Sunday, August 4, 2013

Silent Sundays: Phantom (1922)

Almost all of the greatest films ever made are love stories. They tell about lost and tortured love and obsession. The world, life, space, class, whatever you can imagine give the two lovers obstacles as they try to unite. In most of the stories it is the man who becomes obsessed with the woman and does anything in his power to get to her. If it was always women chasing after the man the woman would be called an obsessive annoyance and not a romantic but that is a discussion for another time. In F.W. Murnau’s silent film Phantom it is a young man who is literally knocked down by love and his life dragged to depths he never could have imagined.
            Lorenz Lubato and his wife Maria are happily married. She gives him a book to write his story. Lorenz asks her if she thinks if he writes his story the memory will be less painful. Maria believes it will help with his painful memory.
            Some time ago Lorenz used to live at home with his mother, sister Melanie, and brother. In this time he was the city clerk and was never on time. In his spare time Lorenz would write poetry and one day he brought it to Maria and her father who ran a book store. Her father thinks his poems are amazing and wants to give it to a professor from the local university to look over. On his way to work one morning Lorenz is hit by a horse that was being driven by a young woman. The young woman gets out of the carriage to check on him. She is beautiful and from that moment on Lorenz can think of no one and nothing but her. The girl rides away and Lorenz walks dreamily back home. He does not even listen to his mother talk to him about Melanie and what she has been up to he stares off into another world and dreams that he is chasing the girl as she rides away in her horse and carriage.
            After this incident Lorenz’s life is never the same. He obsesses over the girl who he finds her name is Veronika. Day and night he causes trouble around Veronika’s home looking for her. Lorenz finds out from an acquaintance that Veronika is engaged to another man. With this news Lorenz asks to speak to Veronika’s parents to tell them how much he loves her. The father tells Lorenz to come back in a year and the love struck young man happily leaves their home. The mother thinks her son is sick and cannot control what he does. His obsession makes him miss work without an excuse and he loses his city clerk position.
            One night Lorenz goes out to a dancehall with Melanie. He meets a young woman and her partner. The young woman looks like Veronika. She needs to paid for her time so Lorenz goes to his aunt who runs a business. When his aunt does not get her money back she threatens Lorenz and the young woman with the police and jail. Lorenz cannot come up with the money and surrenders himself to the police.
            When he is released Maria and her Father are waiting for him.
            I was expecting Phantom to be better than it was. The story did not hold my interest. When I heard the title and that Murnau was the director I thought it would be about phantoms and nightmares not about an obsessed young man. Murnau took some aspects from Expressionism and added them to this film to give the story its phantom-dream- like look. The Expressionist look was used perfectly in a scene towards the end of the film where Lorenz is at a dancehall with the young woman who looks like Veronika. He dreams his life is spiraling out of control and slowing going down. The floor underneath Lorenz and the girl actually moves down and Murnau had a bicyclist ride around a ring above. Phantom was an alright film it is not what I was expecting from Murnau.