- 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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One later critic called it "a sweeping fantasy full of memorable images and well-acted performances."
An openly gay man, Murnau thought that life in the United States might be better than life under the German government. Producer William Fox signed Murnau to a contract and gave the filmmaker a lot of creative and financial latitude with his next film project. The result was 1927's Sunrise, considered one of the most beautiful films ever made. Mornau went to great lengths for this archetypical tale of love, marriage, betrayal, and forgiveness. The film starred George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor as a country husband and wife, and Margaret Livingston as the city woman who tempts the husband. The elaborate sets for the film were constructed on the Fox lot, stretching over approximately 20 acres.
An artistic triumph, Sunrise earned widespread praise for its lyrical, impressionistic look at love. The film netted the three honors in the first year of the Academy Awards, including one for Unique and Artistic Picture. All of the acclaim, however, did not translate into ticket sales. The film proved to be a costly flop for Fox and strained Murnau's relationship with the studio.
Murnau made two more films for Fox, but both his budgets and creative control were greatly diminished. The studie forced him to revise the final scenes of his tragic circus tale, Four Devils, to give the film a happy ending. He next worked on a film called Our Daily Bread, but he did not complete it. Instead the studio turned his silent picture into a partial talkie, City Girl, with disastrous results.
Breaking away from the studio, Murnau teamed up with documentary filmmaker Robert Joseph Flaherty for Tabu. The pair traveled to Tahiti to film this Polynesian love story, but Flaherty soon dropped out over creative differences with Murnau. Murnau stayed in Tahiti to complete the picture. Murnau reportedly entertained such guests as the artist Henri Matisse during his time there.
Shortly before the film's premiere, on March 11, 1931, F.W. Murnau died in a car accident, when his driver crashed on the Pacific Coast Highway. His promising career was cut short at the age of 42. After his death, Tabu became a huge critical and commercial success.
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