Nosferatu’s Gesture

Ciné-kinesis in the Silent Era, East and West

Eric Rauth
Weimar films translated human actions and gestures into the cinematic idiom of silent pictures. It oversimplifies to say their actors always performed exaggerated melodrama – just as it does to neglect the live context of music halls and cabarets, or the scoring, that often accompanied film exhibition. Traditional “literary” elements also figured in photoplay stories: e.g. printed intertitles and dialogue cards, conventions of theatre, and storytelling derived from novels. This study of F. W. Murnau’s classic horror film Nosferatu (1922) and Der letzte Mann / The Last Laugh (1924) accounts critically and historically for how film expanded and mobilised modern gesture (delocalised from its fixed and sacred medieval niche). It also created its own artistic gesture through such expressive forms as shot, camera mobilisation, special effects, shared agency of animate things and human actions, unusual points of view, and telling a story only with images. Though non-verbal, film’s unit of meaning has been likened by semioticians to a poetic “phrase” among other lexical analogues. Gesture in early motion picture art, however, emerged as holistic, dynamic, even illegible in ways that rival time’s passage and suggest a “second nature”. This naturalising power can be profoundly influential in imitative human behaviour – for good or ill – up to our own day of visual saturation, violence and videography.
F. W. Murnau; Bram Stoker; Giorgio Agamben; Gilles Deleuze; Weimar Republic; silent film; film theory; literature; gesture; time; horror; vampires; quantum physics; semiotics; kinesis; kinetics; kinesics; intertitles; Theosophy; Expressionism.

Time’s gesture

Telling gestures are not unlike the gesture of telling


Ciné-kinesis: films and gestural motion in nature and human behaviour



Suggested Citation

Time’s gesture

Gesturing seems deliberately “coded”. Or at least, it is tempting to corral it that way, as both semioticians and historians of iconography were wont to do. A tradition, a context, conventionalises its understanding. The innkeeper opens a door to a guest. A police officer holds one arm out and up, with palm facing outward. A celebrant adopts the so-called full orans of outstretched arms, palms facing outward or upward (as performed by celebrants on Roman murals, Eastern Orthodox mosaics and icons by figures of the Virgin Mary, Christ child, saint, or even Noah) – and a lay worshiper imitates that. All signify recognisably. Are these not “scripted”, placeable? Readable socially and iconographically? Do they not invite, or command, a reciprocating behaviour? Yet today, assumptions made about gesture nuance it considerably compared to the heyday of the sign- and symbol-definers.

First, communicative models have multiplied to keep pace with widened horizons and fracturings in a multicultural world. Some years after the U.S. military’s invasion, investigators concluded that instances of U.S. troops opening fire on Iraqi civilians in cars at checkpoints were due to “the American gesture for stop mean[ing] welcome in Iraq, while the American gesture for go actually meant stop to Iraqis (arm straight, palm down).” Even when the military’s international rule-writers tried to replace the lethally misinterpreted gesture with a special hand signal, a U.S. company commander in Iraq blogged his worry that it was being misinterpreted by his own men.1

Second, our crowded visual media and platforms – constantly in flux, upgraded, mobilised, conditioning how we consume visual stimuli – compress the duration of our understanding. This means that rather than ensure stable inventories of gestures with fixed meanings, their recording and transmission themselves “gesture”. Citing Philip E. Agre (1994), and acknowledging a decentralised proliferation of temporary signal “capture” versus more central, eye-based “surveillance”, Pepita Hesselbirth and Maria Poulaki (2017: 8) observe: “The way in which images move in our contemporary media-saturated landscape is an indication of the cinematic’s transformation from a mechanical technology to a systemic, or cybernetic, one.”

A third change has been in effect for over a hundred years. Namely, the “cinematic” these writers refer to. Heraclitus defined gesture as pointing with one’s whole body, and “digital” still carries something of bodily communication’s association with the hand. But before recent cybernetics chopped up and instantly reconfigured how humans and their machines “gesture”, cinema had already transformed mundane gesture. It had restored to gesturing the unfolding in real time that real-world signaling with the hands, head, face, arms had required as a social or religious act. (The erosion of institutions controlling human acts also fostered new forms and ambivalences of secular gesture.)

