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Hong Kong celebrates work of master filmmaker Murnau


Hong Kong audiences have the chance to view an exhibition of film paraphernalia as well as screenings of German film master FW Murnau.

A pioneer in filmmaking, German expressionist director Murnau created as early as the 1920s a unique film language with the use of light and dark contrast and visual effects.

As well as screenings in the programme, "The Psychic Labyrinth of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau", 200 archival items including replicas from his movies, such as the scenery of the Street of Shadows from his film "Phantom" are now on display at the Exhibition Hall of the Hong Kong Film Archive.

All the exhibits are on loan from the Filmmuseum Berlin - Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. The retrospective and exhibition on Murnau was first shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February and Hong Kong is the second station after Berlin. It is the first comprehensive retrospective of Murnau locally in 15 years.

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in association with the Goethe Institut Hong Kong, the multimedia archival exhibition will run until August 24. Admission is free.

The exhibits also include archival items from lost films such as "The Boy in Blue", "Janus Head" and "Four Devils", screenplay excerpts with Murnau's handwritten comments, sketches and drawings, posters, film stills, film footage and video interviews with film critics on Murnau's techniques, musical scores and aesthetics.

An exhibition catalogue with articles by film critics and archival photos is on sale at the film archive for $40.

Murnau's work will be discussed in two seminars, both in Cantonese, on June 21 and July 5.

Murnau studied art history before joining the Deutsche Theatre. His theatre career ended with World War I when he was drafted in 1914. He returned to Berlin in 1919 to work on his first feature film, "The Boy in Blue".

A master of light and shadow, Murnau used framing and lighting techniques that were ahead of his time. He developed a unique film language that drilled deeply into the human psyche. His knowledge of painting added an artistic quality to his movies. His work not only helped to define the German silent film era, but also influenced many of the directors who came after him. Even after eight decades, his images have lost none of their ability to startle.

He made 21 films before dying at a young age in a car accident. All 12 surviving titles, many painstakingly restored, are showing until July 6 at the cinema of the film archive and the Lecture Hall of the Hong Kong Science Museum.

Murnau made three films in the United States. The Oscar-winning "Sunrise" (1927) was his first Hollywood film. This romantic work is similar to the best of his German films, with the same stylish sets, unusual composition, lyrical atmosphere and fluid camera work.

The full-blooded drama, "City Girl" (1930), was Murnau's swansong at Fox Studios. As in "Sunrise", Murnau splendidly contrasts the city and open wheat fields. His last film, "Tabu" (1931), is the story of a Polynesian girl who tries to avoid being sacrificed to the gods. It was shot entirely in Tahiti. Murnau died just a few days before its premiere.

Castles and eerie shadows are trademarks of Murnau's work. "The Haunted Castle" (1921) shows the filmmaker's brave experimentation with light to express jealousy, foreboding dreams and murderous intent.

"Phantom" (1922) is undoubtedly one of Murnau's most important works. Adapted from Gerhart Hauptmann's novel, it tells the story of a town clerk's unrequited love.

"The Last Laugh" (1924) is another daring experiment, in which Murnau used a moving, or "unchained" camera. It contrasts strikingly with the harmony of composition, design, acting and camera movement that is evident in "Tartuffe" (1926), based on Moliere's satirical play.

"The Grand Duke's Finances" (1924) finds Murnau deep in comic irony. The film, shot in a sunny Mediterranean paradise, has a bantering tone and witty, quirky characters.

Most screenings at the retrospective will have live piano accompaniment by Ernest Maurice Corpus. All films have English intertitles or subtitles.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at all URBTIX outlets. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) recipients. A 10% discount applies to purchases of six to 10 tickets, and there will be a 20% discount for 11 or more.

For information call 2734 2900 or 2739 2139 or browse the websites, or Reservations can be made by phone at 2734 9009 or on the Internet at

End/Wednesday, June 18, 2003

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