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Review: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror at East End Film Festival

July 15, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

There was a buzz on the eve of Saturday 7th July, as film fans flocked into the historic Spitalfields Market anticipating a very special and very creepy evening. A highlight of the wonderfully eclectic and imaginative East End Film Festival was a free public screening of FW Murnau’s spine tingling 1922 horror, Nosferatu, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

Master of early German cinema, FW Murnau’s classic film, an iconic silent vampire horror based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, still has the power to evoke fear, suspense and laughter. What better film to screen in an area of London with a strong and somewhat gruesome history. The Spitalfields screenings are always special but this year saw collaboration between soundscape artists Minima, Paul Ayres’ Queldryk Choral Ensemble and Hackney-based spatial artist Lucy Jones to create a spectacularly eerie experience.

Entering old Spitalfields Market there was a heightened sense of excitement in the air. In front of the huge screen was a full choir and an orchestra waiting to make everybody’s hair stand on end. The eager audience gathered, chatting and sitting casually wherever there was space. As the music and film began, audiences became fully immersed in the unsettling world of Nosferatu. Occasionally this was interrupted by the (arguably also dark) world of the East End outside and at one point you could hear a dog barking and sirens in the background, which only added to the overall experience. The mood was jovial, a Birthday cake was blown out and more and more people joined the crowd, swept in by the magic and bringing with them comforts such as cushions/blankets/cagoules and wine. It was hard to think of a more pleasant way to spend a Saturday evening.

Nosferatu is an example of a pioneering piece of cinema at its finest. Ninety years on, this film starring Max Shrek as the ultimate unsettling vampire, still has the power to capture and creep out audiences. This is especially contributed to by the suberb effects such as when Nosferatu rises up from his coffin below a ship’s deck. Murnau’s framing and use of light and shadow create endless tension. The whole market came to life with the film, as creeping shadows seemed to move from the screen to surround audiences on the walls of the old market. The live music from soundscape artists Minima, comprising of drums, bass, guitar and cello, highlighted the drama, perfectly mimicking the tension and atmosphere on the big screen. The dark comedy in this pretty old film is always refreshing, and the setting created a relaxed vibe; the line, by Count Orlock upon looking at a picture of Thomas Hutter’s wife, ‘Your wife has a lovely neck’, prompted giggles and anticipation to see more of the iconic moments contained within this masterpiece of cinema.

Seeing this wonderful and beloved film with such a thoughtful live soundtrack in a historic setting was a privilege, and an experience that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Kerry Flint