The shadows and their juxtaposition with light were always of concern to Murnau who explored not only their direct contrast but the gamut of potential meanings and ambiguities that lie in both the literal and allegorical chiaroscuro of his cinematic work. In Faust, Carl Hoffman's cinematography provides an exquisite compositional complement to Murnau's narrative - truly a marvel to behold, almost every frame a work of art in an of itself. "Out of all filmmakers," states French director Eric Rohmer in the booklet that accompanies this new release, "F. W. Murnau is perhaps the one who knew how to organise the space in his films in the most rigorous and inventive manner." Such a statement is difficult to contradict on this evidence, with some shots etched eternally into the memory of audiences and film history scholars alike.
It's not just his visuals over which Murnau has utter mastery, but the story on this occasion is one that alienates many viewers. When Faust begins to lust after the beautiful young Gretchen (Camilla Horn in a role intended for Lillian Gish) the film lurches into romantic melodrama that puts some people off. Despite appearing to be a lighter chapter, is never shakes a sense of impending doom and proves pivotal to the horrifying finale. That Faust - like its heinous villain - shifts and morphs are crucial to the legacy of this silent masterpiece in all of its tragedy and grandeur.