Thursday, January 03, 2008

An Interpretation of Faust

The legend of the alchemist and magician Johann Faust has been around for centuries, and has been retold in various ways, from the sublime works of Goethe to the ridiculous manifestations of Hollywood (see the Pacino scenery-chewer "Devil's Advocate"). This evening I enjoyed a film by Czech director Jan Svankmajer which explores the Faust legend through the words of Marlowe and Goethe, and through the techniques of live action, puppetry, and claymation.

Set in the present day, a Czech man follows an enigmatic map to a subterranean theatre, where he re-enacts the story of the doomed magician with the help of various puppets (including a very funny jester) and shape-shifting demons. There are echoes of other stories of magic gone awry (the Golem, the Sorcerer's Apprentice) to give a bit of added interest. With apologies to Goethe, there is no redemption for Faust in this version - he is run over by a driverless car, and a wild-eyed old man makes off with his lower leg, presumably to replace the leg he previously had to throw into the river to fend off a black dog.

Quite imaginative and entertaining: I look forward to seeing other films by this director.


  1. sedentary dave3:45 PM

    Howdy. Nice site. Have you seen Murnau's 1926 version of Faust? There's a fair bit of gurning and carpet-chewing, but some very effective moments as well.

  2. I have indeed. I have an old VHS tape of Murnau's Faust. I believe Nosferatu and The Haunted Castle are on the tape as well. Thanks for the reminder - I should dig it out.

  3. sedentary dave2:59 AM

    OK, how about Shadow of the Vampire? Excellent film (2000) starring John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe about the making of Nosferatu. Malkovich is Murnau and Dafoe is a very scary (and very real) Schreck. Schreck? Is that right?

    Anyway, I've only ever seen the remake. Must have a look at the original some time.


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