Gay men have always had a great influence in early and modern horror. The silent film classic Nosferatu (1922) is F.W. Murnau’s chilling and eerie adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a silent masterpiece of terror which to this day is the most striking and frightening portrayal of the fictional(?) vampire legend.
F. W. Murnau. Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in 1888, he whiled away his youth like any budding gay boy, reading Henrik Ibsen, Shakespeare and Friedrich Nietzsche. Then came World War I. and he found his niche in the German army, first volunteering as an officer in the elite 1st Guard Infantry Regiment
After the war, in 1919, he directed his first film, The Boy in Blue . It’s said Murnau was inspired by the Thomas Gainsborough portrait, Blue Boy , and Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.
Although his directorial career lasted only 12 years, his achievements within that time—emblematic works of both the Weimar German Expressionist period and the last gasp of Hollywood’s silent era—changed the medium forever and remain influential to this day.
Murnau’s homosexuality, would have been more or less accepted in his Berlin artistic circles of the day. Germany, indeed, was one of the gay-friendlier spots in the world until the Nazis took power. Murnau, who unlike James Whale was never quite “out,” may have seen the writing on the wall: the gays’ idyll of freedom couldn’t last — the shadows were creeping in. (Hitler became leader of the Nazi Party the year before Murnau’s film was released.) Nosferatu can be taken as a double-edged commentary on the rise of murderous intolerance and the moblike view of the Other — gays, Jews, gypsies — as diseased vermin to be exterminated. The plague of hatred created its own “plague” to hate.
Murnau emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox Studio and made three films: Sunrise (1927), 4 Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). The first of these three is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.
Murnau’s final film, “Tabu” (1931) was a collaboration with documentarian Robert Flaherty. Each frame is alive to the beauty of the Tahitian locale, as well as the native, near-nude actors. , Murnau didn’t live to see the film’s release. On his way to the film’s premiere in New York, he was killed in a car accident in Santa Barbara. The car was driven by his 14-year-old Filipino manservant, and salacious rumor had it that the accident was caused by Murnau giving the boy oral sex at the time of the crash.
The story of F. W. Murnau’s life and death gets even stranger after died. In 2015 German news outlets reported that grave robbers opened a metal coffin to access the filmmaker’s embalmed body in Stahnsdorf, Germany and stole the head of the late great director. The nearby graves of his two brothers were not disturbed and authorities reported that wax residue had been found near the grave, pointing to a possible occult connection.
F. W. Murnau’s head has never been found.
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