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Nosferatu, Honest Abe and Illegible Intertitles

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In lieu of last week’s release of one of this summer’s most ridiculous blockbusters, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, here at St8mnt we thought it best to reminisce over the original silver screen vampire, Nosferatu, German director F.W. Murnau’s seminal foray into horror. Released in 1922, Murnau’s masterpiece proved foundational to vampire films, and to this day carries an eerie, creepiness that outshines other classics—sorry Wolfman, you look more like an achy, unshaven Bob Villa than supernatural beast. After denied rights to adapting Bram Stoker’s Dracula by the author’s widow, Murnau shot the film anyway, simply changing character names—Count Dracula? No, no, no, it’s Count Orlock. He also altered the ending, not to spoil anything but this film originated the notion that sunlight is lethal to vampires (and they most definitely never sparkle). It was considered so creepy that Nosferatu was banned in Sweden until 1972 due to excessive horror. Behold some of the wonderful stills of the immortal Nosferatu.

Come to think of it. President Lincoln and Count Orlock have quite of few similarities. Both of them both favor overcoats, are tall, lanky and have pronounced skulls…interesting.

Another fascinating aspect about Nosferatu is the film uses intertitle sequences. Intertitles are those still frames of typography that pop-up intermittingly narrating the film or depicting character dialog in silent films. The edition I watched last night mashed up illegible Blackletter  with insanely elegant script, much of which I had to read aloud to my glasses-less wife. I don’t see how Germany could ever rock Blackletter as a national type styling. Much of the dialog utilized a green contemporary looking cursive that may have been added in the restoration.

Silent film intertitles can be brilliant, adding a poetic and moody air to films. Since the birth of talkies, intertitle design is more or less finished, though I suppose it had quick little renaissance with last year’s The Artist.  While on the topic, here’s a compilation of some of the world’s finest examples of great silent film intertitles: