Scenes From Nosferatu Shown In Shadow of the Vampire
Shadow of the Vampire stars John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck. It is the fictionalized story of the making of Nosferatu. The fiction comes from the possibility that Max Schreck, the actor who played the vampire, might have been a real vampire.
Roger Ebert has said this of Nosferatu, "The film is in awe of its material. It seems to really believe in vampires." Shadow of the Vampire takes this literally.
Part one - Life At Home and the Land of the Phantoms
Ellen at home
In the opening scene of Shadow of the Vampire we see Murnau directing Greta Schroeder playing with a cat. This simple scene is transformed for us by Merhige as he shows us the difficulties of working with animal actors and a prima donna actress. In fact, Greta Schroeder was a well-respected actress. Like most of the screen actresses of the day she was primarily known for her stage work. One can easily imagine that she saw little benefit in screen acting.
She probably looked at filming as a waste of time. She only had to stay in character for short periods of time so the actual work was very easy for her. She was taken away from the cosmopolitan nightlife of Berlin in the 20's to work in remote locations with little or nothing to do. In Shadow of the Vampire we see her using recreational drugs to pass the time and being stoned on the set.
Whether she used drugs or not is unclear, but it's fairly obvious that Greta Schroeder did not think much of acting with Gustav. Their onscreen chemistry never seems to click. The kissing scenes she has with Gustav are stiff and lifeless. In this particular scene it is obvious that Gustav is enjoying his work and Greta Schroeder is not.
Hutter awakens at the Inn
Gustav von Wangenheim was not the director's first choice for the lead roll of Hutter. Perhaps we can blame some of his body language on his lack of screen experience or perhaps he just wasn't a very good actor. Many of his mannerisms, such as bending over when happy (we all do that, right?), and holding his arms out and elbows back when frightened are curious and odd.
Early in the Shadow of the Vampire Merhige takes us behind the scenes at a filming at the Inn. Here Murnau has enlisted non-theatrical actors as extras in his film. Merhige and screenwriter, Steven Katz imagine that some of the locals may have not been too excited about having a vampire film made at their Inn. Giant crucifixes are shown throughout the tavern. Are the locals really afraid of this? It's clear that Murnau paid careful attention to those things that make people frightened.
In this scene, Hutter awakens at the Inn. His journey will continue to the land of the phantoms. The Innkeepers have placed a book about Vampires by his bed. This is von Wangenheim's acting at his worst. His moves are cliched exaggerations of his obvious emotions. In Shadow of the Vampire we hear Murnau giving von Wagenheim direction such as: "wake up, how do you feel, now look around, what do you see? A book, grab the book. You are supposed to be frightened of these spooks, how do you feel? It's a joke to you. Throw the book away." This dialogue is not exact but you get the idea.