Faust


2h 12m 1926
Faust

Brief Synopsis

Classic tale of the doctor who sells his soul to the devil for youth and love.

Film Details

Also Known As
Faust - eine deutsche Volksage, Faust eine deutsche volkssage
Genre
Drama
Horror
Fantasy
Silent
Adaptation
Release Date
1926

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1

Synopsis

Faust sells his soul to Mephistopheles, who eventually returns to collect it.

Film Details

Also Known As
Faust - eine deutsche Volksage, Faust eine deutsche volkssage
Genre
Drama
Horror
Fantasy
Silent
Adaptation
Release Date
1926

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.33 : 1

Articles

Faust (1926)


Based on the first half of the towering masterpiece of German literature by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust was designed as an international calling card of sorts for German cinema intended to entertain both local audiences and stress the importance of its culture to the rest of the world. The costly, ambitious film was put into production in September, 1925 by Ufa and uncredited producing force Max Reinhardt at the same time as another silent classic, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which turned out to be even more of a challenge for the studio and took a far longer time to complete.

Director F.W. Murnau had already caused a stir in the film community with his 1922 horror film Nosferatu, which had run into legal issues with the estate of Bram Stoker but survived attempts to obliterate it from existence. In the intervening four years until this film he had proven himself a force to be reckoned with thanks to The Last Laugh (1924) and Tartuffe) (1925). In fact, Faust would turn out to be his final German production (he was already been courted by Fox but had to deliver one more film to Ufa) before heading off to Hollywood where he made an auspicious entrance with the Oscar-winning Sunrise (1927) and helmed three more acclaimed films (including the sadly lost 4 Devils) before his untimely death in 1931 in a traffic accident.

Murnau's experience as a combat pilot in World War I unexpectedly served him well here as he used his experiences in the air to conjure up striking images of a devil-controlled flight over the globe and surreal images of a holy battle in the clouds. Also lifting elements of Christopher Marlowe's English version of the Faust story as well as Gounod's opera (which was the original version Murnau wanted to film), the director courted such actresses as Mary Philbin, Greta Garbo, and Lillian Gish in the role of Gretchen, ultimately choosing Lil Dagover's leg double from Tartuffe, Camilla Horn. According to her 1981 autobiography, the actress was subjected to an unusually grueling shoot, often chained or tied up for hours or subjected to a harsh salt storm under powerful wind fans.

Likewise, an American actor was considered for the title role with John Barrymore bandied about as a stronger contender. Instead the role went to Swedish theater actor Gösta Ekman, who went on to star in the original 1936 version of Intermezzo. However, there was no question from the start that Mephisto would be played by Emil Jannings, whose starring performance in The Last Laugh is one of the most impressive of the entire silent era. His magnetic, diabolical turn here provides the film with some of its most indelible imagery, especially his early appearance looming over the smoking town landscape or answering Faust's crossroads summoning with eyes eerily glinting in the darkness. Jannings would go on to star in the classic 1930 Josef von Sternberg film The Blue Angel and even won the first Oscar for Best Actor; contrary to suppositions by Susan Orlean, he was not actually beaten in votes by write-in candidate Rin Tin Tin. Unfortunately his thick German accent would send him back to his native country where he embraced the rise of Nazism, a decision that would obviously lead to the end of his career well before his death in 1950. Among the rest of the cast, future director William Dieterle, a regular Reinhardt colleague who would go on to helm his own version of the Faust story with The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), also turns up here playing Gretchen's brother.

In order to crank out the number of prints demanded both at home and abroad, several different negatives of Faust were assembled with the German version considered to be the superior one compared to the more widely-seen English export one assembled from different takes. In fact, many of the export takes were shot by a second cameraman on the set using different angles, often resulting in major differences between the two. The English version even used custom made books and text inserts to create a film as friendly as possible to international audiences, though today it's the German version (the primary one in circulation since 2006) that has rightly been regarded as not only a classic but a high water mark in Murnau's career.