Originally, film’s precursor-technologies were less concerned with meaningful gesture per se than with visually recording and objectivising, in time, how the human body (and animals and machines) moved. This phase was analytic and scientific. Drawing on the craft of the magic lantern, early inventor-projectionists and cameramen revealed as never before the kinesis of living, animate forms, miniaturised then re-animated by painted-slide rotation and projection (stroboscopy), or by sequential split-second photography, development, and superimposition – with miniscule changes in each framed position – of bodies in motion (chronophotography). The first phase was practiced by Étienne-Jules Marey, Eadweard Muybridge, Georges Demenÿ, Pierre Jules César Janseen, Max Seddig, Cecil Wray, Max and Emil Skladanowsky, Lionel Smith Beale, William Charles Hughes, Emile Reynaud, Ottomar Anschütz and Ernst Kohlrausch, inter alia (Rossell 1998; Hake 2013) . The second was synthetic, perfected by Robert William Paul, the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès and Thomas Edison.

It was inevitable that its artistic productions would secularise, expand, de- and re-iconise human gesturing, by opening up the possibilities of recording, editing, exhibiting the motions and emotions of human bodies it recruited, filmed, and projected onto larger screens. Early films arguably reconstituted and re-integrated (while stylising) the gestural holism of movement in elementary Nature. They gave it back its purposeful energeia which it had lost, through philosophical-scientific abstraction with the early-modern mathematical usurpation of Aristotle (for whom actions “begin” because, within each object, a telos “wishes” or “intends” to achieve a goal, arrive at its proper place).

Socially and morally, film’s integration of human motions and gestures within its frame, screen, and narrative expectations also re-created something of the magical animation, if not the full corporeal sacredness, with which religious cosmology and theogony had for millennia sought to endow human gestural action. The essay’s final section opens onto a central contemporary implication about cinematic gesture of this re-creation, having taken up the case of Murnau’s classic 1922 horror film. We need, before that, to grasp how silent cinema defamiliarised, then re-familiarised, human gestures’ contexts of coding in ways neither semiotics nor the symbol-history of art fully address.

When the early stroboscopists and chronophotographers first micro-segmented human and animal motion, and mundane movement in nature, they were annihilating extant perceptions and concepts of sacred time and space. These had governed and encircled the gesturing body from Antiquity, through post-Roman medievalism to the Renaissance. Not only codes of representation in the Middle Ages, but a powerful metaphysical edifice, fixed in place the human form and its actions. Muybridge’s often naked, isolated bodies acted out movement and their attendant stresses, and silent film actors stylised acting. The recording camera surveilled or scoped their gestures (along a spectrum from natural to artificial effects) as a completed act in a very uncompleted world. By contrast, the medieval and early-Renaissance “contained” gesture – an uncompleted, mortal act in a very completed world.

The later they entered [the monastery], the more secular gesture’s novices had to forget before they could become monks. Teaching novices the right behavior gave birth to numerous prescriptions in the customaries and specific treatises of pedagogy. [...] Hugh of Saint-Victor's Institutio novitorum [...] provided the most elaborate theory of gestures of the entire Middle Ages. Gesture (gestus) was defined as a movement (motus) of the whole body and a figuratio. The external expression of the movement of the soul had to make up a “figure”, a symbolic image of the body in the eyes of God and man. (Schmitt 1991: 67, emphasis in the original)

It is unlikely that medieval European laity were mere automata of monastic piety: they could behave and move profanely. But, at least in written records, there always appears a frame of reference to rein in gesture: whether ritualistic, liturgical, biblical, social-feudal, chivalric-romanesque (chanson de geste), or magical. Scholastic philosophers conceived space and time, respectively, as architectural container and continuum. Is it little wonder that a niche could be found for every human gesture, and for the emotion and ethical stance it betokened?2

In contrast, the openness and naturalism of subjects treated by the nascent science of late-19th-century motion photography could hardly be starker. Rebecca Solnit (2003: 23):

Muybridge [...] was using his state-of-the-art equipment to feed [a] ravenous appetite for place, for time, for bodies. He had turned his back on the slow world of his grandfather’s barges and pigeons to embrace the new railroad and photographic technology, and with electricity and chemistry he made the latter faster than ever before. But his work is largely a collection of striking still images of the settlements and wilderness of the West through the mid-1870s, then an avalanche of images of bodies [...] of horses, then men, then women, children, camels, lions, vultures reenacting their most familiar gestures. [...] The speed of Muybridge’s invention allowed real motions to be recovered at their own pace, though watching them meant stepping out of one’s own time.

