Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Nosferatau - A Copyright Nightmare by Lynda Waterhouse

On Halloween Frugal Husband was to be found lurking in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. He was there for the screening of the 1922 German classic silent film Nosferatau with live accompaniment from  Neil Brand and fellow musicians Gunter Buchwald and Jeff Davenport. It was by all accounts an amazing experience with the heavens opening up in an amazing rainstorm just as the film ended.

I find this film both terrifying and touching. It was directed by F.W Murnau who had fought in the First World War and whose lover had been killed in battle. Albin Grau, one of the producers of the film, claimed to have met a Serbian farmer in 1916 who had told him about his father who was one of the undead.
  Nosferatau has influenced vampire iconography and film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola. Count Orlok is a vile creature completely devoid of the sexual allure of Count Dracula but at times, due to Murnau’s masterly direction, you feel for him. It can be a lonely existence bringing plague and death everywhere you go. He is a slave to his passion for Mina. She too nobly sacrifices herself in order to distract him. This is the first film, I believe, to suggest that Vampire’s can be destroyed by sunlight.
And yet in 1925 this film was ruled to be in breech of copyright and every copy was ordered to be destroyed.
The widow of Bram Stoker, Florence Anne Lemon Stoker with the support of The Society of Authors successfully took Prana Films to court and won. She was struggling financially at the time to support herself and her son and her only financial means was the copyright to Dracula. She was right to win as the plot was a shameless and deliberate steal from the novel. Yet in true vampire fashion the film did not die as it was supposed to. One copy remained. I'm glad it did.

1 comment:

John Dougherty said...

Really interesting stuff, Lynda. And, yes, of course something can be both a work of genius and a theft from somebody else - copyright isn't a simple matter, is it?