By Nathaniel Thompson
Faust (1926)

Faust (1926)

Based on the first half of the towering masterpiece of German literature by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust was designed as an international calling card of sorts for German cinema intended to entertain both local audiences and stress the importance of its culture to the rest of the world. The costly, ambitious film was put into production in September, 1925 by Ufa and uncredited producing force Max Reinhardt at the same time as another silent classic, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which turned out to be even more of a challenge for the studio and took a far longer time to complete. Director F.W. Murnau had already caused a stir in the film community with his 1922 horror film Nosferatu, which had run into legal issues with the estate of Bram Stoker but survived attempts to obliterate it from existence. In the intervening four years until this film he had proven himself a force to be reckoned with thanks to The Last Laugh (1924) and Tartuffe) (1925). In fact, Faust would turn out to be his final German production (he was already been courted by Fox but had to deliver one more film to Ufa) before heading off to Hollywood where he made an auspicious entrance with the Oscar-winning Sunrise (1927) and helmed three more acclaimed films (including the sadly lost 4 Devils) before his untimely death in 1931 in a traffic accident. Murnau's experience as a combat pilot in World War I unexpectedly served him well here as he used his experiences in the air to conjure up striking images of a devil-controlled flight over the globe and surreal images of a holy battle in the clouds. Also lifting elements of Christopher Marlowe's English version of the Faust story as well as Gounod's opera (which was the original version Murnau wanted to film), the director courted such actresses as Mary Philbin, Greta Garbo, and Lillian Gish in the role of Gretchen, ultimately choosing Lil Dagover's leg double from Tartuffe, Camilla Horn. According to her 1981 autobiography, the actress was subjected to an unusually grueling shoot, often chained or tied up for hours or subjected to a harsh salt storm under powerful wind fans. Likewise, an American actor was considered for the title role with John Barrymore bandied about as a stronger contender. Instead the role went to Swedish theater actor Gösta Ekman, who went on to star in the original 1936 version of Intermezzo. However, there was no question from the start that Mephisto would be played by Emil Jannings, whose starring performance in The Last Laugh is one of the most impressive of the entire silent era. His magnetic, diabolical turn here provides the film with some of its most indelible imagery, especially his early appearance looming over the smoking town landscape or answering Faust's crossroads summoning with eyes eerily glinting in the darkness. Jannings would go on to star in the classic 1930 Josef von Sternberg film The Blue Angel and even won the first Oscar for Best Actor; contrary to suppositions by Susan Orlean, he was not actually beaten in votes by write-in candidate Rin Tin Tin. Unfortunately his thick German accent would send him back to his native country where he embraced the rise of Nazism, a decision that would obviously lead to the end of his career well before his death in 1950. Among the rest of the cast, future director William Dieterle, a regular Reinhardt colleague who would go on to helm his own version of the Faust story with The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), also turns up here playing Gretchen's brother. In order to crank out the number of prints demanded both at home and abroad, several different negatives of Faust were assembled with the German version considered to be the superior one compared to the more widely-seen English export one assembled from different takes. In fact, many of the export takes were shot by a second cameraman on the set using different angles, often resulting in major differences between the two. The English version even used custom made books and text inserts to create a film as friendly as possible to international audiences, though today it's the German version (the primary one in circulation since 2006) that has rightly been regarded as not only a classic but a high water mark in Murnau's career. By Nathaniel Thompson

Faust - The Restored Deluxe Edition of F.W. Murnau's FAUST on DVD


Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was one of the most celebrated directors in the world when he embarked on his adaptation of Goethe's classic play Faust (1926). His 1924 feature The Last Laugh (1924), a story told with a minimum of intertitles and camerawork of unprecedented mobility, was hailed as a masterpiece of storytelling sophistication. It was enormously successful in Germany and around the world and became one of the most influential silent films ever made. UFA, which had produced The Last Laugh, signed him to two major prestige projects and Hollywood called with an offer to direct in America, which Murnau accepted. After he completed Tartuffe, Murnau started work on what would be his final German film and UFA gave Murnau a blockbuster budget and the resources of studio to create one of the most visually magnificent films of the era.

Murnau's Faust, scripted by Carl Mayer and subtitled "A German Folk Saga," reimagines the modern myth of the idealistic scientist who signs a pact with the devil as a holy battle between good and evil, with Faust as a kind of modern day Job. Mephisto (Emil Jannings, as a hulking bestial being with massive gargoyle wings) and the Archangel (Werner Fuetterer, looking like a heavenly Seigfried with feathery wings that tower over him) debate the goodness of mankind in an abstract celestial setting, where shafts of light breath through storm clouds like the dawn coming through the dark night. "I'll wager that I can wrest Faust's soul from God!" he bets the Archangel, who accepts (confident of mankind's goodness and, apparently, unconcerned over the torment the victims are soon to endure). Mephisto emerges over a picaresque mountain village, a looming monster who hovers over the innocent town like a storm of evil, his cloak smothering it in darkness while spreading noxious fumes that carry the plague. The image is astounding, a vision of darkness and pestilence personified and an image of pure visual power.