The time into which film-watchers stepped was finite yet immersive in an intensely different way from the fixed, encompassing, sustaining and containing time-continuum of medievalism’s figural cosmos. This had to do with how the communicative media of the Middle Ages (architecture, paintings, sculptures) imaged it – versus modernity’s art form, motion pictures. To really observe gesture in time is to discard all fixed preconceptions and theories of its meaningful iconicity. Jean-Claude Schmitt remarks how

Medieval art was essentially anthropomorphic. The human figure was depicted everywhere, and invisible beings (God, the devil, the angels) were likewise given a human figure. So there are countless images of gestures. But such representations of gestures depend at least as much on the specific rules of figuration in medieval art as on direct observation of gestures by the artists. To begin with, the fixity of medieval images creates a huge problem. All the gestures that were mere movement (for example blessing while making the sign of the cross) had to be frozen by the artist. But at what point? The artist could choose to emphasize the hand held up rather than down, but he could not suggest the movement itself, its direction or its speed. (Schmitt 1991: 63).

Moral cosmology made gesture-in-time disappear in the glare of its theological-figural meaning, destiny and ascribed ritualistic indexing. If time was a spatial continuum, a kind of frieze as on the Parthenon, all motion, all emotion, direction to detail and of detail yielded to architectural geometry’s grand permanence of form and stilled motion. The gesturing parts (hand, head, arms, legs, face, torso, stance) deferred to the whole body, as the body expressed the soul. (A crouch instantly meant shrinking from God’s justice/mercy; it could never be just observed like the naturally expressive crouch of an animal. We shall see Nosferatu adopting just such a pose.) How pointedly different, even perverse, the artist as giver of movement (versus an Aristotelian prime mover-God) emerges in a modernist tally by Rodin who, like his contemporaries the cinéastes, identified secular human gesturing as something performed in (yet also partly out of) time. As quoted by Albert Cook (1992: 112), “Even sculpture, the assertively three-dimensional spatial art, manipulates the temporal as well as the visual, as [...] Merleau-Ponty cites Rodin, ‘That which gives movement is an image in which the arms, the legs, the trunk, the head, are each taken at a different instant, and so figures the body in an attitude that it possesses at no particular moment, imposing fictive accords among the parts’.”

Rodin’s temporalising and re-composing of separately “moving” forms takes us to the brink of how film reconstituted the human motions which photography had segmented, secularising and further refining naturalistically not only the making of gestures but their inherited religious associations of meaning. Since the acts of gesturing, reading, and writing share a phenomenology as arts or expressions of passing time that heightens instants of time, two key questions occur. How is cinema’s visual record of passing time analogous to a literary record? And in what sense might silent film’s cinematic and visual gesture-as-movement re-define, on its own terms, how verbal discourse and narrative tell stories? Or: how did/does film create its own legible “language”, become like words in time?

Telling gestures are not unlike the gesture of telling

On their descriptive level, words and fictional narratives can of course reference human gesture. Take for example an early chapter Bram Stoker drafted for, but deleted from, Dracula. (It was published separately by his widow in 1914 as Dracula’s Guest.) Its narrator has set out by rented coach from Munich. He stops in Styria (today divided between Slovenia and Austria), chosen by Stoker to echo Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire novella Carmilla of 1871. He engages in mystifying exchanges with his laconic German-speaking driver Johann, who repeatedly utters that this is the day of Walpurgisnacht. Johann’s actions are recounted in a faux-naïve, bestranged way in terms of a series of nervous gestures: crossing himself, glancing at his watch, looking around him, barely controlling the agitated horses, refusing to enter a valley in the road. Dracula himself (or a werewolf-vampire presaging the count) only makes his appearance, as “over the crest of the hill a man tall and thin” who then vanishes. Whereupon the horses bolt with their driver. Johann’s body language is an ominous-picturesque holdover from the medieval European religious microcosm. But these indecipherable gestures are quickly forgotten, having connoted for the reader “This is a superstitious folk culture. Yet might there not be a real reason for this fearfulness, a real danger?”3

Yet, irrespective of such an example, and from the vantage instead of the “literary” and the “readerly” as a practice based in material media, it is only in a more limited sense that writers make anything approaching a real physical gesture. As Schmitt points out, the gestural and the literate (the lettered) came to demarcate different vital spheres, whatever their overlaps.

