FAUST – The Dungeon Review!

Nosferatu was one of my favourite rentals this year, so it was just a matter of time before I checked out F.W. Murnau’s ‘Faust’. I suppose most people are familiar with this story. I personally have never read Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and this is actually my first viewing of a film version. There are a few spoilers in this review, but it shouldn’t really compromise your enjoyment of the film. Proceed at your own risk.

God and the Devil make a wager on Faust’s soul. The Devil will rule over all of humanity if he manages to corrupt Faust. During a terrible plague that has swept the town, in which many people have died or are suffering. Faust, frustrated, unable to help, burns several books as well as his copy of the bible. While the book burns in the fire he catches some writing intended to invoke the devil. In his desperation he calls the dark lord. The devil comes in the form of Mephisto, a pot-bellied middle-aged man. Faust naturally is uneasy about making a pact with the devil. But he also wants to help the people dying on the streets. He knows that even one day could make a difference. Mephisto offers him the 24-hour trial “pact” and Faust agrees to the terms. His attempt to help a local woman is thwarted, as he cannot bring himself to touch her due to the crucifix she holds in her hand. The town people call him out as being in league with the devil. The devil then offers him youth. As he is about to get lucky with the most beautiful woman in Italy, Mephisto informs him that his day trial has run out. Faust folds like a cheap suit and makes a permanent pact with the devil.

It may appear that I have told you the entire story, but this is actually somewhat early in the film. Most of ‘Faust’ takes place after he has made his pact with Satan. I had problems with some of the story, but ‘Faust’ is really more about human nature than anything else. Faust’s personal journey is a fascinating one. He is an older man with white hair and a long white beard. He is an alchemist living amongst piles of stacked books in a cramped and cluttered apartment. He is a man of science but is also a good Christian. After calling on Satan, it’s amazing how easily Faust is tempted. It is not long before he is practically barking orders at Mephisto. But once you have it all, then what? This is when he meets the beautiful Gretchen. A woman of simple means, who he instantly falls in love with. Faust with his bad Mephisto mojo manages to corrupt her world from which she never recovers. The love conquers all message I was left with at the end was not very gratifying. I didn’t think there should be any positive adjudication for Faust, and frankly, the devil should have won that bet and ruled over all humanity.

Equally intriguing is Mephisto. He is rather vaudevillian in appearance and character. He could have made himself look like anyone but he chose to take the form of a middle-aged Buddha-bellied man with one wicked widows peak. He is constantly undermining Faust and is most pleased with himself when things turn out badly. He is the embodiment of the perfect “little devil”. The expression on Mephisto’s face when he triumphantly raises the hourglass to show Faust his time is up is priceless. He’s like a kid at Christmas! His expression turns to sly, and that naughty smirk he sports, lights up his face as he pulls the curtains closed on the lovers bed. Emil Jannings plays the character with such evil flair that Satan himself would be proud!

‘Faust’ is filled with unique and amazing images. Mephisto wrapping his massive black wings around an entire town, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Gretchen’s snowstorm walk, and Mephisto and Faust flying over stunning scenery, are just a few examples. Visually the film is without flaws. Filmed in beautiful black and white, with the perfect amount of shadows in all the right places. Even in the films darker scenes, there wasn’t a single moment I had difficulty seeing. The Mood Murnau captures is beyond impressive. People burned at the stake, angry lynch mobs, pestilence and death; create an appropriately bleak backdrop to the story. There is a hearty helping of expressionism throughout that contributes not only to the mood, but also to the striking beauty of the film. The Score by Timothy Brock and performed by The Olympia Chamber Orchestra for the Kino Dvd release of ‘Faust’ is superb. It is the ultimate compliment to this silent era extravaganza.

Although there were aspects of the story I thought were less than perfect, it seemed pretty minor in this astounding achievement! Faust is a breath taking, visual odyssey that is an absolute pleasure to behold. Horror fans and film buffs in general should find much to enjoy. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: F.W. Murnau

Starring: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Frida Richard, William Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert, Eric Barclay, Hanna Ralph, Werner Fuetterer

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  14. It is not Mephisto who is “wrapping his enormous black wings” around the town. In that scene it is Lucifer spreading the plaugue..Mephisto appears when summoned by Faustus, in the classic German tradition of a Greyfriar -a poor medieval monk..After his has secured the infernal bargain with Faust, he changes into his other earthly form, the Prince of Hell and Lucifers ambassador on Earth…

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