Shadow of the Vampire Reviews
+ Atmosphere. This movie, in terms of composition, is unlike few others. As dumb as this will surely seem, it's like a silent movie with sound - the image is placed at the forefront and what the characters are saying is secondary. Some of the best scenes of the movie come when Murnau is filming his movie and what we are seeing is shown in grainy black-and-white film, interwoven with the "real" scenes in color. I think it's a reminder of some of the things that we take for granted about black and white film...The stimuli are different, sure, but the starkness of the image can make what you're seeing all the more visceral. The first time this technique is used, Murnau is filming the vampire's first appearance, and it is downright chilling to watch him emerge from the shadows.
The movie is very Gothic, not in the meaning of the term that most of us know, but in that it's evocative of crumbling European castles and creatures lurking in the shadows. It successfully captures two tones: that of the original Nosferatu, and something completely new, bleak and haunted and totally beautiful. It seems shallow to praise a movie so heavily for its aesthetic, but Shadow of the Vampire is truly remarkable work.
+ Willem Dafoe. This is the role that really brought Dafoe to the forefront for me. To be honest, I never paid any attention to him in anything else he's been in, even though people claim he's a real acting chameleon and stuff like that. His work in Shadow of the Vampire as Max Schreck, however, is too good to be ignored. It is a truly incredible immersion of an actor into his role, standing well among the work of DDL's much loved Daniel Plainview or any other transformative performance in recent years. Frankly, for him to have lost the Supporting Actor Oscar to Benicio Del Toro's work in Traffic is a travesty; Benny is good, but it was a boring role and he's done far better work in a lot of other movies. Dafoe is unforgettable. He is the only actor to have nailed his accent, for one. Regrettably, a lot of the other accents are God-awful; between this and Mary Reilly, John Malkovich seems unable to do much with his voice.
Dafoe must have watched Nosferatu a hundred times to prepare for this role. He moves like a vampire, looks like a vampire (thanks in part to the awesome makeup), talks like a vampire (a great feat considering Nosferatu didn't have any sound) and acts like a vampire, in more meanings of the term than one. There are so many dimensions to this role: black humor, longing, primal fear, vengeance, theatrics... the character is compelling enough as it is, and Dafoe nails every single one of these aspects effortlessly. You simply forget that it is a person playing this creature.
I think this movie is an acquired taste, and no matter how much I praise it, there are going to be people who it doesn't quite gel with. I don't really have a problem with that; it just depends on what you're watching a movie to see. But if you're looking for something of dark, fundamental beauty, Shadow of the Vampire is tough to beat. And for those concerned, it is only 86 minutes long, so you really don't have much to lose.
Though the picture has some good visual style and Malkovich and Kier do adequate performances, the whole affair requires a big leap of faith to swallow. And moreover, to try and act like Count Orlok was in fact a genuine bloodsucker does come off as pretty insulting.
Though Dafoe does play said character exactly as intended, the simple fact that silent acting does not combine well with modernistic acting makes his efforts unintenionally comical. This shows most clearly in the actress' realisation of this fact, and Dafoe's angular scurrying makes the scene ridiculous.
Kudos must go to the research behind the project, because aside from the film's raison d'etre, it is historically accurate. A slightly daft companion piece to a cinematic milestone.
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Nate's Grade: A[/color][/font]