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The Psychic Labyrinth of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Foreword

Congratulations to the Hong Kong Film Archive! After last year's Metropolis, Noir and Visions - Exhibition and Films of Fritz Lang, the Hong Kong Film Archive now presents another great master of filmmaking: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. The retrospective and exhibition was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2003, and Hong Kong is the first station after Berlin. We will enjoy the screening of 12 of his films, including the German productions Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, Faust and the Hollywood productions Sunrise and Tabu.

On the last day of the Berlinale 2003, I took the bus to Stahnsdorf cemetery; I wanted to find the tombstone of F.W. Murnau, but nobody could tell me where it was. After staggering around in this vast forest for two hours, I resigned and decided to leave. Then I turned around - and right in front of me stood F.W. Murnau's tombstone, shared with his two brothers Robert and Bernhard Plumpe.

F.W. Murnau died on the March 11, 1931 after a car accident in California, and his funeral ceremony took place in Stahnsdorf, one hour from Berlin, on April 13, 1931. Many film celebrities were present, and the famous film director Fritz Lang ended his funeral speech with the words:

'When decades have passed the world will realise: here retreated a pioneer of filmmaking in the middle of his creative life. Filmmaking owes him its very basis, both artistically and technically: he realised its potential to create an image of life - far more than on stage - all his films were ballads told in the form of images - and this will prevail as self-evident in the future.'

Obviously, the tale of the SARS epidemic is currently told in the form of strong images: of people in hospitals, people with protective masks in everyday life situations, images of the virus itself as a crown shaped nucleus.

In F.W. Murnau's film, Nosferatu is depicted as a strange host in his castle, as the creature who brings itself and the plague to the city, triumphantly standing on the death ship.

The blood sucking vampire lies too long over the neck of Hutter's bride Ellen, the sun rises and he disintegrates into ashes. One of the last intertitles in Nosferatu expresses our hope: 'At the same hour the great dying came to an end, and with the victorious rays of the living sun, the shadow of the bird of death drifted away.'


Jürgen Keil
Director, Goethe-Institut Hong Kong

 

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