So you know yesterday I was a whole bunch of whine about how bad I felt and I couldn't focus. Today I watched a movie that, despite my mood, I was totally engrossed in and focused on. I watched Faust, directed by F. M. Murnau in 1926. It's silent - which I know is off-putting to many, but not to me. I think I've written pages about how much I like silent film. "Dreamlike!" I always say. "Otherworldly!" I'll try not to, uh, say that too much this time. :)

This was one of the coolest looking silent films I've seen - tons of really neat practical effects and fantastic costumes and makeup. The story is interesting, but it's pretty blunt and the characters are sort of just...symbols? That's not the right word. They're like...caricatures. They don't have a lot of development, they mostly just exist to represent something and forward the plot. I don't mind, though. I loved how this movie looked and felt, and that alone made it really incredible for me, however shallow that might be.

The film tells a version of the Faust story - the director doesn't really adhere to the traditional version, but that's ok with me. The summary written on IMDB is really great, so I'm going to use it to try to reach my goal of being in bed before midnight. "God and Satan war over earth; to settle things, they wager on the soul of Faust, a learned and prayerful alchemist. During a plague, Faust despairs and burns his books after failing to stop death; Satan sends Mephisto to tempt Faust, first with insight into treating the plague and then with a day's return to youth. Mephisto is clever, timing the end of this 24 hours as Faust embraces the beautiful Duchess of Parma. Faust trades his soul for youth. Some time later, he's bored, and demands on Easter Sunday that Mephisto take him home. Faust promptly sees and falls in love with the beautiful Gretchen, whose liaison with him brings her dishonor. Is there redemption? Who wins the wager?"

That sounds all well and good, but it's not really the best part of the movie. I mean, it's interesting, sure, and it lends itself for some awesome visuals. I know that sometimes practical effects can be stupid, because it's so obvious that they are fake, but somehow, I found these way more effective than a lot of CGI I've seen. There was something so fantastic about all the beautiful shimmering characters fading in and out of the shots, of Mephisto and his giant wings towering over a model town. The images are just stunning. I loved Mephisto's makeup and style. He looked so awesome! Faust looked great, too. I couldn't believe that both the old Faust and the young Faust were played by the same actor, the makeup was so great.

The effect that all of those things had on the overall feel of the film was so incredible. It was just so fascinating to watch it, to see these awesome looking characters and world they were in. I don't want to say it again, but I have to - I loved that it was such a wonderful, dreamlike look. It just demonstrated everything that I love about silent film. I've written so much about how different looking silent film is, about how it seems like a different reality. It just worked so well here. It felt like a nightmare, in a lot of ways. Silent film was just perfect for this story. The characters really seemed...trapped...in this reality, and none of the "horror" or creepiness of Mephisto was ruined by him having a dorky voice or something. The silence really just seemed to emphasize the harsh reality of the plot - that there wasn't a nice way out of anything, that the characters were stuck.

I don't want to spend a whole paragraph trying to explain the value of silent film. I know that it doesn't work for anyone. I love it, personally. It works for me. I find something eerie and otherworldly in the silence. I feel like it makes any scary elements so much more powerful, since the characters cannot scream or protest. I love the practical effects. I think they look better than some modern CGI honestly, and they seem to age so well. Silent films feels magical to me, and I understand that not everyone is going to have that reaction. This is an especially cool silent film, though, since the effects are so numerous and neat, and the makeup and costumes are very excellent as well - worth checking out if you like this sort of thing.

Have any thoughts on Faust? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Faust
Buy it on Amazon


Fanny and Alexander