Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

The original poster for nosferatu
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
Dir: F.W. Murnau

   Nosferatu is my favourite film of all time. Since first seeing it on DVD around 2004/5 I’ve become somewhat obsessed with it, gathering seven versions of the film on DVD* (soon to be eight with next month’s Blu-Ray release) as well as remakes, homages, graphic novel adaptations and much more. Just last week I had the pleasure of seeing the film on the big screen for the first time in a limited theatrical run to promote the Blu-Ray.
   So, with that in mind and because, as a blogger I am legally required to do a Halloween post, let’s give it a review.

   Nosferatu, for those who don’t know, is a German silent film, intended to be the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. However, the creators failed to obtain the rights to the novel and decided instead to change elements of the plot as well as the characters names to avoid legal troubles, thus, Jonathan Harker becomes Thomas Hutter, his wife Mina becomes Ellen and Count Dracula becomes Graf Orlok.
   The changes didn’t work though, and shortly after the release Bram Stoker’s widow took the film makers to court and won. As a result of the verdict all copies of the film had to be destroyed, though luckily several copies survived in the hands of private collectors.
    Today, both the film and the original novel have both fallen into the public domain so we are now free to enjoy the film in all its glory.

The monstrous Graf Orlok
   I adore this film. Despite its age it still holds up today and the creepy atmosphere and slow pacing still work brilliantly. The main draw is of course, Graf Orlok himself, played to perfection by Max Schreck who moves slowly and stiffly his every gesture laborious. Despite the film being silent you can almost hear the vampire’s joints creak as he stalks his prey. Unlike later incarnations of the Count, who portray him as suave and seductive, Orlok is repulsive, ugly and rat-like. He certainly looks like a centuries old creature risen from the grave and it’s a far more frightening visual to see this decaying beast enter a room than the handsome gent Dracula is so often portrayed as.
   What makes Orlok all the more interesting is how little we see him. Over the ninety minute runtime of the film, he appears on screen for just over ten minutes, yet when finishing the film, it feels as if his presence was stamped onto every frame.

   Interestingly, some elements of the Orlok character intended to differentiate him from his novel counterpart have found their way back into the Dracula mythos. The film casts Orlok as a nocturnal creature and the film’s ending sees him killed by the light of the sun. This is drastically different to the novel which sees Dracula walking around London in the sun perfectly happily, yet the idea of sun killing vampires has seeped into popular culture and today it is seen in almost all vampire media, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga. I’ve even seen film adaptations of Dracula that see the vampire killed off by the sun, the weakness of his “knock-off” counterpart.

Hutter and Orlok meet for the first time
   The rest of the cast are brilliant too, Gustav Von Wangenheim although prone to overacting (one of the few things that really date the film) portrays Hutter as an innocent fool, more child than man who finds his world turned upside down with his visit to Orlok’s castle.
   Greta Schroder is fantastic as the melancholic Ellen who appears almost as ghost-like as Orlok himself over the course of the film.
   All are backed up be vibrant and memorable performances by the supporting cast, including Alexander Granach’s energetic portrayal of Knock, the film’s version of Renfield.

   Aside from Orlok though, the real star are the visuals that director F.W. Murnau and his cinematographer F.A. Wagner were able to craft. The scenes in Orlok’s castle especially are wonderfully claustrophobic, the audience feels trapped in the small rooms just as Hutter is and the brilliant use of shadows make for some of cinemas most memorable scenes. Who could forget the eerie sight of Orlok’s shadow ascend the staircase and open the door to Ellen’s room?

Orlok's shadow climbs the stairs
   While Nosferatu may not frighten modern audiences as much as it did those of the past, the film still maintains a quiet, chilling atmosphere, the scary scenes are few and far between but the tension builds slowly between them. Watching this film alone is the dark is still be a haunting experience that hasn’t been dampened by the passage of time. Watching Nosferatu today is still rich and rewarding and I would encourage you to seek it out this Halloween and take the trip with Hutter, to the land of thieves and ghosts.

