F.W. Murnau


"Simplicity! Greater and greater simplicity—that will be the keynote of the new films. Our whole effort must be bent toward ridding motion pictures of all that does not belong to them, of all that is unnecessary and trivial and drawn from other sources—all the tricks, gags, ‘business’ not of the cinema, but of the stage and the written book. That is what has been accomplished when certain films reached the level of great art. That is what I tried to do in The Last Laugh. We must try for more and more simplicity and devotion to pure motion picture technique and material.”

F.W. Murnau


“Art—authentic art—is simple. But simplicity demands the maximum of artistry. The camera is the director’s pencil. It should have the greatest possible mobility in order to record the most fleeting harmony of atmosphere. It is important that the mechanical factor should not stand between the spectator and the film.”
December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931

Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror

Max Schreck

Max Schreck relaxing between takes & creeping everyone out on the set of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922, dir. F.W. Murnau) (via)

During the filming of Nosferatu, Schreck reportedly stayed in character at all times, even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and the cast and crew never saw him out of full makeup and costume. While this immersive approach to acting is commonplace now, it was unusual back then and his appearance & behavior led to wild rumors that Schreck actually was a vampire. If this photo is indicative of Schreck’s demeanor around the set of Nosferatu, the crew’s wariness was entirely understandable.

Werner Fuetterer as the Archangel in Faust (1926, dir. F. W. Murnau)

Title: FAUST (1926) ¥ Pers: FUETTERER, WERNER ¥ Year: 1926 ¥ Dir: MURNAU, F.W. ¥ Ref: FAU002AM ¥ Credit: [ UFA / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

“I think Murnau’s imperturbable calm in the studio was due not only to a sense of discipline, but also because he possessed that passion for ‘play’ itself which is necessary and essential to any kind of artistic activity.

For instance, I’d made a steam apparatus for the heaven scene in the Prologue to Faust. Steam was ejected out of several pipes against a background of clouds; arc-lights arranged in a circle lit up the steam to look like rays of light. The archangel was supposed to stand in front and raise his flaming sword. We did it several times, and each time it was perfectly all right, but Murnau was so caught up in the pleasure of doing it that he forgot all about time. The steam had to keep on billowing through the beams of light until the archangel — Werner Fuetterer — was so exhausted he could no longer lift his sword. When Murnau realized what had happened, he shook his head and laughed at himself, then gave everyone a break.”

Faust art director Robert Herlth, quoted in Lotte Eisner’s Murnau. The scene Herlth is discussing is online here.

The Blackguard (1925, dir. Graham Cutts) Art direction & screenplay by Alfred Hitchcock, who also served as assistant director.


Behind the scenes of The Blackguard (1925, dir. Graham Cutts) Art direction by Alfred Hitchcock

When Hitchcock arrived on the set of The Blackguard, the great German director F.W. Murnau was filming The Last Laugh nearby on the UFA lot.

Hitchcock either engaged Murnau in conversation, or overheard him tell others: “What you see on the set does not matter. All that matters is what you see on the screen.”

Hitchcock never missed an opportunity to quote this remark, which became a cornerstone of his own approach: The reality didn’t matter if the illusion was effective. He then emulated Murnau by hiring a slew of dwarves to stand far from the camera in The Blackguard, creating an artificial perspective for a crowd scene.

-excerpted from Patrick McGilligan’s Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light