Inner Landscapes' of the Hallucinatory: Intertextuality and Rebirth in Herzog’s 'Nosferatu'
If Richard Wagner begins with a hallucination of gestures, Werner Herzog begins with a hallucination of landscapes. Central to these points of departure is a certain tension between the material and immaterial, the notional and sensational, the naturally occurring and possibly inspired—polar distinctions first suggested by the term aísthēsis and all revitalized by Herzog’s own film aesthetic.2 To experience Nosferatu – Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979) is to feel the seemingly incongruous sense of submersion in an illusory dream concurrent with an unbuckling awareness of the concreteness in what Kracauer calls “the objects and occurrences that comprise the flow of material life.”3 Particularly striking about Herzog’s remake of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s silent film, Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror, 1922), is the intricate web of formal mechanisms and cross-disciplinary references enabling these polarities to charge with meaning an entrancing filmic world and its landscapes, whose grooves run trickling with water and skylines with mist. Without doubt, water would be the element permeating the cool fabric of the film; the fluidity or mutability emblematic of its very essence mirrors the liminality not only of the vampiric state—“neither dead nor living,” as the saying goes—but also the nature of the film itself as a remake whose conspicuous intertextuality seems to indicate the acuity of a visionary’s consciousness. Moreover, it marks an assured step towards a timely revalidation of the cultural inheritance of a country whose recent past evinces the shattering consequences of organized man branded by brutality and inculcated with ideology.
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This senior essay is the recipient of the 2014 Andrew Sarris Memorial Award for Film Criticism, awarded by the Film Program of the School of the Arts, Columbia University.