Happy Halloween
  *A note on the various versions of the film for those wishing to seek it out. If possible I would avoid the public domain version (the version usually found on sites like youtube). This version restores the characters names back to their Dracula counterparts, is often ran at the wrong speed (resulting in Benny Hill-a-like movement), isn’t tinted and often has scenes missing. It’s a very poor version of the film and definitely not the one you want to watch if you’re watching for the first time.

   If you want to watch the film properly the best way to do so is with the Masters of Cinema edition on DVD which presents the film as it is meant to be seen,correct tinting/intertitles/speed etc and with the original score. This is by far the best version out there, so if you’re serious about watching the film make sure it’s the one you pick up.

   Alternativly, there’s my personal favourite, the Eureka version with an electronic score by French group Art Zoyd. While the modern soundtrack may put some people off, personally I think it’s the score that best matches the visuals of the film and lends the most horror to the scenes with Orlok.

   Whatever edition you end up watching though (…but seriously, don’t watch the public domain version) I hope you enjoy it. You’re in for a treat.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

The old man and the sea
The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway
 "Set in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway's magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man's challenge to the elements in which he lives. Not a single word is superflous in this widely admired masterpiece, which once and for all established his place as one of the giants of modern literature."

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fabulous Beast The Sow

Fabulous Beast The Sow
Fabulous Beast
The Sow
Sarah Kain Gutowski

   For the most part, I am not a fan of poetry, it is just a world of writing that for whatever reason has never appealed to me. All the more reason then, to sing the praises of this wonderful collection of poems by Sarah Kain Gutowski which hooked me immediately, leading me to read the whole collection in one sitting.
   Not that this wasn’t an easy task, the book is short, only twenty pages or so but feels much longer as the weight of the words slowing time as I read.

    Perhaps the reason I felt so attached to this particular collection, was that the individual poems made up an over arching narrative, making the book read more like a novella in the form of poems than a regular poetry collection.

   The story is that of a sow on a farm. One with the knowledge of its place in life, knowing it exists purely to breed, giving off its litter until the day comes where it can breed no longer at which point it will be sold for its meat. The sow also possesses the ability to transform into a number of other creatures, most prominently featured being the human figures of a young woman and the deceased wife of the farmer.
   It is an unusual concept and one I found deeply sad, the sow’s knowledge of its unavoidable fate and the joy it seems to express as it transforms into the more malleable, more capable human form was heartbreaking.
   The text’s meditations on motherhood were also emotive. The initial poem opens with the sleeping sow in danger of killing her litter in her sleep should she roll over and the text suggests a conflict of emotions mothers might expect. The love of their children and the sadness experienced as they grow and must leave the nest. 

   While not a lover of poetry, I do have respect for it as a craft. The writer must work with such a limited canvas, picking their words carefully to get across their point. Gutowski does this perfectly, to provide such an engaging and emotive tale in such a small text is a commendable feat. Not a word is wasted and the poems are perfectly crafted.

   Having received this book through a goodreads giveaway I couldn’t be happier. Not something I would have picked up myself, it was a welcome surprise, a chance to set foot in unknown territory. It is a fascinating text and one I will undoubtedly return to, to try and glean more understanding of, to peel another layer away from the mysterious story. I’d happily recommend you pick it up and do the same.

Sarah Kain Gutowski

I received this book for review through GoodReads FirstReads

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Reading Aloud Tag

Reading Aloud Tag

The Circle

The Circle
The Circle
Dave Eggers

   I’ve wanted to read Dave Eggers for some time now but have just never had the chance. When I saw his new book was being offered out as a goodreads giveaway I entered immediately and was surprised and overjoyed when, a few weeks later, the novel appeared on my doorstep.

   The book is the story of Mae, a young woman who lands her dream job at a company known as The Circle.
   The book’s equivalent to Google, The Circle is a huge company dealing with almost every avenue of the digital world, from social networks to monetary transactions. The company’s huge office space, known as the Campus, is a sprawling building showcasing the greatest technological, architectural and cultural advances the world has to offer. Like Mae, I instantly fell in love with the campus, finding myself in awe as Eggers described each feature of the building in near pornographic detail.

