& & by Mike Corrigan & & & &

With Nosferatu, director F.W. Murnau created the cinema's first -- and arguably most grotesque -- vampire. Released in 1922 at the height of the German Expressionist movement, the silent film introduced the unholy creature to the film world. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. It's a testament to the originality of the filmmaker's vision that the vile, rat-like visage of the lead character remains unique, shocking and unforgettable after almost a century of film history.

This Friday and Saturday, the Cathedral and the Arts will screen this groundbreaking film at St. John's Cathedral with accompanying organ music by Charles C. Bradley Jr. Each year, the Cathedral and the Arts kicks off its season of community centered performances with the screening of one of filmdom's silent horror classics. Past films have included The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera and Faust. Film buffs and those in the mood for an authentic, gothic Halloween experience eagerly anticipate this annual event.

"We were actually going to do another film this year," admits Cathedral and the Arts Director Gertrude Harvey. "But there is a feature film due out in December [Shadow of a Vampire starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe] about Murnau's filming of Nosferatu in Transylvania. When we heard about that, we decided this might be the year to do Nosferatu again."

Expressionism was popular in Germany in the years immediately following the end of World War I and was typified by such films as Nosferatu and Robert Wiene's nightmarish The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The method was characterized by highly stylized, distorted studio sets, deep shadows, odd camera angles and exaggerated acting.

Unlike most expressionist films, Murnau took the production of Nosferatu out of the studio and shot on location in Transylvania. He further shunned expressionism's reliance on fantastic surroundings by placing his villain -- the hideous Count Orlac -- into real-world situations.

The story of Nosferatu is based on Bram Stoker's novel. But Murnau's film contains few of the images moviegoers have come to associate with vampire films. There are no religious symbols, for instance, and no bloodsucking scenes. The vampire himself (played to horrific perfection by Max Schreck) is not the suave, seductive count we've come to know through performances by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and others, but a loathsome creature, spreading evil like a pestilence wherever he roams.

"We love this film," says Harvey. "It's one of my particular favorites. It's very riveting. Especially at St. John's where all those gothic arches are repeated in the film when the vampire appears. It's a great place to experience the film, both visually and musically."

Organist Bradley's contribution to the experience is subtle yet dramatic.

"I sort of react to what's going on out there in the church," he says. "I can kind of feel that stuff going out. It's like playing jazz in a way, I suppose. I've noted from past experiences that the Friday night performance is not the same as the Saturday night performance."

Recognizing that film is, after all, an overwhelmingly visual medium, Bradley purposefully uses restraint when improvising the score.

"I don't necessarily play to the most sensational moments in the movie. I try really to watch out for that. It's so easy to be seduced into doing that."

"He is just an absolute master of improvisation," says Harvey. "I mean, there are some world class organists who would give fine recitals who couldn't begin to accompany a silent film. Charles is highly skilled at that. He's very sensitive to the story in the film and he realizes that sometimes, the most dramatic effect can be silence. It's a movie concert yet the emphasis is really on the film."

Though visually stunning (the Cathedral's print is reported to be very good) and eerily atmospheric, Nosferatu is not graphically horrifying by today's standards.

"This is a horror film that won't absolutely horrify small children," says Harvey. "They can come and enjoy it. Often, they'll actually sit right there under the big screen. It's a great way to celebrate Halloween for people of all ages."

Bradley agrees. And unlike most modern horror films, he says, this one has a message; a moral component built into the story.

"It really is about redemption in the end. The message is the truth, the good, winning out over evil. This film doesn't mess around too much with that."

& & & lt;i & Nosferatu plays at St. John's Cathedral, Grand Blvd. at 12th Ave., on Friday, Oct. 27, and Saturday, Oct. 28, at 8 pm. Tickets: $7; $5 seniors; $3.50 children 12 and under. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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