The Spanish filmmaker, historian and archivist Luciano Berriatúa was the head restorationist on several recent restorations of F. W. Murnau’s films. He has also made documentaries about Murnau’s life and films. In the short text below, written especially and generously on the occasion of Olhar de Cinema’s Murnau retrospective this year, Berritaúa describes the continuing value of Murnau’s work. More information about the retrospective can be found in http://olhardecinema.com.br/2017/en/2017/retrospective-f-w-murnau/.
Cinema is not an art for the blind. It is not enough to listen to the soundtrack of a movie and know what it is about. We could believe that we know how the film was, but we would miss the point. Cinema is a visual art, and great filmmakers know how to create a language of images that can communicate emotions.
One of the greatest to do so was undoubtedly Murnau. He had a vocation as a painter and was able to adapt himself to the cinema by creating a pictorial language. For centuries, painting has expressed the subtlest feelings and strongest emotions through images. Murnau understood that cinema was not born from scratch, but rather continued the millenarian work of the creators of visual language.
Murnau is still able to convince his viewers to engage with subjects that a priori would not interest them through the emotions created with his images.
We could say that he was forced to work with imagery in this way with because the cinema was silent, but we should never forget that images are more suggestive and impactful than words.
And his movies were not for the deaf, either. Murnau knew very well that music and rhythm (as well as visuals) were essential for creating unconscious emotions in viewers. This is why we should watch Murnau’s films with their original musical accompaniments, the ones with which the filmmaker himself worked. (In the retrospective, Murnau’s films will be accompanied by musical accompaniments of the original soundtracks and modern-day adaptations of the same, or else with new compositions.)
I believe that Murnau opened an artistic and didactic way towards guiding the thinking of his viewers through emotions generated in the unconscious, through songs and pictorial images that were easily elaborated by this great filmmaker who, even today, continues to show us a possible path – a path indeed rich with possibilities – for the cinematic art.