    It is not until Mae becomes more involved with life at the campus, that the cracks begin to show. She is continually told to increase her presence online. To share photographs, post comments, partake in market surveys and join discussion groups. Through her multiple conversations with her superiors we see the glisten of the Circle fade as Mae’s privacy is stripped away layer by layer and she is forced to document her life, rather than experience it.
   This continues until it is taken to the extreme, Mae’s life broadcast live to the world 24/7, her personality all but extinguished as she is forced to evaluate and second guess her every interaction, knowing she is constantly before an audience, the narration becoming overstuffed with numbers and statistics as she constantly monitors her viewing figures.

   What could be seen as a preachy subject matter is handled perfectly through Eggers’ writing. I truly felt for Mae as her privacy was so forcibly removed, at one point I actually had to put my book down as my anger swelled.
   Eggers has a real knack for dialogue, each character’s voice is distinct and believable.
   A lot of this book is taken up by Steve Jobs style product reveals and business meetings. It’s Eggers brilliant dialogue that keeps the reader engaged through these sessions which could, in the hands of a lesser writer, be dull and samey.

   The circle is a fantastic novel and an important warning about where our culture is headed. As its hand extends across the world, influencing government and cataloguing history, we see the Circle’s digital utopia move, step by step towards totalitarianism and the reader is forced to ask important questions about our current place in the online world, where every search, comment, and purchase is stored forever online, used to market us products and where we are constantly encouraged to blog, like, share and tweet our every waking moment.

   This book left me thinking for hours after I put it down. I would not only recommend it, but actively encourage you to seek it out. An intelligent, entertaining novel, it is an essential read, for those engaging in the online world. 

Dave Eggers

I received this book for review through GoodReads FirstReads 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A Question of Love

A question of love
A Question of Love
Isabel Wolff

"Sometimes the hardest questions to answer are the ones you ask yourself…
When Laura Quick finds herself accidentally hosting a quirky quiz show on national TV, nothing prepares her for one of the contestants – her ex-boyfriend Luke.
She’s still coming to terms with the loss of her husband Nick, having just packed up his clothes – and hopefully her memories of him – for good. So what does the still-delicious Luke’s arrival, complete with six-year-old daughter and badly behaved ex-wife, mean?"

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Girlfriend in a Coma

girlfriend in a coma
Girlfriend in a Coma 
Douglas Coupland
 "Karen, an attractive, popular student, goes into a coma one night in 1979. Whilst in it, she gives birth to a healthy baby daughter; once out of it, a mere eighteen years later, she finds herself, Rip van Winkle-like, a middle-aged mother whose friends have all gone through all the normal marital, social and political traumas and back again…"

Monday, 7 October 2013

Graphic Novel Collection 2013

A look at my Graphic Novel and Trade Paperback collection  as it currently stands. 
Sorry for the horrible shaky camera, note to self: no more standing on swivel chairs.

Sonic The Hedgehog in Robotnik’s Laboratory

Sonic the Hedgehog, featured in the Sega Mega-Drive games, must rescue his friends, who have been kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Robotnik. Robotnik plans to use Sonic's friends to find out the secret of his amazing powers.
Sonic The Hedgehog in Robotnik’s Laboratory 
Martin Adams
 "Sonic the Hedgehog, featured in the Sega Mega-Drive games, must rescue his friends, who have been kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Robotnik. Robotnik plans to use Sonic's friends to find out the secret of his amazing powers."

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Top 5 Breaking Bad moments

Breaking Bad
Top 5 Breaking Bad Moments

Breaking Bad is finished and the saga of Walter White has drawn to a close. The show was perhaps the most perfectly written piece of television I’ve ever come across. Bold, daring and constantly unpredictable it gave us a host of brilliant characters, not one of whom were stereotypical and a story that will be fondly remembered for years to come.

These are my top 5 moments from the whole series, I’ve changed my mind twenty times while writing this list and tried to get a good grasp of both the serious drama and brilliant comedy the series provided. It won’t match everybody’s list I’m sure so besure to let me know your favourite moments in the comments.
Also I should mention THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!! Don’t read it unless you’ve watched the whole series.
For those that have however, my top five continues after the page break.