The wizened scientist and alchemist Faust (Swedish actor Gösta Ekman) despairs so from his inability to save his fellow man that he tosses the Bible into the fire and summons the Devil at the crossroads. His fate is sealed with a signature in blood and the temptations of power and sex. Mephisto makes Faust young and offers him his pick of maidens, and then brings tragedy upon the innocent young woman that Faust loves and seduces: Gretchen (Camilla Horn), a beautiful German maiden in pigtails and a glow of purity that is defiled by Mephisto's manipulations. Not even D.W. Griffith's tormented heroines suffered so at the hands of a hypocritical society.

Camilla Horn is Murnau's Teutonic Lillian Gish in a Wagnerian melodrama. In fact, Murnau had approached Gish for the role, but she was a major Hollywood star with tremendous clout of her own – she brought Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjostrom to Hollywood to direct her in The Scarlet Letter - and demanded that Murnau use her regular cameraman, Charles Rosher, which Murnau refused. Murnau found his Gretchen in Horn, an unknown 22-year-old dancer whose legs made brief appearance (standing in for Lil Dagover's gams) in Murnau's Faust. Murnau put Horn through an ordeal almost as unrelenting as the fictional Gretchen to draw a performance out of her, according to her autobiography. At one point, Horn was dragged across the stage in iron chains so many times that her knees bled and the crew took pity on her. "But I adored Murnau," she insisted years later. John Barrymore was initially considered for the role of Faust, for commercial prospects in the U.S., until he saw Gösta Ekman in Victor Sjostrom's Ven Domer and traveled to Sweden to cast him in to play both the young and, under heavy make-up, old Faust. They are impressive as parts of Murnau's mise-en-scene but rather bland as performers, especially next to the histrionics of Emil Jannings, the celebrated silent star whose broad style and hammy expressions still stand as the most exaggerated approach of silent film acting. Jannings delivers a larger than life performance just to compete with the magnificent sets and the scale of the effects. The approach is perfect for playing the dark prince Mephisto under massive wings that dominate the screen, but rather much when he slips into moral scale and flirts with Gretchen's aunt like a salacious satyr.

Faust is a tragedy drawn in magnificent images like paintings in light and shadow and is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful of Murnau's German films. Leaving nothing to chance, Murnau shot the film entirely in the studio, where he could maintain complete control of every aspect of the image. "At the height of his career, Murnau was able to mobilize all those forces which guaranteed him complete control of the film's space," wrote critic turned director Eric Rohmer in 1977. "Every formal element – the faces and bodies of actors, objects, landscapes, and such natural phenomenon as snow, light, fire and clouds – have been created or recreated with exact knowledge of their visual effect. Never has a film left so little to chance." Murnau's epic canvas creates drama by the sheer scale of his images and the masterful play of light, shadow, and mist on his beautifully designed sets. Karl Freund was set to shoot the film but had pull out due to illness, and it was Carl Hoffman (who had shot Dupont's Variety and Fritz Lang's Seigfried and Kriemhild's Revenge) who executed the complex camerawork and optical effects to bring Murnau's visions to the screen. The imagery of Mephisto and the Archangel is operatic and grandiose, yet delicately textured and intricately lit. Lucifer and Faust take a magic carpet ride around the world, looking down on jagged mountainscapes and fairy-tale kingdoms of opulence and decadence in a spectacle of expressionistically exaggerated miniatures and trick photography. An innocent staked to a pyre to burn for her sins becomes a scene of transcendence, at once harrowing and spiritual. You can see the influences of Murnau's painstakingly created images and magnificent effects in such silent masterpieces as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Car Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Murnau shot separate negatives for different territories and there exist at least seven negatives of Faust, each composed of slightly different takes. The differences between the versions are subtle, but some contain different framing and editing choices, and some show Murnau rethinking his visual choices over the course of the takes. Murnau personally supervised the American version and made slight changes to text and in some cases reworked images to make them more clear to American audiences. Kino released that version on DVD a few years ago. This new "Restored Deluxe Edition" features a newly mastered edition of the original German version, restored by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation. It's a beautiful print with rich tones and it features the gorgeous original German intertitles, hand-painted cards with text over an abstract background of bold black strokes on a white background that suggests a stormy struggle between the forces of dark and light. The new restoration also features two scores – a compilation score of "historic photoplay music" by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (recorded in 5.1 Stereo Surround) and a piano score adapted from the original 1926 orchestral arrangement.

