Nosferatu’s Gesture. Ciné-kinesis in the Silent Era, East and West

Eric Rauth

Abstract


Weimar films translated human actions and gestures into the cinematic idiom of silent pictures. It oversimplifies to say their actors always performed exaggerated melodrama – just as it does to neglect the live context of music halls and cabarets, or the scoring, that often accompanied film exhibition. Traditional “literary” elements also figured in photoplay stories: e.g. printed intertitles and dialogue cards, conventions of theatre, and storytelling derived from novels. This study of F. W. Murnau’s classic horror film Nosferatu (1922) and Der Letzte Mann / The Last Laugh (1924) accounts critically and historically for how film expanded and mobilised modern gesture (delocalised from its fixed and sacred medieval niche). It also created its own artistic gesture through such expressive forms as shot, camera mobilisation, special effects, shared agency of animate things and human actions, unusual points of view, and telling a story only with images. Though non-verbal, film’s unit of meaning has been likened by semioticians to a poetic “phrase” among other lexical analogues. Gesture in early motion picture art, however, emerged as holistic, dynamic, even illegible in ways that suggest a “second nature’’. This power can be profoundly influential in imitative human behaviour – for good or ill – up to our own day of visual saturation, violence and videography.



Keywords


F. W. Murnau; Bram Stoker; Giorgio Agamben; Gilles Deleuze; Weimar Republic; silent film; film theory; literature; gesture; time; horror; vampires; quantum physics; semiotics; kinesis; kinetics; kinesics; intertitles; Theosophy; Expressionism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2017.0005.59



Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758