The motion picture has too long spied its technique from the other arts. It is time that it be established an individual form of expression. To achieve this end motion pictures just be actually motion pictures. They must not be merely illustrated b-titles, picturized stories or stilted, though active, photographs of trite ways.
A motion picture should be born motion picture, not a story or play. Writers should be developed to pro-ice for the screen; artists to paint it, architects to build and musicians to compose for it.
That is what we are trying to do the UFA studios in Berlin. In “The Last Laugh” we have pointed the way. The press and the major portion of your intelligent public has been quick to appreciate this. But there is still a vast army of motion picture patrons to whom an innovation is disturbing, who cannot understand a film that departs from the traditions. They are of the same genre as those who scoffed at free verse, at the novels of Dreiser or the paintings of Gaugain.
In making “The Last Laugh” I took for my goal the realization of a motion picture that would show us not only the outer surfaces, but the mental processes of a character. Carl Mayer helped by writing his scenario with that aim in view and Karl Freund managed his camera and lights magnificently to that end. Thus, in many shots, we made the audience see the action through the eyes of Emil Jannings, whose portrayal of the old doorman has added a heaping tribute to his great art.
So much of the subjective is left out of motion pictures; there is so much violent action or situation, that I thought it would be an innovation, worth emulation in America, to try to make audiences FEEL WITH the main character, rather than at what was happening to him.
A director should not work on his script alone. He should first confer with his architects, his camera man and the author, so that every value will receive its proper emphasis. There are many fine points a man will miss, in a private perusal of a script that he can get verbally from outside minds.
Here, at the UFA studios in New Babelsberg we are always experimenting. Nearly every scene we make is shot at night, contrary to your custom in America. We have no glass-roofed studios, to bring in daylight. Rain or cloudy weather make no difference to us. Our generators are always in action, and our lights correctly placed on the scene. I can have light where I want it, and shadow where it will be most effective. I am not at the mercy of a capricious sun. And if it takes a year to make a picture, or I need a re-take after three months, or so—it is easy enough to thoroughly duplicate previous conditions.
But the absolute rule for making good pictures, of course, is to have a sympathetic and understanding management. Which is what we have in these studios. Erich Pommer, newly elected head of UFA, spent considerable time in America, to get material that will help in adapting our technique to the American market. That does not mean that we will turn out machine-made pictures. There are essential differences in the sophistication of the two nations; what shocks America does not disturb Europe.
Now that we have begun to understand the American viewpoint (and I expect after the completion of the picture I am to make for William Fox I will know even more about what is needed in your country) we will make pictures that will be practical, as well as inspirational.
F. W. Murnau
F. W. Murnau is of Scottish descent. Began his career as an actor, but turned to motion pictures about ten years ago and began to direct for Ufa. Much of his work has been from Carl Mayer’s manuscripts. He directed “The Last Laugh” starring Emil Jannings and released by Universal in this country. Has also produced “Royal Adventurers,” “Backstairs” and other productions. He is now engaged in directing “Faust” for Ufa, abroad, with Emil Jannings.
(The German Viewpoint in Picture Making – The Film Daily, Sunday, June 7, 1925)