Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Rating: N/A

Dir: E. Elias Merhige
Star: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Eddie Izzard

Being a big fan of silent films, having studied them at length when I was in school, I might not be the most objective person to review this. However, having said that, I appreciate the difficulties of creating a movie without sound. In my opinion, in order to create a great silent film, you need certain qualities/deficiencies in your personality: you must be a) very dedicated and/or b) completely insane. And I think John Malkovich’s portrayal of German filmmaker F.W. Murnau shows exactly that; a very dedicated, and quite insane director, intent on making the best of difficult circumstances.

Shadow is a fictional recount of the obstacles faced by the crew as they tried to put together the silent gem Nosferatu – the first vampire film, now considered a work of genius by Murnau (who was sued by Stoker’s estate and forced to destroy all the negatives of the original film – although they turned up later in other countries by chance). What the cast and crew don’t know is that Malkovich has hired a real vampire to play an actor playing a vampire, by promising to give the vampire (Willem Dafoe, amazing and virtually unrecognizable) their leading lady. Needless to say, Malkovich has difficulty controlling his lead actor’s natural, predatory behaviour.

Kudos to Eddie Izzard for doing what he does best, making great faces – having little to no dialogue did not detract from his role as a bad actor in a bad situation. Merhige has only one other film to his credit (Begotten, a b&w fantasy film from 1991, which he wrote, directed, produced and shot) as does writer Stephen Katz, and the limited experience might explain a few glitches. The storyline could have been better filled in for our benefit, so that I wouldn’t have left the theatre thinking “Huh?” e.g. what happened to Izzard’s character. But, as a whole, it was a good effort and Dafoe’s makeup and character will haunt me for a while.