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Kino on Video presents
Faust (1926)

"I invoke thy aid, Spirit of Darkness. Show thyself!"
- Faust (Goesta Ekmann)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 02, 2001

Stars: Goesta Ekmann, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn
Other Stars: Frieda Richard, Wilhelm Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert, Eric Barcley, Hanna Ralph, Werner Fuetterer
Director: F.W. Murnau

Manufacturer: Cine Magnetics
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, violence, sexual situations, infanticide, traffic with the devil)
Run Time: 01h:55m:34s
Release Date: May 29, 2001
UPC: 738329020729
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+B-B- D+

DVD Review

One of the most enduring characters in all of literature is that of Faust, the alchemist who sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power. First arising in the Middle Ages, the legend was given its first great treatment in Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. Since then it has formed the basis of countless operas, plays, films and books. None has been quite as enduring or influential as the massive verse drama written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The first part was written while Goethe was a young man; the second and more metaphysical part written when he was quite aged, making it a unique work that treats the same tale from two radically different viewpoints. Part One of Goethe's Faust is the basis for F.W. Murnau's 1926 silent film. Hewing quite closely to Goethe's model, Murnau presents the play as an episodic dream, wherein the reality or unreality of the occurrences is not always entirely clear.

The film opens with a devil, Mephistopheles (silent film megastar Emil Jannings) having a friendly chat with an archangel (Weiner Fuetterer). In the course of the conversation, Mephisto suggests a wager, which that whimsical fellow God, through his archangel, accepts: if Mephistopheles can corrupt the soul of Faust, he may have all the earth and its inhabitants as his domain. Mephistopheles softens up the aged scholar Faust (Goesta Ekmann) by bringing plagues down upon his city. Helpless to aid the citizens who beg him, a desperate Faust summons Mephisto to his aid. At first reluctant to take the devil's bargain, Faust eventually accepts a trial offer of one day of power and knowledge, with no strings attached. During that day, he is given his youth and experiences the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, the Duchess of Parma (Hanna Ralph), causing Faust to quickly agree to a permanent arrangement. After a while, however, Faust tires of omnipotence and falls in love with Gretchen, a pure young woman (Camilla Horn). Mephisto is furious, and does everything he can to thwart the romance, bringing her into disgrace and involving Faust in murder, leading to a crashing conclusion.

Director F.W. Murnau is best known for the 1922 adaptation of Dracula, Nosferatu. This film shares the disturbing German Expressionist manner of the earlier picture, brought forth in a use of heavy shadow, oddly shaped rooms and staircases, and plenty of special effects. I particularly enjoyed the scene of the bargain with Mephisto, in which the words of the pact burn themselves into a blank parchment. Murnau is particularly reliant upon multiple exposures, most effectively in the shot of Mephisto looming over Faust's village, his black cloak flapping like a massive storm cloud ready to rain down pestilence. This and related images clearly found their way into the Night on Bald Mountain episode of Disney's Fantasia. Other influences are readily visible, such as the fiery rings during the summoning sequence which are mirrored in Lang's Metropolis during the animation of the robot Maria. There are any number of such striking visuals, which make Faust a stylistic treat.

Alas, while Emil Jennings is very good as Mephistopheles, he does not have the truly horrific presence of Max Schreck in Nosferatu. Instead, he seems rather jolly and overfed (perhaps he is the demon of gluttony or sloth?), rather than the more typical thin devil one might imagine. He is quite entertaining, however, whenever he's on the screen, lending the picture its few moments of humor. Indeed, he's far more interesting than Faust (though Ekmann does an outstanding job of playing both the aged and the young man), which is part of the problem with this picture. When the romance with Gretchen gets going, the story becomes tedious in the extreme (it took me four tries to make it through without falling asleep). The tedium is compounded by an unpleasant parallel romance between Mephistopheles and one of Gretchen's friends, Marthe (Yvette Guilbert), during which the devil gropes her repeatedly. I could have done without about a reel of these proceedings and gotten on to the consequences of the Faust-Gretchen romance, where the story again picks up momentum.

Although the original German credits are preserved, the intertitles are in English, done in a complementary typeface. The presentation is at visually correct speed instead of sound speed, making the image quite pleasing.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution of Murnau to the Faust legend is the notion of using the power of the devil, at least at the beginning, for the purpose of doing good. Of course, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Doctor Faustus is no exception.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 35mm source materials used here are generally in very good to excellent condition. As expected, there is flickering and speckling, with an occasional flash, but nothing that constitutes major damage. The last few reels, including Faust's combat with Valentin (Wilhelm Dieterle) are so shrouded in shadow as to be nearly unreadable. Other portions are quite high in contrast, but overall an acceptable presentation of a 75-year-old film. The picture is in black and white, without tints.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0(silent)no

Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio track is a Dolby Surround presentation of a 1996 orchestral score by Timothy Brock. This music is quite appropriate to the film throughout, and occasionally discordant in a manner that fits the 1920s origins of the movie. No attempt was made at directionality as far as I was able to discern. The sound is clear and rather noise-free. Bass extension is rather lacking but the audio is otherwise quite good.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills and publicity materials
Extras Review: The extras provided are not very substantial. A brief essay on the film by historian Jan Christopher Morak is included on the single sheet pamphlet. A series of about two dozen behind the scenes shots and production stills comprise what is billed on the case as "UFA Studios 1925: The Making of Faust", but no narration or information of any kind is provided to indicate what or whom the viewer is looking at. Two shots of the US pressbook are also included, and I would have liked to have seen much more of this Art Nouveau-influenced piece of ephemera. Chaptering is decent. The chapter menu has a still of each chapter, and when the cursor moves over it, a calligraphic representation of the chapter number in Roman numerals appears, which I thought was a nice touch appropriate to the film.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

F.W. Murnau revisits the German legend of Dr. Faustus with an interesting exercise in style, supported by a very good performance from Jannings. A few bits are overly slow, and parts of the video transfer are excessively dark. In all, worth a rental at least for the curious.


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