My feature review of/historical essay on F.W. Murnau’s Faust and Kino’s new DVD release is now up at Turner Classic Movies.
Murnau’s Faust, scripted by Carl Mayer and subtitled “A German Folk Saga,” reimagines the modern myth of the idealistic scientist who signs a pact with the devil as a holy battle between good and evil, with Faust as a kind of modern day Job. Mephisto (Emil Jannings, as a hulking bestial being with massive gargoyle wings) and the Archangel (Werner Fuetterer, looking like a heavenly Seigfried with feathery wings that tower over him) debate the goodness of mankind in an abstract celestial setting, where shafts of light breath through storm clouds like the dawn coming through the dark night. “I’ll wager that I can wrest Faust’s soul from God!” he bets the Archangel, who accepts (confident of mankind’s goodness and, apparently, unconcerned over the torment the victims are soon to endure). Mephisto emerges over a picaresque mountain village, a looming monster who hovers over the innocent town like a storm of evil, his cloak smothering it in darkness while spreading noxious fumes that carry the plague. The image is astounding, a vision of darkness and pestilence personified and an image of pure visual power.