Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931)
(Birth name: Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe)
After serving as a combat pilot during the first world war F.W. Murnau started making films. Der Knabe in Blau or The Blue Boy was to be the first of 21 feature films he released, first in his native Germany and then in Hollywood. His contemporaries were more prolific, but his work is considered just as influential (if not more so) as fellow German Expressionists Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst. He is widely considered to be a part of the original first wave of horror movie makers.
His filmmaking had a reputation for innovation and technical brilliance. His first film made in America, Sunrise won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Cinematography at the first Academy Awards in 1929. Though he is best remembered for Nosferatu, the very first movie about vampires. Like many of his generation he was influenced by the theater style of Max Reinhardt, though he later worked to make cinema a distinct art that did not rely on the conventions of the theater.
More important to the investors than his use of lighting to create moods was the fact that Murnau's films in Germany were quite successful. This lead to Fox Films signing him to a contract five films in 1926 soon after his emigration to America. However after the aforementioned Sunrise his films were not as lucrative, though they were still critically praised. He broke off his contract and set out to make the near documentary film Tabu in the South Pacific. It was to be his last film.
His life was cut short by an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, California, in 1931, several days before Tabu was to premiere in New York. He was 42 years of age.
Almost nothing has been written about Murnau's personal life or history, at least in English. There are only a few more books about him published in German. He never married and was reputedly homosexual. Film critics supporting this theory point out that many of his films have a theme of forbidden love. According to people who knew him personally he was a man of simple tastes, reflecting his rural background.
Murnau was protrayed by John Malkovich in 2000's Shadow of the Vampire, a fictional look into the making of Murnau's masterpiece, Nosteratu - Ein Symphonie des Grauens.
Two books have been written about his life: "Nosferatu" by Jim Shepard (1998, Knopf) and "Murnau" by Lotte H. Eisner (1979, Frankfurt A.M.).