It was 11 of March 1931 when Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, one of the most important directors of German Expressionism movement, would die at the age of 42. He would start filmmaking in 1919, and in only 12 years he would create some of the most iconic movies ever made.
He would start his film career after World War I. His first films are now considered lost, but they had already received good acclaims. But in 1922, he directed “Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror”, one of the most emblematic movies ever. Murnau did not have the rights for Bram Stoker’s book “Dracula”, therefore, he named his protagonist “Count Orlok”. However, he managed to create an excellent silent horror movie. Murnau used set designs with wildly non-realistic, geometrically absurd angles, along with designs painted on walls and floors to represent lights, shadows, and objects. He created a claustrophobic atmosphere, which shocked the audience back at the time. And many directors have claimed that “Nosferatu” inspired them and tried to create this ambiance in their movies.
He continued directing in Germany until 1926. Two of his most notable movies are “The Last Laugh”, in 1924, and “Faust”, in 1926. The latter, uses Goethe’s script and transforms it into a cinematic experience, which, however, was not appreciated on its time. The movie was a financial flop, especially if we take into consideration that it cost almost 2 million marks.
Murnau emigrated to Hollywood and signed with Fox Studio. The first movie he made in U.S.A. was “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”. It is one of the few silent movies that are always on the lists with the best movies ever. It even won the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Picture in the 1st Academy Awards back in 1929. A story of passion, deception, a contrast between life in the countryside and the big city, a passionate song of people who love and suffer. Murnau used several techniques from German Expressionism, especially focusing on the enormous sets.
“Sunrise” was a huge success, something that did not happen with his next two movies, “4 Devils”, in 1928, and “City Girl”, in 1930. It was the first years of sound in movies and Murnau did not manage to adjust. Therefore, he decided to leave Fox Studio and go on a journey to the South Pacific. Over there, along with Robert Flaherty, a legendary documentary director, they started shooting the movie “Tabu, a Story of the South Seas”. Murnau had a fight with Flaherty and finished the movie on his own and without sound, as he preferred it. However, he would not manage to see his movie on screen. He died one week before its official premiere in a car accident. He was only 42 and probably would have given more amazing movies, had he lived longer.
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