"As is to be expected of a great director, (F.W. Murnau, "Nosferatu", "The Man Who Laughs"), "Faust" delivers a brilliant adaption of this classic story concerning the perennial subject of good versus evil. Though, not apparently the first telling of this story, (IMDB lists 5 previous films with this title), it's perhaps, (to my knowledge) the oldest surviving version available. Its brilliance deserves preservation.
In a world struggling against pestilence, famine, and disease Mephisto decides he can attempt a hostile take-over through a real estate deal. The Archangel Michael agrees, that if Mephisto can win Faust over to his side, he gets the kit and kaboodle. Faust is a tired old doctor/alchemist who is disappointed at his inability to offer healing to those with the rampant-running plague. Soon, he calls on Mephisto and strikes up a deal with him. Mephisto gives him youth and pleasures of the world, until Faust falls for a simple girl.
This film is brilliantly done, with fantastic effects and brilliant storytelling. Some scenes are downright eerie, like Mephisto standing over the town with ravens wings. Emil Jennings plays a brilliant Mephisto, somewhere between the brilliant humor of mythical Loki and the dark evil vision of Zarathrustra's Angra Mainyu. Gösta Ekman is brilliant as Faust as well, from withered old man to young libertine, he shows talent rarely seen on the screen in recent time.
Though there aren't a lot of features on this disc, (including a nice photo gallery, a link to Kino's website, and scene selection), the print is beautiful for its age, and the music recently recorded and very appropriate. The price is a little high, but your not purchasing a sad copy for a few bucks, but a masterpiece both in original content and painstaking preservation. This film is worthy of being in any collection interest in great filmmaking."
Try This Even if You Don't Usually Like Silent Films
Culbert Laney | Colorado Springs, CO United States | 08/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film is ripe for reassessment as among the best silent films ever made and a true work of art. Unfortunately, most silent films are rarely seen outside of a small group of silent film enthusiasts. Murnau's earlier film "Nosferatu" is an exception, mainly because horror genre fans brought it to the attention of a wider audience. So "Nosferatu," a relatively immature low-budget work, receives all the attention, while "Faust," in every way beyond it, is not nearly so well-known simply because it doesn't fall neatly into a genre. "Faust" features a stylish dream-like atmosphere punctuated with stunning special effects and lush visuals. Of course, this will not be to everyone's taste. Those looking for realistic straightforward storytelling may find it tedious or silly. I would say that "Faust" will appeal to fans of surreal "cult" films, ones that create their own unique allegorical world, such as "Brazil," "Dark City," "The City of Lost Children," "Being John Malkovich," "Metropolis," and the films of Jean Cocteau. In fact, the general atmosphere of Faust is most similar to Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" -- the young version of Faust reminds me of the Prince the Beast becomes. On a slightly lighter note, "Faust" should also appeal to fans of cult television shows like "The Avengers," "The Prisoner," and "Twin Peaks." I would even expect it to appeal to fans of classic Disney animation.For a silent film of its day, the picture quality on "Faust" is very good. There is some slight unrepaired damage early on, but the picture quality becomes increasingly pristine as the film progresses. Of course, its certainly not as good-looking as a modern film nor those few silent films where the original negatives survive, but its certainly far better looking than "Nosferatu," where only a single so-so print survived. I think most people will be pleasantly surprised at just how good this looks. If the film ever finds the audience it deserves, enough to justify a thorough clean-up with modern digital techniques, I imagine that this film could look even more spectacular. The soundtrack consists of an excellent orchestral score.Silent films being a cult in themselves, its doubly hard when their subject is also of mainly cult appeal. I hope "Faust" can break out of the straightjacket of silent films. It deserves to be ranked not just as among the best silent films, but as a classic film period."
