San Francisco's imaginative Club Foot Orchestra, which presented "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" last summer with a splendid new score by the orchestra's Richard Marriott, returns to the Nuart today with a Cinematheque Francaise print of "Nosferatu."
Also with a fresh Marriott score, as delightful as and perhaps even more ambitious than the one he composed for "Caligari," "Nosferatu" runs through Saturday. As an added treat, there will be a reprise of "Caligari" on Sunday only.
The Club Foot Orchestra will present "Nosferatu" on Monday at the Ken Theater in San Diego, and at the Victoria Theater in Santa Barbara on Tuesday.
The first of the Dracula films, F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horrors" (1922), remains the greatest, and Max Schreck's Count Dracula is one of the cinema's most indelible images. Cadaverous in the extreme, with pointed ears and claw-like hands, the count has black-encircled eyes that express a tormented loneliness and a fevered desperation that make him seem as if he had just stepped out of an Edvard Munch painting.
Craving fresh supplies of human blood, and no doubt human companionship as well, the count has told one of his acolytes, Renfield (Alexander Granach), a creepy Bremen estate agent, to secure an estate for him in town. To that end Renfield dispatches "to some lost corner of the Carpathians" in Transylvania, his clerk Jonathon Harker (Gustav von Wangenheim) to set the deal. The year is 1838, but the count has been Nosferatu the Vampire for four centuries.
All silent classics should be so fortunate as to be accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra, although the ideal would be to hear the films' original scores, so many of which have been lost. Marriott and his fellow musicians certainly sound contemporary, yet not at odds with the period piece up there on the screen. By revering "Nosferatu" Marriott has actually been able to be eclectic while maintaining an appropriately plaintive tone. Although the dissonant, jerky tempo we associate with "The Threepenny Opera" hovers from time to time in the background, we hear the rhythms of Mideastern music, and at one point, even a flamenco beat.
The Club Foot enriches "Nosferatu," rarely intruding upon it. Marriott is scarcely without humor, but he does avoid the temptations of camp. Indeed, his score is such a rigorous work that he can get away with accompanying Count Dracula--as he zeroes in on Harker, who has cut his finger while slicing bread--with the heavy beat of a burlesque stripper on a runway. The effect, so help me, is witty rather than campy.
"Nosferatu" has long been regarded as a landmark in German Expressionism for its extensive use of actual locales rather than the stylized sets of "Caligari" and other classics of Germany's Golden Age. Although Schreck's grotesque Dracula is the antithesis of Bela Lugosi's suave, insinuatingly seductive Dracula, there is an aura of erotic longing in the film. (The late pioneer film historian Lotte Eisner saw in Nosferatu an expression of Murnau's homosexual torment and alienation.) Yet "Nosferatu" is a profoundly romantic film, with a deep, abiding faith in the ultimate redemptive power of love.
What lingers in the memory, however, is the absolute isolation of Count Dracula, whether in his vast, stark, crumbling castle, or on the deck of the ship headed for Bremen, a ship that arrives with no crewman alive, each corpse bearing two fang marks on its neck.