Faust (1926)

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Released 17-Dec-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1926
Running Time 115:51
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:07) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By FW Murnau
Studio
Distributor

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Gosta Ekmann
Emil Jannings
Camilla Horn
Case PUSH-T1
RPI $29.95 Music Timothy Brock


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions' is a saying that could well be applied to the story of Faust. Based on a 16th Century German legend, Dr Faust was one of the original travelling medicine men whose cures were so remarkable that he was ultimately accused of being in league with the devil. This version of the legend is based upon the play by Johann Goethe and was the first full length film based on this work. Directed by legendary master film-maker F.W. Murnau this production had the finest actors and technicians that the prestigious German UFA company could muster. Probably better known for the first 'Dracula' movie, Nosferatu, Murnau was snatched off to Hollywood by William Fox after the release of Faust and given carte blanche to produce a masterpiece - this he achieved with the release of Sunrise, but despite some popularity and critical acclaim, it failed to recoup its production cost. Unlike the later Hollywood extravaganzas, Faust was produced with extreme efficiency, using the best cinematography of the day. Action was focused onto small-scale sets which proved both economical to construct and also conveyed an intimacy lost in wider panoramas. Special effects too, were the best of the day, with masterful use of smoke and lighting, stop-motion and double exposure techniques together with long-suffering actors, who often used to stand for hours having smoke and soot doused on them before exactly the right take was achieved.

    The story opens with the Archangel Michael and the devil, personified as Mephisto, arguing over the dominion of Earth. The discourse ends with agreement that should Mephisto manage to convince the pious and devout Faust to sell his soul then the Earth is his. Whilst the horsemen of the Apocalypse ride freely over the Earth, Pestilence spreads its scourge over Faust's city with many of its citizens falling foul of The Plague. Having failed miserably to cure the suffering with his mortal powers, Faust chances on an olde text that promises supernatural skills to the caller of the Devil. Motivated by compassion for his suffering kin and the promise of sampling carnal pleasures he seems to have missed out on in his youth, Faust, played by 30s Swedish megastar Gosta Ekmann, summons Mephisto, played by the rotund Emil Jannings and agrees to a trial of the blossom of youth and miraculous healing powers. Well, we all know Old Nick is a tricky fellow and having healed his first plague victim, Faust is ungraciously, yet correctly, accused of being in league with the Devil - a suspicious lot these Mediaeval peasants! Having decided against a career in healing, the youthful Faust catches sight of and falls in lust with the innocent and beautiful Gretchen, played by Camilla Horn. Up to his tricks once more, Mephisto urges Faust to pursue his lust and eventually the inevitable happens and they end up in love's embrace at last. Ever the stirrer, Mephisto goads Gretchen's brother Valentin to check on his sister and having found Faust and his sister in flagrante delicto, Valentin is killed in the ensuing sword fight. With Valentin's blood freshly spilled, Mephisto urges Faust to flee, then scales the rooftops screaming blue murder. The last 45 minutes of the film is taken up with Gretchen's brow-beating and sorrow, not to mention a little hypocritical persecution from her family and townsfolk.

    Ultimately, deviating from Goethe's script, the lovers are reunited by Gretchen being burnt at the stake. The now aged Faust, returned to his former decrepitude following an altercation with Mephisto, redeems his mortal soul by flinging himself on the burning pyre, in so doing thwarting Mephisto's plans of world domination - phew!

    To my surprise, I found this 'oldie' strangely compelling viewing. Mephisto looks very much like Grandpa out of The Munsters whilst the youthful Faust is vaguely reminiscent of Lord Percy from Blackadder. Gretchen has a genuine naivety and innocence - this was her first starring role - she was cast by Murnau having once seen Camilla Horn's legs standing in for a leading lady of the day. Jannings conveys a real sense of mischief and treachery mixed in with some of the hamming and buffoonery characteristic of the era and ultimately won the first Best Actor Oscar for his troubles. Although not as widely known as some of his other earlier and more lavish later productions, Faust is widely regarded as the masterpiece of the era and Murnau's finest work. Sadly, his potential was never fully realised - after 5 years in Hollywood, Murnau fell out with the establishment and fleeing rumours of his homosexuality fled to the South Sea islands where he died in mysterious circumstances in his early 40s.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Well, the film is nearly 80 years old - what do you expect ? Actually, it's rather a pleasing video transfer, apart from some MPEG problems. It has been beautifully cleaned up, sufficient to enjoy, but not so much that we are left in any doubt that this is from the Golden Silent Era! Word has it that this is the same master as the 1996 laserdisc version which was apparently copied onto 35mm film during the clean up process.

    The aspect ratio of the transfer is in the standard 1.33:1 format of the era and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp but this has been hindered by the aging film emulsion and camera judder. The contrast ratio of the early film was limited compared to today's technology so the grey scale is decidedly truncated - accordingly shadow detail is correspondingly limited. Low level noise crops up intermittently throughout the film such as in Mephisto's cloak at 88:48 or in the background at 106:19.

    This was a black and white film obviously and thankfully the transfer has not been 'augmented' by artificial tint or colour rinse.

    Pixelization is a minor irritation throughout the film and macro-blocking crops up occasionally, especially in the smoke or cloud scenes - an example of this is at 93:09. Telecine wobble is apparent throughout the movie together with mild shutter wobble and the occasional dropped frame. Scratches, dust and emulsion defects occur throughout the film but have been cleaned up sufficiently to provide atmosphere without being especially intrusive.

    There are no subtitles as such but some additional intertitles have been added in a suitable olde-worlde font (American Uncial) which no doubt will irritate the purists.

    Testament to the bit-rate (8 Mbps) of the video transfer is found in the disc format which is RSDL with a noticeable transition point at 82:07.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are two audio channels on this DVD - both in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. These are of high quality and the chamber orchestra is particularly well rendered although there is a little audible hiss in quiet parts belying its analogue origin.

    Despite the fact that was a silent movie we are treated to a glorious orchestration of the movie by Timothy Brock and performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra. I think this soundtrack is brilliant - there is a thinness in texture (possibly due to the 224 kbps transfer rate) in keeping with the video attributes, yet the audio transfer is free from cracks and pops. The music themes are well suited to the action and individual characters - we know when evil is lurking around the innocent Gretchen playing in the garden sunshine with the children by the onset of sinister orchestral undertones.

    The surround and subwoofer disadvantaged amongst us won't miss out on this transfer as it is strictly stereo only.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The animated menu is excellently presented as an old manuscript with moving excerpts from the film highlighting the 24 chapters.

Commentary

    This is absolutely superb. It is a non-stop narration by Russell Cawthorne of a commentary written by film historian Peter Spooner - this is a very informative feature about the film, covering technical aspects of production and of course commentary on the leading personalities of the day - excellent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     As the video and audio seems identical I would say we have a clear R4 winner here with our version.

Summary

     This is a classic piece of cinema from an eternal story. The film subject matter still holds interest today and this is about as good a presentation as you can expect and considerably better than most.

    The video quality is good and represents a considerable effort on the part of the DVD producers.

    The audio quality is also good and I think the film score is one of the best I have heard.

    The commentary is fascinating and worth the loan or purchase of the DVD alone for any student of film history.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Lancaster (read my bio)
Monday, January 27, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDEAD 8000 Pro, using RGB output
DisplayNEC MP3. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
Audio DecoderNaim AV2. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTheta Digital Intrepid
SpeakersML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.

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