.
    Still, in works dealing with magic, religion, and science, watch for any practitioners of magic, religion, and/or science.
  5. In Independence Day (1996), a Black man and a nice pumped-up Jewish boy get to do things reserved for WASPs in other 1950s movies (sic: as many have observed, Independence Day is a 1950s movie released in 1996); and this is probably progress. Still, there may be Jews and Blacks (and, God knows, gays) less than thrilled with their images in that recent flick. How about Jews in The Golem? Eastern Europeans in Nosferatu? Golem seems to try to be pro-Jewish, but what about final image of return to the ghetto? "Ding, dong, the golem's dead-but back inside the gates, Jew-boys, and take your golem with you?" If there is a political moral to Golem, what is it? And what, if anything does Nosferatu say about the wisdom of leaving hearth and home on business?