One of the most impressive films ever made
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 01/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Faust is just an incredible accomplishment in the art of silent cinema, one of the most ambitious and masterfully directed films of any era. If you've never seen a silent film and wonder if one could even keep your attention, Faust is the film to watch. Far too many classic early films were either lost or came to us in relatively poor condition, but this digitally mastered version of Faust is remarkably clear and free of white outs. I'm sure it looks better now that it did when it was released over eight decades ago. Don't go thinking we're only talking about characters standing around conversing, either; F. W. Murnau packed all kinds of incredible special effects into this magnificent piece of filmmaking.
You all know Faust - that fellow who made a deal with the devil. The story goes back as far as the fifteenth century, with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe penning the definitive version in the early nineteenth century. Murnau's Faust differs somewhat from the original two-part drama written by Goethe, supplanting rationalism with mysticism (no one did mysticism better than early German filmmakers). This approach, among other things, allows Murnau to open the film with nothing less than jaw-dropping visuals and effects. The story is heralded by the grim image of the apocalyptic horsemen thundering through the clouds, leading us to a confrontation between Mephisto (Satan) and an archangel over the control of the Earth. A wager is proposed, with dominion over the Earth set to depend upon the fate of one man's soul. That man is, of course, Faust, a good man targeted for evil temptation by the cursed one. Knowing he could not tempt Faust directly, Mephisto uses his own compassion against him. As a devastating plague is unleashed among Faust's fellow citizens, Mephisto casts his dark shadow over the landscape quite literally, as we see him hovering over the entire village. That, to me, is one of the most memorable and iconographic cinematic sights I've ever seen.
As his friends and neighbors beg Faust (Gosta Ekman) to save them from the plague, his unanswered prayers bring him to the point of despair. He actually summons Mephisto himself (in another incredible special effects-laden scene). After some deliberation, Mephisto (Emil Jannings) convinces Faust to sign a pact for one day only, and that proves to be an offer Faust can't refuse. A little later, though, Mephisto brings in the big guns - the promise of restored youth. Extending the contract from one day to eternity is basically just a formality at this point. All of his new powers don't truly satisfy Faust, though, and so he sets his sights on a lovely, pure maiden by the name of Gretchen (Camilla Horn). The whole mood of the film changes at this point, with the art of wooing temporarily displacing the clouds of doom hanging over the first half of the film - but this is only a prelude to true tragedy. As Daniel Johnston says, "Don't play cards with Satan, he'll deal you an awful hand," and that is exactly what happens here. It gets pretty darned depressing, really, making it hard for the viewer to see how Faust can possibly redeem himself for all of the misery he has caused. Murnau doesn't pull any punches when it comes to establishing the central theme of the story.
Thanks to earlier successes such as Nosferatu and The Last Laugh, Murnau had complete control over the making of Faust. Something of a perfectionist, Murnau made sure that every aspect of every single shot met with his satisfaction. It's obvious that the man was a genius, as even the contrast of light and shadow reinforces the central motif of the story he is telling. The special effects seem years and years ahead of their time. Even the makeup is remarkably well-done (I would never have guessed that Gosta Ekman played both the old and young versions of Faust, as the older version looks genuinely old). And the acting? Top-notch, all the way. Ekman is superb, Emil Jannings becomes the very personification of Mephisto, and an inexperienced Camilla Horn is simply enchanting as Gretchen. (The role of Gretchen was actually written for Lillian Gish, but she bowed out because Murnau refused her demand to have her own personal cameraman shoot the film.) The musical score, composed and conducted by Timothy Brock, is a wonderful counterpart to the film, as well.
In virtually every way possible, F.W. Murnau's Faust is nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece."
A Most Unpredicatable Journey
shaxper | Lakewood, OH | 08/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Familiarity with neither Marlowe's "Tragedy of Doctor Faustus" nor Goethe's "Faust" will prepare you for this Murnau masterpiece. It is a film that truly surprises, clearly echoing its protagonist's own journey from greatness to aimless indecision, unintended disaster, and finally a strong resolution. This insanely brilliant yet highly uneven work is a clear and beautiful transition from the fantastic expressionistic horror of Murnau's "Nosferatu" to the dark and stunningly beautiful tragic romance of "Sunrise." It is almost schizophrenic in its scope, but it pays off masterfully in the end.
