In his commentary on the film (in the Anchor Bay Herzog/Kinski Box Set)Herzog says that "In Murnau's film the vampire is souless, an insect" while Kinski is more human, his sadness is a human sadness, he wants to participate in human love.
This, I think, is one of the main differences betweent he two versions of the tale. Murnau's film is, perhaps, more concerned with the metaphysical, while Herzog's take on the vampire is profoundly human. The sadness and the isolation of the character are solid and real, located as we've talked about before, in a recognisable world; solid and tangibly real.
Kinski's performace is painful in its sense of lonliness, heartbreaking in its yearning for humanity, for warmth and love. The sense we get from his performance is certainly that this creature WAS once a man in thevery distant past, but his condition has so isolated him from his own humanity, and humanity as a groups/species, that he does not know how to interact with it anymore. But he aches for it. Time has rotted away his humanity and in his extreme age he wants to return to it, but is almost senile in the way he goes about it.
The want of warmth, the need for blood, is a want and a need for humanity. For love. It is a terribly tragic performace Kinski gives, layered and deeply felt (at least by me). He becomes obsessed - not unlike Kong, or Beast in Cocteau's La Belle Et La Bette - with the beauty, the fragility, the purity, innocence and love of this one woman. It is a loving urge, mixed with an erotic one, but here his vampiric nature acts like a metaphor for the acts and desires of people in love. Don't we feed on them? Feed on their energies? Don't we drink a person in? But sometimes we drink too deep. Wee drink them dry, ruin them, smother them, snuff out their light with our need and our hunger for them. In a way Kinski's attempts to find love or enter society, are like the strangey pathetic efforts of The Man in DEATHLINE, with his single phrase of 'Mind The Doors', trying to reconnect, but his ugliness/ montrousness makes him a source of fear to all who look at him.
You can see the beginings of this idea in the scene of Bruno Ganz as Harker sitting down to dinner with Kinski's Dracula having been welcomed to his house. Dracula is fascinated by this human being, this warm creature before him, something he has forgotten how to be. Look at Kinski here, the way he watches Ganz, intently, with such longing and such curiosity. This once human thing staring at the innocent loving young man. The physical difference of Dracula here seems a ltieral representation of how far his has grown away from his humanity and human kind in general; his hairless head, his long fingernails - are they claws or merely untented nails grown long with age? - his ears have grown pointed, so that he can hear in the dark, like a bat? Has he developed an almost sonar like ability to find his prey even in pitch darkness?
This 'dinner' scene also contains one of the very few drops of blood in the film, and the tension that Herzog generates from so little only emphasises its importance. The physical need that Kinski's Dracula has for this tiny drop of blood, and the power and sudden speed with which he crosses the room and begins to suck at the wound on Harker's hand is shocking and quite thrilling as wellas creepy. The scene has been so still up to now that you can't help but feel a little jolt as the strange old man before us leaps into action over so strange and small a thing.
And it is here that Herzog first clearly states his intention. Here, in his take on the film, blood is a symbol of humanity. A symbol for love and life. Why does Kinski wannt/need blood? Because he wants and needs humanity. He wants/needs love. His fixatation on Isabelle Adjani's Lucy is because he seems to see her as the defining symbol of all that he is not but wants once more to be. Human, alive, loved, pure - where he is vampire, dead, feared, tainted.
It answers a question that looms unanswered in Muranau's film. Why is Dracula/Nosferatu coming to Wismar? In Herzog's film it seems to be an attempt (no matter how misguided, twisted, malformed)to return to humanity. To find comanionship. Dracula here is seeking the community of others, whether by turnign them all to his own kind to share his existence and no longer be alone, or by rrediscovering his own humanity by contact with others. The focus - general at first perhaps - shifts when he sees the picture in the locket of Lucy. Then a vague plan to re-enter or convert socety, becomes an obsession with a single woman. He signs the papers very quickly for the house so near to Harker's - near to Lucy. Is his focus one of love? Lust? Something more tragic?
