Many so-called “classic” silent films have not aged very well, and while they can certainly be appreciated from a detached and historical point of view, their limitations can often make them unintentionally comedic or ridiculous, and thereby reduce their impact. These problems generally do not apply to the work of German genius FW Murnau, who was so far ahead of his time it’s almost suspicious. Coming off the back of his classic Nosferatu and the less famous but equally memorable¬†The Last Laugh, his final German film before moving to Hollywood was a version of the Faust legend, taking influences from the very earliest iterations of the story (rather than the Goethe play), and staking a serious claim for the most memorable adaptation of the source material.

Essentially the Avatar of its day, Faust was the most expensive German film of all time when it was made (a record it held for just a couple of years, until Fritz Lang made science fiction history with Metropolis), featuring groundbreaking special effects and a gruelling six-month production shoot. Murnau’s towering ambition can be seen in every frame – twisting staircases, spectacular sets depicting heaven and hell, and all the classic oblong angles and painted light that would define the German expressionist movement. The liberties taken with the story might not all work, but when the visuals are as grand and (at times) terrifying as this, it’s hard to quibble. It cannot be underestimated what a great loss to the medium Murnau was – after moving to America and making the brilliant Sunrise, he died in a traffic accident at the age of 43. What¬†his unique and timeless vision would have brought to the sound era can sadly only be speculated.

A German silent film from 1926 that shits over 99% of today's blockbusters10
Special effects that look obviously fake, yet still have the required impact9
One of the earliest examples of a director's distinctive visual style9
Some slightly soppy additions to the story6
FW Murnau was arguably the medium's first true genius10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can't remember a scene where they talk to each other
  • As with many silent films, some conversations are visible in the background but you don't know what they're saying, and whether they count for this test
9Overall Score

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