It is an inescapable fact, which movie buffs must accept, that one of the all-time landmarks of horror movies and cinema in general was in fact a borderline rip-off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The people behind F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror wanted to draw as much inspiration from Stoker’s masterpiece as possible without paying for the privilege. Much was changed – Dracula became Orlok, and Whitby became Bremen – but enough was preserved to keep it recognisable. The result was a provocative and terrifying exploration of desire and death and prejudice that, had it not been for German copyright laws, would have been destroyed under the orders of Stoker’s estate.
Australian double act Tess Said So have decided to try and make the film even more memorable than it was 95 years ago, by live-scoring the film as it plays. While it certainly is an ambitious goal, it is one they achieve by providing one of the most unforgettable dramatic events at the Fringe this year. Pianist Rasa Daukus is nothing short of sublime, timing herself perfectly to the film and making great use of her instrument’s long history of atmosphere building in film. She effortlessly swaps from the more tender music necessary for scenes shared between Jonathon and his wife Nina to the shrieking high-notes whenever the vampire is visible.
Will Larsen is armed to the teeth with an incredible array of percussion instruments. He combines them all for the entire 90 minutes, transforming them into a captivating and haunting soundtrack that can terrify, amaze, and – when the time is right – make the audience jump right out of their seat. Both individuals on their own demonstrate their prowess and talent for instrumentation. Together, they are absolutely masterful.
They both know exactly what they are doing and firmly command the audience’s emotions at any given point. When the lunatic is on the run, the musical duo get the audience’s heart racing. When Orlok rises from his coffin aboard the ship, those watching dare not move. The music makes sure that it is genuinely terrifying. This is in spite of the inevitable giggles that can arise from seeing the technology of early cinema compared to what is possible today (the ludicrous movement of Orlok’s carriage is one example). Far from being a problem, it adds to the charm and wonder of such a unique experience.
In 1922, this film was Murnau’s vision; not anymore. While it can be argued that Tess Said So are merely serving the imperiousness of the film, they are doing so much more. They are taking this relic from film history and completely making it their own, as if they have been scoring this film since it was first released. It becomes impossible to imagine Nosferatu without the awe-inspiring musical work of Will and Rasa. It becomes their film. An entity under their complete creative control.
This is Nosferatu as now seen in the only way it should be seen ever again. Tess Said So beggar belief as they play for the film’s entire length, as if they had been scoring the film since birth. The audience will sit in a state of wonder as to how music is so powerful a force that it can make a film almost a century old feel so frightening new, and terrifyingly real.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
St Vincent’s Chapel (Venue 197)
Until 22nd August
Image: Tess Said So