Werner Herzog Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Herzog clearly feels a special affinity with early 19th-century Germany, the period in which Caspar David Friedrich was the preeminent painter, the period of Kaspar Hauser, of Woyzeck, of Nosferatu. The pellucid air, the dainty neatness of the households, the serenity overlying the anguished idealism, all these engage Herzog's eye and mind. Those qualities and [Jonathan Harker's] encounter with gypsies on his way through wild mountains are the best directorial elements in [Nosferatu]. Herzog seems more at ease with them than with the supposedly macabre sequences in Dracula's castle….

But to detail this picture's accomplishments is finally a sorry business because they all come to so little. We're being told by some that this is not a horror film. Well, then, what is it? Not even good acting like most performances here, not even direction as good as the best moments, can exalt Nosferatu. Its Christian parable is wonky; its psychosexual implications are factitious; its social symbolism is thin. Worse, none of these possible subtexts coheres because none is genuinely intended. At the last Nosferatu is only a tale to make the flesh creep, if it can—a superior eerie entertainment. (p. 22)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Films: Foreigners" (reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.; copyright © 1979 by Stanley Kauffmann), in The New Republic, Vol. 181, No. 7, October 27, 1979, pp. 22-3.∗