F.W. Murnau

Early Life

Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe (later Murnau) was born in Bielefeld, Germany on December 28, 1888. He attended the Universities of Heidelberg and Berlin studying literature, art history, and philosophy. In 1908 he began acting in plays under the company owned by director Max Reinhardt. During World War I he served in the German army and air force.

He began his film career in Switzerland, directing short propaganda films for the German embassy. His first feature film would be Der Knabe in Blau (1919), The Boy in Blue, also known as The Emerald of Death. His next films would take on his signature expressionistic style of directing, the use of light and shadow to convey emotion in film. The first was Der Januskopf (1920), The Head of Janus or Janus-faced. It was a variation on the Jekyll and Hyde story. Sadly, this is now considered one of his lost films. His next feature would be what many consider his masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922), an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

He went on to direct many other successful films during the silent era, right up until his accidental death in 1931. He will always be remembered for his unique expressionistic style and for redirecting the course of future horror movies to follow.

Movies Known For

Nosferatu (1922) The Last Laugh (1924) Faust (1926)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) City Girl (1931) Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

BrainDid You Know?

He never saw the premiere of his last film, Tabu (1931). He died in a car accident on March 11, 1931.

The estate of Bram Stoker sued the producers of Nosferatu for unauthorized use of the novel, and an English court ordered all copies and negatives of the film to be destroyed. However, this couldn't be enforced in Germany.

Sight & Sound's 2012 critic poll voted Murnau's Sunrise (1927) the 5th best film of all time.

Because his parents did not accept his homosexuality or ambition to go to theater, he changed his last name from Plumpe to Murnau.

He is regarded the most important director of the silent era.

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