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Nosferatu

by Jim Shepard

ISBN 0679446672 / 9780679446675 / 0-679-44667-2
Publisher Knopf
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

"Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe had been raised in silence and routine in a cool blue nursery at the beginning of a comfortable era in his family's fortunes." From that cool blue nursery, the young man who started out his life in quiet, rural anonymity ended it decades later in a highway accident just south of Santa Barbara, California. In between, F. W. Plumpe metamorphosed into F. W. Murnau, one of the greatest film directors in history. Perhaps the most famous of Murnau's movies was Nosferatu, a silent-film treatment of the Dracula story, made in 1921. Vampirism is a strangely apt metaphor for Murnau's life--it was not until his lover, Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele, died in the trenches of World War I that Murnau's artistic genius achieved its highest levels--and so Nosferatu is also the title of Jim Shepard's novel based on the filmmaker's life.

Shepard takes his readers on a journey through a tortured soul. We first meet the young, awkward Friedrich on his way to school in Berlin, where he meets Hans on a railway platform and falls in love. Through his association with Hans, Murnau has the chance to give free rein to his love of theater, and this early section of the novel is a veritable who's who of the German literary and artistic world in the early 1900s. Soon, however, personal betrayal and the Great War put an end to Murnau's idyll. Guilt-ridden over Hans's death, Murnau turns back to art after the war and begins work on his masterpiece, Nosferatu. The chapter devoted to the making of this film is perhaps the strongest part of the novel. From here until the novel's end, Shepard deftly limns the contours of artistic obsession and creation as Murnau continues to make films, first in Germany and then in Hollywood. If the book's latter chapters never again approach the peculiar passion of the first half, they are nevertheless a fascinating glimpse into the heart and mind of a troubled genius. [via]