Fever Dream


An archival film-geek event, this long-neglected 1922 detour in German master F.W. Murnau’s tragically brief career is a reverent morality play derived, rather reverently, from forgotten Nobel laureate Gerhart Hauptmann. An ambition-less bookworm (the saturnine and 43-year-old Alfred Abel, veteran of Lang classics, playing a “youth”) becomes awakened from his inertia after being run down by a beautiful blonde’s carriage; his pursuit of her and Romantic glory as a poet lead him, in a spiraling fashion, to the depths of despair. Made smack in the middle of Murnau’s most fecund period (it was one of three movies he made between 1922’s Nosferatu and 1924’s The Last Laugh), Phantom is as much an object lesson in Murnau’s subtle reinvention of visual expression as his more famous works, matter-of-factly using distant background action (through windows) to fuel the foreground and employing a vast variety of double exposures, warping perspectives, and even elaborately built set constructions to articulate the protagonist’s fevered confusion. The disc is a dissertation on archival methodology, down to an essay explaining the philosophy behind the tinting’s restoration, a cache of production documentation, and scholar Janet Bergstrom’s historical “introduction.”