The 53-minute documentary "The Language of Shadows: Faust," a chapter from a German documentary series presented with English narration, explores the making of the film through film clips, sketches by art director Robert Herlth and interviews. Also features twelve minutes of recently rediscovered screen test footage of Lubitsch's abandoned 1923 production Marguerite and Faust and galleries of set designs and stills. The second disc features the previously released U.S. version of the film, produced by David Shepard and featuring an original orchestral score by Timothy Brock performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra.

For more information about Faust, visit Kino International. To order Faust, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker

Faust - The Restored Deluxe Edition of F.W. Murnau's FAUST on DVD

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was one of the most celebrated directors in the world when he embarked on his adaptation of Goethe's classic play Faust (1926). His 1924 feature The Last Laugh (1924), a story told with a minimum of intertitles and camerawork of unprecedented mobility, was hailed as a masterpiece of storytelling sophistication. It was enormously successful in Germany and around the world and became one of the most influential silent films ever made. UFA, which had produced The Last Laugh, signed him to two major prestige projects and Hollywood called with an offer to direct in America, which Murnau accepted. After he completed Tartuffe, Murnau started work on what would be his final German film and UFA gave Murnau a blockbuster budget and the resources of studio to create one of the most visually magnificent films of the era. Murnau's Faust, scripted by Carl Mayer and subtitled "A German Folk Saga," reimagines the modern myth of the idealistic scientist who signs a pact with the devil as a holy battle between good and evil, with Faust as a kind of modern day Job. Mephisto (Emil Jannings, as a hulking bestial being with massive gargoyle wings) and the Archangel (Werner Fuetterer, looking like a heavenly Seigfried with feathery wings that tower over him) debate the goodness of mankind in an abstract celestial setting, where shafts of light breath through storm clouds like the dawn coming through the dark night. "I'll wager that I can wrest Faust's soul from God!" he bets the Archangel, who accepts (confident of mankind's goodness and, apparently, unconcerned over the torment the victims are soon to endure). Mephisto emerges over a picaresque mountain village, a looming monster who hovers over the innocent town like a storm of evil, his cloak smothering it in darkness while spreading noxious fumes that carry the plague. The image is astounding, a vision of darkness and pestilence personified and an image of pure visual power. The wizened scientist and alchemist Faust (Swedish actor Gösta Ekman) despairs so from his inability to save his fellow man that he tosses the Bible into the fire and summons the Devil at the crossroads. His fate is sealed with a signature in blood and the temptations of power and sex. Mephisto makes Faust young and offers him his pick of maidens, and then brings tragedy upon the innocent young woman that Faust loves and seduces: Gretchen (Camilla Horn), a beautiful German maiden in pigtails and a glow of purity that is defiled by Mephisto's manipulations. Not even D.W. Griffith's tormented heroines suffered so at the hands of a hypocritical society. Camilla Horn is Murnau's Teutonic Lillian Gish in a Wagnerian melodrama. In fact, Murnau had approached Gish for the role, but she was a major Hollywood star with tremendous clout of her own – she brought Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjostrom to Hollywood to direct her in The Scarlet Letter - and demanded that Murnau use her regular cameraman, Charles Rosher, which Murnau refused. Murnau found his Gretchen in Horn, an unknown 22-year-old dancer whose legs made brief appearance (standing in for Lil Dagover's gams) in Murnau's Faust. Murnau put Horn through an ordeal almost as unrelenting as the fictional Gretchen to draw a performance out of her, according to her autobiography. At one point, Horn was dragged across the stage in iron chains so many times that her knees bled and the crew took pity on her. "But I adored Murnau," she insisted years later. John Barrymore was initially considered for the role of Faust, for commercial prospects in the U.S., until he saw Gösta Ekman in Victor Sjostrom's Ven Domer and traveled to Sweden to cast him in to play both the young and, under heavy make-up, old Faust. They are impressive as parts of Murnau's mise-en-scene but rather bland as performers, especially next to the histrionics of Emil Jannings, the celebrated silent star whose broad style and hammy expressions still stand as the most exaggerated approach of silent film acting. Jannings delivers a larger than life performance just to compete with the magnificent sets and the scale of the effects. The approach is perfect for playing the dark prince Mephisto under massive wings that dominate the screen, but rather much when he slips into moral scale and flirts with Gretchen's aunt like a salacious satyr. Faust is a tragedy drawn in magnificent images like paintings in light and shadow and