This years’ Cinequest 2012, screened and showcased two extremely different adaptations of “Faust”; the legendary German tale of a successful scholarly man who had lost the meaning of life and who also had made a deal with the Devil in exchange for youth, love and power. The first “Faust” was a 1926 silent cinema production, directed by F.W. Murnau . The other, shot 85 years later, just last year, is a more contemporary and up-to-date version of the Faust legend, directed by Alexander Sokurov and is quite different from the vision of Murnau, but are both are equally compelling in their own ways. Different times – different meanings.
Even with the obvious technical limitations in the days of silent films in the 1920’s, Murnau was arguably the greatest director Germany ever had, directing some of worlds’ finest films, and also putting German Expressionism in the forefront of world cinema, creating films such as “Nosferatu”, “Phantom”, and “The Last Laugh”, just right before he shot “Faust”.
Keeping up with Cinequest’s tradition of Silent Cinema when they screened Murnau’s 1922 horror film, “Nosferatu” last year at the California Theatre in San Jose, they followed it this year on March 9th, with Murnau’s “Faust”, this year’s Silent Cinema event which was accompanied by a live musical score performance by the Filharmonia Duo: Denis James (WurliTzer Theatre Organ and Theremin) and Mark Goldstein (Buchla Lighting Wands).
It is becoming a Cinequest tradition to take us back in time to the magical moments when cinema was first taking its baby steps. Watching these timeless films today makes us smile over gesture acting, black and white images, low frills cinematography and the simplicity of its plot; but it is still powerful today, and a truly enjoyable experience for every cinema lover. The message of Faust 1926 is very transparent; there is a God and a Devil (a great performance of diabolic power by Emil Jannings) and their faith over the human soul that has been struggling for ages with desire for power, love and youth forever.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, acclaimed Russian director, Alexander Sokurov, known for his masterpieces, such as “Alexandra” (2007), “Russian Ark” (2002), which was shot in one take, and “Mother and Son: (1997), is far from simplicity. Sokurov, the screenwriter, as well, filled his version with existing 20th century protagonists on the nature of power: following by “Taurus” on Lenin, “Moloch” on Hitler, and “The Sun” on Hirohito. His updated interpretation of “Faust” , which won the “Golden Lion”, the most prestigious award at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, brings the existentialist version of the legend, complete with stunning cinematography and visceral visual effects; something that Murnau was limited to back in his day.
There are echoes of great philosophers and writers of existentialism, such as Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka or Fyodor Dostoevsky, who studied the fate of the human individual who are free (“condemned to freedom”) and responsible, which created a sense of fear and hopelessness of existence. It is highly recommended to do some homework and to get familiar with the Dr. Faust story (not a doctor of Medicine but a doctor of Philosophy) because the film is not easy to follow taking the audience through many different avenues. Also, the script has many deep and thoughtful quotes, such as: “starving man does not have sense of humor”, “unhappy people are dangerous”, and “continue fighting the world is big enough”.