This is wonderful news. Next year, at the Royal Festival Hall, the Philharmonia Orchestra will accompany a screening of FW Murnau’s masterpiece Faust (1926). The orchestra will be playing a brand new orchestral score, written by composer Aphrodite Raickopoulou, and unusually, there will also be live improvisation from the renowned classical pianist Gabriela Montero. The film will be introduced by the world-famous actor and scourge of the tabloids Hugh Grant.
If you’re not familiar with Faust, then allow me to introduce it to you. Murnau’s film is an adaptation of the Faust legend, in which a doctor sells his soul to Mephistopheles in return for a cure for the plague epidemic that has struck his town. The doctor is played by Gösta Ekman, and Mephistopheles by the always wonderful Emil Jannings, in an outstanding performance that is by turns charming and grotesque. As in so many of Murnau’s films, the real story is an epic struggle between love and hate, and the visuals are as epic as the themes. Faust may be shot in monochrome, but it is kaleidoscopically beautiful. Special effects sequences such as the summoning of Mephistopheles and the cloak ride are still impressive – and the clouds of black smoke that represent the plague visiting the town are as haunting as they were technically difficult to pull off. Ekman’s transformation from an old man to his younger self is fantastic as well.
But Faust is more than the sum of its technical achievements. It’s a hugely moving film, with a melodramatic finale, and as unforgettably brilliant as Murnau’s other much-loved classics, Nosferatu and Sunrise. This new score has been a real labour of love for Raickopoulou, who was moved to tears after watching the film for the first time. She told me: “Being a dreamer has its great risks but true passion and true love will always prevail.” A sentiment very much in tune with the spirit of the movie, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This project has benefited from the advice of Patrick Stanbury from Photoplay Productions – and you’ll be pleased to know that the Royal Festival Hall will be showing a 35mm print of the domestic version of the film.
Faust screens at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday, 27 February 2012 at 7.30pm. Tickets begin at £10 and you can book them here, on the Southbank Centre website.