is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful of Murnau's German films. Leaving nothing to chance, Murnau shot the film entirely in the studio, where he could maintain complete control of every aspect of the image. "At the height of his career, Murnau was able to mobilize all those forces which guaranteed him complete control of the film's space," wrote critic turned director Eric Rohmer in 1977. "Every formal element – the faces and bodies of actors, objects, landscapes, and such natural phenomenon as snow, light, fire and clouds – have been created or recreated with exact knowledge of their visual effect. Never has a film left so little to chance." Murnau's epic canvas creates drama by the sheer scale of his images and the masterful play of light, shadow, and mist on his beautifully designed sets. Karl Freund was set to shoot the film but had pull out due to illness, and it was Carl Hoffman (who had shot Dupont's Variety and Fritz Lang's Seigfried and Kriemhild's Revenge) who executed the complex camerawork and optical effects to bring Murnau's visions to the screen. The imagery of Mephisto and the Archangel is operatic and grandiose, yet delicately textured and intricately lit. Lucifer and Faust take a magic carpet ride around the world, looking down on jagged mountainscapes and fairy-tale kingdoms of opulence and decadence in a spectacle of expressionistically exaggerated miniatures and trick photography. An innocent staked to a pyre to burn for her sins becomes a scene of transcendence, at once harrowing and spiritual. You can see the influences of Murnau's painstakingly created images and magnificent effects in such silent masterpieces as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Car Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Murnau shot separate negatives for different territories and there exist at least seven negatives of Faust, each composed of slightly different takes. The differences between the versions are subtle, but some contain different framing and editing choices, and some show Murnau rethinking his visual choices over the course of the takes. Murnau personally supervised the American version and made slight changes to text and in some cases reworked images to make them more clear to American audiences. Kino released that version on DVD a few years ago. This new "Restored Deluxe Edition" features a newly mastered edition of the original German version, restored by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation. It's a beautiful print with rich tones and it features the gorgeous original German intertitles, hand-painted cards with text over an abstract background of bold black strokes on a white background that suggests a stormy struggle between the forces of dark and light. The new restoration also features two scores – a compilation score of "historic photoplay music" by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (recorded in 5.1 Stereo Surround) and a piano score adapted from the original 1926 orchestral arrangement. The 53-minute documentary "The Language of Shadows: Faust," a chapter from a German documentary series presented with English narration, explores the making of the film through film clips, sketches by art director Robert Herlth and interviews. Also features twelve minutes of recently rediscovered screen test footage of Lubitsch's abandoned 1923 production Marguerite and Faust and galleries of set designs and stills. The second disc features the previously released U.S. version of the film, produced by David Shepard and featuring an original orchestral score by Timothy Brock performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra. For more information about Faust, visit Kino International. To order Faust, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Director F.W. Murnau wanted Lillian Gish to play Gretchen, but she insisted that the film be shot by her favourite cinematographer Charles Rosher (I). Murnau instead cast newcomer Camilla Horn, whom he had met on the set of Herr Tartuff (1926) where she was a double for Lil Dagover.

After the film had already been shot and edited, the UFA began to dislike Hans Kyser's script. Over Kyser's objections, they asked German writer Gerhart Hauptmann to work on it. They they decided they disliked Hauptmann's script even more and the film was released in Kyser's original version.

Lillian Gish was asked to star in the movie, but her demands were unacceptable. Leni Riefenstahl applied for the female lead role, but was turned down.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1995

Released in United States March 1979

Released in United States March 26, 1988

Released in United States Winter December 1926

Shown at Filmfest DC in Washington, DC April 22 - May 3,

Shown at Portland International Film Festival February 17 - March 5, 1995.

Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 26, 1988.

1998.

German intertitles

Released in United States 1995 (Shown at Portland International Film Festival February 17 - March 5, 1995.)

Released in United States March 1979 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (German Cinema: The Golden Age) March 14-30, 1979.)

Released in United States Winter December 1926

Released in United States March 26, 1988 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 26, 1988.)