- NAME: F.W. Murnau
- OCCUPATION: Director
- BIRTH DATE: December 28, 1888
- DEATH DATE: March 11, 1931
- EDUCATION: University of Berlin, University of Heidelberg
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Bielefeld, Westphalia, Germany
- PLACE OF DEATH: Santa Barbara, California
- Full Name: Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe
- AKA: F.W. Murnau
- AKA: Friedrich W. Plumpe
- AKA: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
- AKA: Friedrich W. Murnau
- AKA: Friedrich Murnau
- AKA: Friedrich Plumpe
Best Known For
Silent film director F.W. Murnau created the first major vampire film with 1924's Nosferatu, based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stroker.
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Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe on December 28, 1888, F.W. Murnau was a visionary director of the silent film era. He created the 1924 vampire thriller Nosferatu as well as such compelling examination of love as 1927's Sunrise and 1931's Tabu. Murnau's promising career was cut short by a car accident in 1931.
Born into a wealthy family on December 28, 1888, F.W. Murnau was the son of a textile manufacturer. He was an avid reader, enjoying the works of Henrik Ibsen and William Shakespeare among others. For a time, Murnau studied at philology, or speech, at the University of Berlin. He later attended the University of Heidelberg. While in Heidelberg, Murnau studied with theater great Max Reinhardt and eventually joined Reinhardt's theater group. He borrowed the name of a village to use as a stage name when he started performing.
World War I put a damper on Murnau's theatrical dreams. He first served in the infantry and later joined the air force. During his time in the air force, Murnau survived seven plane crashes. He ended up interned in Switzerland after he accidentally landed there. Held for the remainder of the war, Murnau was allowed to stage a play and make films while in captivity.
After the war ended, Mornau returned to Germany where he soon established his own film studio with actor Conrad Veidt. In 1919, he released his first feature-length film, The Boy in Blue, a drama inspired by the famous Thomas Gainsborough painting. He explored the popular theme of dueling personalities--much like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde--in 1920's The Janus Head starring Veidt and Bela Lugosi.
In 1922, Mornau created one of his most famous works, the vampire tale Nosferatu. The film was an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's Dracula with Max Schreck as the gruesome blood-sucker. Subtitled "A Symphony of Horror," the film set the tone for the many vampire films that followed. It also proved revolutionary for Murnau's use of real locations during filming. The making of this movie became the inspiration for the 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire starring John Malkovich as Murnau.
Unfortunately, not everyone was won over by Murnau's spellbinding horror film. He was sued by Bram Stoker's widow, and the court later ruled against Murnau and ordered that all copies of the film were to be destroyed. The film had already been released at this point, so several copies survived.
While perhaps best known today for Nosferatu, Mornau achieved his most significant career breakthrough with 1924's The Last Laugh. In this melancholy tale, Mornau used a number of innovative camera techniques to create a fluid and poetic vision of an elderly man's life. The former doorman ends up spending his later years as a washroom attendant in a fancy hotel. With this international hit, Mornau soon attracted attention from Hollywood studios.
Before parting Germany, however, Mornau made two more films Tartuffe and Faust, both released in 1926. Mornau received some mixed reviews for his adaptation Moliere's Tartuffe, but he earned high praise for his work on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's masterpiece Faust.
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