Shaodw of the Vampire (2000) (R)

"Shadow of the Vampire" will mean nothing to you if you haven't seen the original 1922 "Nosferatu". Hollywood, as per its usual homage to itself, captures the madness of the production of the horror classic and mixes in its own psychedelic horror and poetry in order to establish something a little out of grasp than what it can achieve: art. That is to to say that the film is deftly made and often hypnotizing, letting little screentime go to waste; but it does try to overreach its boundaries.
Probably your marker of enjoyment of "Shadow of the Vampire" would come with how well you like the original "Nosferatu" and if you're a fan of vampire lore in general. I myself am a fan of both, therefore, this was not a movie that was difficult to like. The premise of the movie is so absurd it's almost impossible for the movie to function at all: maybe, the actor who played the vampire in the 20s, was actually a vampire. While this may seem a little too full of itself, when the film starts to play out, the similarities between the movies and life itself becomes purposefully blurred and the escapism of the film, in its more brilliant moments, allows us to believe in the story itself.
Friedrich Murnau (John Malkovich) is determined on making an amazing picture about a vampire. Having just been denied the rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula, he has replicated a similar story with a new villain called Nosferatu. Surrounded by a skeptical production team and hell-bent on making something lasting, Friedrich becomes obsessed with the relatively new technology of film and decides that this medium will be the one that will make his name go down in history.
In his research for the film, he comes across a method actor named Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) who seems so fit for the role of the vampire that it is soon too late to realize that he might be more than he originally said.
"Shadow of the Vampire" is very smart for two reasons: the intermingling of the original shots of the 1920s movie, and the way that Willem Dafoe handles himself so eerily like Schreck's mannerisms. Of course, Werner Herzog's influences are seen here as the vampire is then seen in many scenes reading from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's epic poem "Tithonus" about a man trapped by immortality These moments fade into the background as the vampire's more "human" side fades and he just becomes the villain of the movie, motivated only by bloodlust and greed.
John Malkovich's Murnau is a much more problematic character. He seems so ensconced in the idea of his movie that he risks other human lives for the sake of his art. In the final frames of the movie, he stands behind the camera, seemingly oblivious to the carnage, and commands that his will be done. His god-complex comes to fruition throughout the movie and it leaves the viewer wondering at what cost art is manufactured.
The issues with the movie are numerous, even considering its fantastical themes that excuse the less realistic feeling scenes. The wavering accents of the cast is a problem, as is Malkovich's tendency to over-play his characters with a typical scream-and-shout tantrum technique.
The take aways of the film far outweigh any of its problems; bu at its core, it remains deeply in love with itself as any film about films would be.

Score: ★★★½

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