Based on a magazine serial (later published in novel form) by Nobel Prize winner Gerhart Hauptmann, Phantom (1922), despite being one of F.W. Murnau’s minor films, is worthy of more attention than the best films of most. Production began on Phantom with most of its participants still riding high on recent successes. Murnau was coming off Nosferatu and screenwriter Thea von Harbou had just completed Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, both masterworks that changed the face of German silent cinema. By contrast, Phantom largely holds stylistic ground while occasionally pushing out into new territory. Alfred Abel, later of Metropolis fame, stars as Lorenz Lubota, a bookish city clerk with frayed collars and his head in the clouds — not such a bad place to put one’s head if your mother’s a shrew, your sister’s a prostitute, your younger brother is a depressive and all of you are living together in abject poverty. Lorenz’s poetry-induced flights of fancy, however, take on dangerous dimensions after he’s run down by a horse cart and wakes up obsessed with the local aristocratic beauty standing over him. Murnau takes a straightforward approach to shooting this tale of self-induced personal destruction as Lorenz suddenly entertains all manner of hysterical deceptions and crimes to win his prize. At crucial moments of his descent, however, Murnau interjects striking visual tricks that draw us into the swirl of intense emotions slowly consuming Lorenz from within: Whole city blocks surge forward accusingly from their foundations; a white horse pulls a ghostly carriage through empty streets. More than just evidence of Murnau’s legendary technical prowess, these moments herald the future visions of Faust and Sunrise. Released by Flicker Alley, this DVD features a number of illuminating extras, including a 15-minute documentary by UCLA professor and film historian Janet Bergstrom on the film’s production and reception.
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Also released this week: DVD: Ace Ventura Deluxe Double Feature; All The King’s Men; Almost Strangers; Amarcord; The Bob Newhart Show: Season Four; Brazil; Broken Trail; Charlie & Lola: Volume 1; Charlie & Lola: Volume 2; Clive Barker’s The Plague; Dan Burstein’s Secrets of Mary Magdalene; Dead Man’s Shoes; District B13; Doctor Who: Inferno; Doctor Who: The Web Planet; Escape To Witch Mountain; Family: The Complete First and Second Seasons; The Flintstones: The Complete Sixth Season; Gang Wars; Guys and Balls; Hustle: The Complete Season 1; Jackass: The Movie Unrated; Lost: The Complete Second Season: The Extended Experience; Our Brand Is Crisis; Oz: The Complete Sixth Season; Playtime; Population 436; Return from Witch Mountain; Ryna; Seven Samurai; Shock Treatment; Shooting The Past; Supernatural: The Complete First Season; Unknown White Male.