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Which Version Should You Buy?
on June 13, 2003
There are a number of versions of the original Murnau film "Nosferatu" floating around out there, and as a big fan of the film, I've bought most of them and will discuss them so that you don't have to waste time and money trying to decide which to buy. Unfortunately, I am only going to compare the current DVD releases however, and only those in my part of the globe - Region 1. By all means, avoid the embarrassingly bad VHS version with the modern score by "Type-O-Negative".
This is a black & white silent film for those who don't know. Sound wasn't invented for another five years after this film was made and color wasn't introduced for another ten to twelve after that. Bram Stoker's widow successfully had most copies of this film destroyed by infringement of copyright during the twenties, so the few existing prints today are sadly in poor condition. Most films in the silent era were color-tinted, and rarely viewed as pure black & white (so don't put all the blame on Ted Turner for starting that trend). As there was no soundtrack in those days, live orchestras performed the music behind the film. Today, if the original score is not known, (as is the case with Nosferatu), then we try and "fake it" with a modern composition recorded onto the cassette, laserdisc, or DVD. Some modern scores are fitting and appropriate, while others just stink (such as the Type-O-Negative score). The other problem with older films is that projectors weren't standardized yet, so people produced films at all sorts of different "running speeds". Today, all film is photographed at 24 frames a second, but back then it was 20, 18, 30, whatever...this is why many films of that era, when translated to present day film, run speedy like a bad episode of the "Keystone Cops".
Basically, there are only two DVD versions available that you should consider if you are at all serious about adding this legendary classic to your home collection.
First, there's the IMAGE Entertainment version, which has two musical scores: one score is kind of lame and silly, while the second organ score is the better of the two. The DVD in tinted brightly as well. The real gem on this version is an outstanding commentary soundtrack by a German film expert that is so educational.
Second, is the best version available, which is produced by Kino. This version has the sharper picture, a slightly better running speed and contains a few scenes not seen in other version (Kino's is also the longest running version available). The Kino version also comes with two scores. The first score is my favorite available and would be perfect if not for a few "vocal" improvisations of a woman gasping when the actress onscreen is scared. It's embarrassing and cheezy. The second score is a completely inappropriate "techno" version that sounds more like a cheap Nine-Inch-Nails rip-off and doesn't fit the film at all. (I don't understand why people insist on giving this film a modern musical score to emphasize it's horror aspects when all they do is demean it). The Kino version sadly does not have a commentary track or it would be perfect. The Kino version is also color-tinted. I would personally like to see a version without color-tinting as I just find that annoying.
But as of this date, June 2003, the Kino version of the original 1922 Nosferatu is the one to buy. But if you want the wonderful commentary soundtrack, then go with the IMAGE Entertainment version instead.