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F.W. Murnau

Regarded as one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era, the German film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau sadly died March 11, 1931. He was born 28th December in Bielefeld, Province of Westphalia. By the age of seven, he was living in Kassel, northern Hesse. He had two brothers, Bernhard and Robert, and two stepsisters, Ida and Anna. His mother, Otilie Volbracht, was the second wife of his father, Heinrich Plumpe, an owner of a cloth factory in the northwest part of Germany. Their villa was often turned into a stage for little plays, directed by the young Friedrich, who had already read books by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays by the age of 12.  He took the pseudonym of “Murnau” from the town of that name near Lake Staffel, south of Munich, where he once lived for a period of time. At 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) tall, the young Murnau was said to have an icy, imperious disposition and an obsession with film. Murnau studied philology at the University in Berlin and later art history and literature in Heidelberg, where director Max Reinhardt saw him at a students’ performance and decided to invite him to his actor-school. He soon became a friend of Franz Marc (the Blue Rider artist based in Murnau), Else Lasker-Schüler and Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele.

During World War I Murnau served as a company commander at the eastern front, where he joined the Imperial German Flying Corps and flew missions in northern France for two years; surviving eight crashes without severe injuries. After landing in Switzerland, he was arrested and interned for the remainder of the war. In his POW camp he was involved with a prisoner theater group and wrote a film script.

After the end of World War One Murnau returned to Germany where he soon established his own film studio with actor Conrad Veidt. His first feature-length film, The Boy in Blue, was a drama inspired by the famous Thomas Gainsborough painting, and was released in 1919. He also explored the popular theme of dual personalities, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for the 1920 film Der Janus-Kopf which starred Veidt and featured Bela Lugosi. Murnau went on to Become a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s.

Murnau’s best known work was his 1922 film NOSFERATU an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although not a commercial success due to copyright issues with Stoker’s novel, the film was a considered a masterpiece of Expressionist artwork. He was also known for the 1924 film The Last Laugh and his interpretation of Goethe’s Faust (1926). F.W. Murnau later emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox Studio and made three films, including Sunrise (1927), Four Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). In 1931 Murnau travelled to Bora Bora to make the film Tabu with documentary film pioneer Robert Flaherty. However Flaherty left following artistic disputes with Murnau who was left to finish the movie on his own.

Unfortunately though A week prior to the opening of the film Tabu, Murnau had an Automobile accident along the Pacific Coast Highway near Rincon Beach, south of Santa Barbara and subsequently died on 11 March 1931 from his injuries in a Santa Barbara hospital, California. However he has left behind an enduring legacy in the form of some fantastic films.




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