Katie: Married life is lots of fun / Two can sleep as cheap as one

     Line from our mystery musical (1950's)
View this email in your browser

March Issue

Classic Film

The thrill of the unexpected

For a long time the film industry has been trying to find ways of predicting which films will be successful. The risk averse tend to stick to sequels, franchises and popular genres which is why there are so many films with a number at the end of the title, and why we have been tortured with so many zombie movies in recent times.

The more scientific in the industry have for a long time relied on audience testing (though they thankfully did not go to the extremes depicted in the photo above).

Others relied on the drawing power of the director or the stars, or else on a massive advertising campaign. The thinking was that if one kind of story, one director, one actor pulled in the punters, all they needed to do was repeat the successful formula and the audiences would come flooding back. Sometimes it worked (or appeared to).

This month our eZine will be looking at a director who was a big draw in his day F.W. Murnau, and we'll be looking back at audience testing and the phenomenon of the mystery movie... a practice we will be reviving at the end of this month.

And be sure to enter our competition at the bottom of the eZine.
Classic Film Directors
F.W. Murnau
Silent film director F.W. Murnau created the first major vampire film with 1922's Nosferatu, based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stroker.

Born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe on December 28, 1888, F.W. Murnau was a visionary director of the silent film era. He created the 1922 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.

Early Years

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.

Silent Screen Success

After the war ended, Murnau 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, Murnau 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, Murnau achieved his most significant career breakthrough with 1924's The Last Laugh. In this melancholy tale, Murnau 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, Murnau soon attracted attention from Hollywood studios.

Before parting Germany, however, Murnau made two more films Tartuffe and Faust, both released in 1926. Murnau 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. One later critic called it "a sweeping fantasy full of memorable images and well-acted performances."

Hollywood Days

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. Murnau 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 studio 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 (1930), with disastrous results.

Final Film

Breaking away from the studio, Murnau teamed up with documentary filmmaker Robert Joseph Flaherty for Tabu (1931). 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.

Testing the Audience
Audience testing has a very long history, especially for American films. Some directors feel it is an essential tool that helps them learn about their audience and how they will react to different elements of their film. Others feel it is a sellout, pandering to popularism, and something that preferences commercial interests over artistic ones. Both points of view are somewhat valid, but either way audience testing has been a part of filmmaking for a long time and has played a central role in shaping which films are made and how they are made.

It has been said that too often studio executives use preview screenings as a weapon to enforce their views on directors, and countless movies have had inappropriate happy endings tacked on after such screenings. Billy Wilder dropped the first reel from Sunset Boulevard after a test screening and removed the final scene from Double Indemnity because of an adverse audience reaction. The stated goal of the film editing process is to turn unedited film into 85 to (hopefully) 110 minutes of story that people are going to want to go and see. Editing rooms can be very combative places with directors, editors and producers often not seeing eye to eye, and the test results can sometimes be a way to break a creative impasse

Feedback from a test screening may be used to alter the movie before it is released. This may be as simple as changing the title of the film (as in the case of the film that became Licence to Kill), or it may be more substantial. Cases exist of where test screenings prompted filmmakers to completely change the ending of a movie (by having a character die who would have survived, or vice versa, for instance); examples include (among many others) Little Shop of HorrorsMary PoppinsFatal Attraction, Titanic and Pretty in Pink.

In television, test screenings may be used before a series debuts, to help fine-tune the concept (as with Sesame Street, leading to the Muppets appearing onscreen with human characters, rather than in separate segments), or to pre-test specific episodes.

These days, for about $15,000 a screening, the American studios hire (almost exclusively) the National Research Group, which recruits people whose demographics match those of the film's hoped-for audience. After seeing the movie, the handpicked audience usually fills out questionaires about their reaction to the film, and a select group may be asked to stay for a focus-group discussion. A movie may be tested once or many times, usually in the Los Angeles area, because movie executives aren't big on traveling. And as we pointed out, movies change as a result.

As mentioned, playing a film to a 'test' audience has been going on for some time: Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock and other greats liked to have their films shown to preview audiences to help them ensure that the laughs or gasps happened where and when they were supposed to. And there were other cues, like too much reposition in the seat, increased coughing, and the chatter that occurred as people left the cinema. Those screenings were spontaneous, casual affairs -- with the studio often slipping the film into a theater unannounced.

It could be said that a less scientific approach produced more interesting and less formulaic films than what has recently been on offer.

But the surprise or mystery screening wasn't reserved for test audiences. In the 1950's a number of cinemas would program Mystery films, where the audiences who showed up simply took pot luck. They were popular at the time, but it wasn't a practice that has continued.

In more recent times Airlines have offered mystery flights at discounted prices which have enjoyed some popularity. It does seem like less of a risk to go and see an unknown film than to travel to an unknown location, but to each his own.

To celebrate the practice of mystery screenings and a less scientific approach to filmmaking, this month we are screening a Mystery Musical.
Mystery Movie Competition
We are screening a Mystery Musical at the end of the Month at Cafe Nova. If you can guess the title of that film and answer a number of questions about the film you can win one of a number of prizes. To make it a bit easier we have provided the following hints:
  1. The movie is based on a 1950's Broadway hit
  2. The movie version included the original broadway cast except for the lead which was played by an established hollywood star
  3. The production has been revived many times, including on Broadway in the 1970's and the 2000's
  4. The stage version played twice in Australia, originally in 1950's
  5. It has been revived hundreds of times by amateur musical theatre groups

To enter the competition by taking the Mystery Movie quiz    follow this link.

The competition is open until the end of the Month. The first fully correct answer wins an annual pass to Classic Films for 2018.

The next 3 most correct respondents will also win themed movie prizes

Screening at Cafe Nova

Sunday, 26th of March

7.00pm start

Mystery Musical (1950's)

You'll need to come along to the screening to find out the title... unless you can guess.

Comedy/Musical    Rated: G   101 min
More Details
Copyright © 2017 Townsville Classic Films, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp