A Book Review by Tony Williams.
Usually, I have a fondness for direct-to-library publishers such as Bear Manor, McFarland, and Scarecrow since they often provide a very important service in publishing books often unjustly neglected by mainstream publishers that contribute to knowledge rather than engage in theoretical mystifications designed to impress colleagues rather than the public. Such less prestigious companies often have to combat misconceptions about the quality of their work, since not every publisher can be a university press or one of those major companies subject to mergers and corporate directions on what should be disseminated. It is sad when one encounters a book that justifies those old prejudices, whose major flaws should have been detected immediately by internal scrutiny and external reviewers. One key example is The Nosferatu Story, a book that in normal circumstances would evoke alarm bells has, instead, resulted in a major embarrassment for this company.
Superficially, the book promises much but delivers little in terms of relevant scholarly focus upon its subject matter. While certain nuggets of information occur such as the author’s translation of contemporary sources, the overall impression confronting this reviewer is “everything but the kitchen sink”! Rather than concentrating on Nosferatu, the book contains an irrelevant hodge podge of everything associated with Weimar Cinema, most of which has nothing to do with Murnau’s film, and spurious assertions that are dubious at best. With introduction and various appendices, the book contains seventeen chapters, few of which have anything to its title, one devoted to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that contains little relevance to the purported subject matter of investigation. The whole book appears a “cut and paste” compilation that any professional sub-editor would have detected immediately, little of which contributes substantially to any new reliable knowledge involving Murnau’s original work. Rambling irrelevant stream-of-consciousness anecdotes dominates the book with references to a so-called “self-taught historian” (p.64) such as Jens Geuterbrick and his website known to very few people outside the author’s acquaintance. Irrelevant anecdotes characterize this text, to say nothing about dubious assertions such as Alphaville being “a kind of “forgotten Blade Runner” (p.63) that receives no critical and detailed argument justifying this term. Throwaway statements of this nature characterize the book.
Illogical sentences appear which makes one wonder whether McFarland has given up the necessary art of sub-editing one thought obligatory for any serious publisher wishing to avoid the label of “Vanity Press”. Following the description of a meeting between producer Albin Grau and Max Schreck, where the latter insists he do his own make-up, we have the following grammatical, intellectual, and stylistic atrocity that is just one of many characterizing the book:
The memorable meeting must have taken place around April or May 1921 (Can the author not express any certainty?) Lon Chaney too was his own makeup artist when he did The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera (what relevance does Chaney have here?) but those were after Nosferatu was released before Chaney’s big success (so why are they relevant?) and one might wonder if Chaney had heard about or even seen Murnau’s movie. (If you don’t know why mention it?) The Nazis, however – they knew Chaney. They had not forgotten that he had starred in the anti-German Hollywood drama The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin in 1918. (1) Volkishcer Beobachter raged at Carl Laemmle who became the film Jew (italics mine!) par excellence having produced this movie and All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930. The Hitler paper complained that Laemmle the Jew was still an honorary citizen of his so-called `home’ village Laupheim in Swabia near Ulm. (64-65)
The italics in brackets are, of course, mine.
More illogical and unconnected sentences characterize the book whose assertions remain dubious at best. It is painful to read such a text that does not exhibit the usual scrupulous standards McFarland often employs in its better-written and documented reference books. What was going on internally? This raises very serious questions for this company’s reputation, and perhaps some very necessary house cleaning will occur to prevent this type of worthless book ever appearing again. A colleague who is an expert on a particular writer recently received another McFarland publication full of typos that ruined the author’s argument. He wonders why the company never sent him a draft copy if only to catch such errors before publication. It does appear that The Nosferatu Story is not an isolated example and should sound alarm bells concerning a very serious situation. Some of us (including myself) have published with the company, and unless this situation receives attention, we may reconsider offering the publisher future manuscripts.
1. This is a lost film and on the American Film Institute’s list of “the ten most wanted films”. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kaiser,_the_Beast_of_Berlin#cite_note-mock152-6. “The future “man of a thousand faces” played a supporting character and not the Kaiser so why did the Nazis have it in for him and not Rupert Julian, the director who played the Kaiser? The film appeared in the last year of the War and may not have had any non-American distribution. Did they know about the comedy short The Geezer of Berlin that appeared in August 1918? The Nazis were no fans of the Kaiser as the 1942 film Die Entlassung starring Emil Jannings as Bismarck reveals where the great statesman receives his pink slip from the Kaiser and his “camp” followers to the detriment of later German history. See Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema. London: Secker & Warburg, 1968, p. 120. David Stewart Hull is not oblivious to certain associations that would later appear in the “Springtime for Hitler” number in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1967). “The oddest episode of Die Entlassung occurs during Bismarck’s dismissal, in which Wilhelm II (Werner Hinz) is shown as a homosexual making coy advances toward a piano playing friend, oblivious to the fall of his father’s greatest statesman. Film in the Third Reich: A study of the German Cinema 1933-1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, p. 185. To paraphrase the title of a 1936 Hollywood film, The Devil is a Sissy (1936), the Nazis regarded the Kaiser in the same manner, one who certainly did not meet the requirements of “einer richtiger Mann” Marlene Dietrich yearned for in The Blue Angel (1930) . In addition, despite Dr. Goebbels’s fascination with cinema, one wonder whether he was an accomplished film historian having access to the sources we are privileged with today and did the Nazis really care about an old film featuring a ruler who had abdicated as opposed to Frederick the Great?
Tony Williams is an independent writer and a Contributing Editor to Film International.