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The Psychic Labyrinth of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Introduction

Truely a master of light and shadows, F.W. Murnau (1888-1931) had created a total of 21 films in his comparatively short life and of these, 12 survive to this day. This June, the Hong Kong Film Archive is proud to present a full retrospective on this influential German expressionist director that marked an important era in the world's silent film history. This is the first time after 15 years to present a full programme on Murnau in Hong Kong, and nearly all came in restored and 35mm versions - Nosferatu in its original tinted colour, Tabu in a Pre-Paramount version and Sunrise is newly restored via 20th Century Fox.

Murnau is a pioneer of film history in many ways. His films not only exploited new filming techniques, but were ambitious both in terms of studio shooting (Faust and The Last Laugh) and on location sets (Nosferatu and Sunrise). He is among the earliest German expressionist directors of the silent film era, running alongside with Pabst, Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang. Influenced by literature, theater and fine arts, he had developed a film language that is unique to himself. His stylistic and formic compositions have laid the foundation for many film directors to come and his cinematographic techniques being studied again and again.

Murnau worked with the best cinematographers and set designers of his time: Fritz Arno Wagner, Karl Freund (the moving camera in The Last Laugh), Karl Hoffmann, Walter Röhrig and Hermann Warm.

His films penetrated deeply into the psychic world of his main characters, recorded brave experimentation on light movements (The Haunted Castle, Phantom and Tabu), and are extremely expressive in forms and architectural composition.

Added enjoyment to the screenings are live accompaniment by Mr Ernie Corpus, who is internationally famed in the field.

In additional to the screening, we are also bringing in an archival exhibition on F.W. Murnau from Filmmuseum Berlin which highlight his most important film productions that prospered in Berlin and gained international fame in Europe and America. This catalogue is also published to accompany the retrospective.

I owe a lot to many organisations and friends from Germany, the US and HK for making this programme possible. The entire programme is organised in association with Goethe-Institut Hong Kong and the exhibition is largely supported by Filmmuseum Berlin - Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. My special thanks to their Director Mr Hans Helmut Prinzler, their Chief Exhibition Coordinator Mr Peter Mänz, their curators Ms Christina Ohlrogge, Ms Kristina Jaspers, Mr. Nils Warnecke and Fabrication Designer Ms Ingrid Jebram. I owe a lot to their Programmer / Restoration expert Mr Martin Koerber for attending to minute technical and restoration details of Murnau's existing or non-existing titles.

I would also like to thank Mr Jürgen Keil, Director of the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong and his colleagues Antje Looks and Alice Ho for their generous support, both administratively and financially. I must also thank Mr Karl Griep and Ms Jutta Albert of Berlin's Federal Film Archive, Mr Schawn Belston of 20th Century Fox, Mr Friedemann Beyer, Ms Gudrun Weiss and Mr Jons Fleischmann of F.W. Murnau Foundation, Ms Brigitte Capitain of Wiesbaden Film Institute and Ms Sabrina Kovatsch of Transit Film who assist in securing the best available screening copies.

This programme is organised when the mass media is dominated by war news and Hong Kong is experiencing unaccustomed turmoil caused by some infectious viruses. Viewing Murnau in such a period might be particularly inspiring, especially with regards to the shadows, pests, internal conflicts encompassing the human world and the longing for tolerance, reconciliation and new hope. Let's now enjoy the great Murnau!


Winnie Fu
Programmer, Hong Kong Film Archive

 

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