"Faust" begins as a stylized satanic horror film, rife with the most absolutely jaw-dropping special effects that would not be outdone for decades to come. At the heart of this first act is (unsurprisingly) Faust, a spiritual, saintly man who is forced to play Job to a quarreling Angel and Devil. Unfortunately, Faust has his breaking point and descends, brilliantly, into the world of the damned. For the first hour of the film, we are subjected to cinematic wonder after cinematic wonder as Murnau and crew constantly manage to top each and every visual that they throw at you. Even when Faust signs away his soul and seems to lose all of his dramatic potential, the visuals keep you glued to your seat.
About an hour into the film, though, the film takes an abrupt turn. Just as Faust becomes bored and indecisive with his newfound powers, Murnau seems to become bored and indecisive with the direction of his powerful film. It descends into a black comedy which, although humorous at points, feels highly tedious and out of place. Fortunately, as this chapter wraps up after approximately 30 minutes, it's purpose becomes clear.
The film then transitions into a gritty tragedy about Gretchen, Faust's love interest introduced in the previous act. Like the previous one, this dark and depressing act seems to come out of nowhere, not even featuring Faust and seemingly having little to do with the story begun in the first act.
However, just as Gretchen's fortunes take an even greater turn for the worse, the film makes a stunning transition, leaping to life with brilliant action, drama, effects, camera work, and acting. For the rest of my life, I doubt that I will ever forget Gretchen's primal cry for Faust, visually transcending distance and the boundaries of Hell itself. The film ends soon after, but not before delivering gorgeous, dramatically saturated moment after moment. The end leaves you with a feeling of elated sorrow -- something I never would have expected from what began as an expressionist horror film.
In the end, Faust is a wonderfully cruel love tragedy, soaring with emotion even higher than it ever soared with the best cinematic imagery of its day. "Faust" is a must see for anyone that shares an equal love for satanic horror and divine tragedy. You'll get both in equal measure, here.
Regarding the transfer itself, Kino does an adequate job, but there's certainly room for improvement. The transfer has its share of jumps, scratches, imperfections, and minor over-all graininess, all while suffering from seemingly poor contrast. It's absolutely watchable, but I'd love to see the Murnau Foundation take this film to the next level, making it shine in the way that it deserves to. I do have to say that the score on Kino's release is incredible, though, absolutely complimenting and nurturing every aspect of Murnau's masterpiece with a Wagner-inspired energy. I'd hate to watch this film without it.
**Note: This review pertains to the 2001 Kino release. Kino has since released a newly remastered edition with a different score."
Benjamin Scott | SEATTLE, WA United States | 06/14/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Murnau's interpretation of Goethe's brilliant epic is by far his best film. Ever overshadowed by the more popular "Nosferatu," "Faust" shows a creativity and ingenuity rarely seen in film making since. Murnau's genius shines through every shot of the film.Emil Jannings, a staple of German expressionist film, steals the show as Mephistopheles capturing perfectly the malicious glee which Goethe depicted. Camilla Horn is the perfect tragic figure in the role of Gretchen, amazingly pulling off the character's fall into insanity. Gösta Eckman, though the least memorable of the three, plays Faust well, clearly illustrating his arrogance and intelligence. It is, however, Murnau himself who truly makes the film shine. From Mephistopheles' unleashing of the plague to Gretchen's wanderings in the snow, every shot is magic. His use of effects far beyond their time is not overbearing but truly effective in illustrating the story. It is honestly his best film, far outclassing the rest.Kino has done a nice job in its distribution and restoration of the film. The orchestral soundtrack fits the film for the most part and the transfer was done well, leaving a very enjoyable silent film.I could not recommend this film more."