Perhaps all of these. It is as if in this one moment, the moment that he sees her, all the semi formed and unformed hopes of this lonely rancid creature are crystalised, at and by the sight of her. Lucy becomes the symbol of all that he might wish to bbe again, and the means by which he thinks he can attain it, as if she and only she can somehow cure his sadness, his solitude; return his humaity - perhaps because for the first time in centuries he felt his heart beat (metaphorically if not physiologically) at the sight of her. 'Love' at first sight - is saviour and his demise. Ultimately perhaps they are one and the same thing. Only in death, in the physical act of dying, can Dracula be human. For it is the very fact of his immortality that makes him IN-human - the inhuman amount of time he has exited for, has rotted his humanity, his emotions... only in dying can he regain what he has lost. And in dying for love, even more so.
Kinski's desperate feeding on Adjani is his desperate need for her humanity, her blood. He 'wannts' her in a primal bloodlust vampire way, and in a human sexual/loving way. What works so wonderfully and so powerfuly for the scene is that Herzog seems so aware, and is so direct in presenting the fact that they are each the metaphor for the other. It is a powerfully and emotionally complex scene, both erotically charged and a little disgusting, and yet nontheless very moving, beacuse Adjani is sacrificing herself, giving herself... it is a strange, beautiful, grotesque and wonderful scene, with Kinski's death the capper.
Where Max Schrek faded optically in the sunlight, Kinski kicks and shudders, and curls up like a spider or a giant bluebottle. He death is a very physical death, it is - in the end - a very mortal death. It is not the death of a supernatural creature but a real solid, thing of this world. As if in the final moments he did become human again, and time caught up with him. For a moment as he drank so desperately from Isabelle Adjani he was alive again, human again, and then time - the rising sun, the dawning of a new day - caught up with him, and his heart seized up forever. It is an ugly death. A tiny death. Not the monumental screaming nor turning to dust we might expect... it is death on a very human scale, a soul evacuating a body - perhaps that is why the first detail of his dying is the sight of his eyes turned completely to white, as if the iris's have been burned out by the sun. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, but the soul is vacating this particular shell.
It is intersting too that the coda to this scene is of Jonathan's birth as a vampire.
we have watched him shiver ans sweat and retreat from the world, his life and his love, after Dracula's bite. But it is only with the death of Kinski's Dracula, that Harker is fully born as a vampire. It is as if the 'soul' the disease, whatever dark thing lived within Kinski has now fled him - the slow motion image of the bat came again in his feeding - and taken residence in Harker. It lives still. If as it seems to me love in this film is seen as the core aspect that is most human, and is as such presented in a largely positive light, then here we see the darker side, with Herzog showing us that while so much that is positive in our actiosn comes from love, so too is love the cause of our most nagative aspects, and sometimes or destruction. And, having destroyed and made a monster of Harker in destroyng/losing his love, we see him ride out into the world, perhaps to destroy it further, to spread the negativity, to take other humanity/love, and create further vampires... this negative disease, this plague, is loosed at the end to spread itself, and infect the world...
Maybe it's because it's late as I write this. Maybe it's because I'm 32 tomorrow. Maybe it's that I had all my thoughts on this film a month or more ago and other things have gotten in the way of writing them all down... but my head is coming just a little bit unravelled on the subject of Herzog's Nosferatu. For which I must apologise.
This was all so much clearer when i first thought to write about it. Indeed when I last watched the film. But now it all just seems to be a mass of notes I scribbled, that look like something Roland Topor might have written down while playing Renfield in the film.
Before I go too crazy with it, before I lose my focus completely, I will stop.
I may return to the subject at a later date, when the film comes back into focus for me.
But for now I think I'll leave it here... let it percolate a while. I still don't have anything coherent to say about those shots of the black coffins on the raft, heading downstream. Nor of the shivery frisson that I get watching the scenes of the ship at sea, with Popol Vuh playing over them, especially as it sails its ghostly way down the canals and to the very heart of Wismar with a dead man at the wheel.
But they all thrill and chill me to this day. No matter how many times I see them.
It's a rich, rich film. Up there with Herzog's best, and worthy of your time. Check it out if you haven't. Watch it again if you have. You'll gain something every time.