Sunday Matinee: Faust

sunday-matineeF.W. Murnau was probably one of the best and more influential silent filmmakers. He started his career making movies in his native Germany in 1919. In 1922 he made his first masterpiece Nosferatu. His last German silent before he went to Hollywood was this excellent 1926 movie, Faust.

Emil Jannings stars as the Devil Mephisto. Mephisto makes a deal with an Archangel that if he can corrupt a righteous man, he can takeover the Earth. Mephisto causes a plague to hit a small village and an elderly alchemist named Faust (Gösta Ekman) tries to pray for help. Nothing happens and Faust gets angry and burns his books and his bible. He then discovers that he can make a deal with the Devil.

FaustFaust travels to a crossroads and makes a deal Mephisto. Initially Faust uses his powers to try and save the villagers but it backfires when they see he can no longer stand the cross. Faust gets mad and then makes another deal with Mephisto. Youth, power all for his immortal soul. Faust starts to get bored of the deal and finds an innocent woman that he falls in love with. Mephisto naturally messes things up.

The movie looks fantastic and Emil Jannings is excellent as the devil. At the time it was one of the more elaborate and expensive productions until Metropolis was made. Murnau shot several different takes, shot scenes with two cameras, shot scenes with different actors, costumes, etc. As a result there are at least 5 different versions of Faust that exist with different footage of similar scenes. The American version that Murnau edited is simplified because Murnau didn’t think that American audiences would get all the symbolism.

As soon as Faust was finished Murnau moved to the U.S. to start making movies there starting with the brilliant Sunrise. Sadly Murnau died a couple of years later from injuries incurred in a car accident but his work still influences filmmakers even today.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.

One thought on “Sunday Matinee: Faust”

  1. It’s strange to see how each generation interprets Faust. Used to be knowledge was a great deal for your immortal soul, but now we have to save our community?

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