[T]he Middle Ages always knew both gestures and literacy (as we do today), although the balance between them changed from one century to the next and from one social group to the next. On the one hand, medieval culture gave writing and reading an ever greater emphasis since they were used to spread God’s Word, itself called “Scripture”. For this reason literacy was for centuries monopolized by the Church, by the clerics who were accustomed to write in Latin. Second, we should not forget that writing too was a kind of gesture at a time when the only form of writing was written by hand. (1991: 59-60)

The modern writer may make a “gesture” by autographing or inscribing her or his book to someone, as the painter signs a canvas. (Authorial “corpus” and “oeuvre” can never shed their metaphorical unrealness.) And so strictly speaking the properly literary attenuates the properly gestural, just as a bodily gesture’s practical physicality relegates writing, reading, fiction and narrative to “practices” only semi-metaphorically. Gesture as lived situational motion would seem thus more in the camp not of unreal symbols and iconography but of indexical pictures of motion of cinema narrative’s real filmed beings, moving in time.

And as a sequential time-medium, cinema’s likeness to even shorter or more ornate literary genres, such as poetry, suggests itself more readily, finally, than with a canvas or fresco that stays forever a canvas or fresco. “We stay”, says Cook, “in actuality or in memory, in a space where our intentionality is engaged in looking at the painting. We do not come to the end of it, as we do come to the end of a poem, and our memory of the poem’s complex message reverberates from our having run through the sequence of its arbitrary auditory cues. The visual cues of the painting, on the other hand, first and last fuse into its visual message, however associationally coded” (1992: 105-6). Where paintings defy time, films occupy it. Thus a simile, lovely and tangible, from Robert Frost sums up time experienced in both verse and cinema. “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting” (Chiasson 2014: 72).

As Frost here borrows from movement or phase-change in physics (however homespun the image), so early silent film borrowed luster from the more hallowed genre of poetry, as when director and actor Paul Wegener, delivering his lecture “The artistic possibilities of the cinema” (April 24, 1916; Eisner, 1965: 33) heralded a “Kinetische Lyrik”, a cinematic lyricism modeled on photographic technique. To this day, silent pictures are often re-conjured as visual “poetry”. The analogy has proven tenacious even though poetry as a “remembered” poetry – not just a text – is in one respect at odds with imaged actuality on screen. For as Bergson wrote, “Imaginer, n’est pas se souvenir.” [“To picture is not to remember”] (Bergson 1939: 150, cited in McNeill 2010: 23; original emphasis).

A firmer basis, tighter than the looser inter-art form analogies, for matching silent films with literary forms and their cohesiveness of narrative sequence, is simply the underlying temporality of pictures in and of motion. And this is why a certain tension first arose between their most “literary” element – the transient use of titling and intertitling – and the motion picture in which it was embedded. The two sequential media followed a different pace. Which is why, to delve further into how silent film helped expand gesture and reintegrate its modern secular morphologies, it first helps to trace how, in titles and intertitles, it strained in two opposite directions: the reading eye clearly decodes while the motions of the cinematic eye follow and “act out with”. A similar tension also applies for understanding the strained relations of film to dramatic theatre – up until and concurrent with film’s advent, the intermediate genre between the “scriptible” and the physically live-performative, or between still tableau and gestural temporality. For decades the venerable stage has served as a calling card, foil or whipping boy, in discussions of the screen for film writers and practitioners as diverse as Alfred Döblin, Sergei Eisenstein, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Max-Gérard Houry Tannenbaum, Max Reinhardt, Joseph von Sternberg, André Malraux, André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, Hugo Münsterberg, Erwin Panofsky, Susan Sontag, and Leo Braudy.

A telling gesture, then, is an action of the body unfolding in time and thus expressing some meaning or content (implying an intention, reaction, or destiny). Because it animates and lends moving, driving force to that meaning, it is not a “dead” thing. Recording a living gesture makes it doubly “un-dead”, being repeatable in times and places other than its origin. (In literary theory, this afterlife once went by the name of influence or reception.) Since “mobile” camera and running film are the means of such recording and re-viving, the singular terms “photo” or “photography” do not quite cover gesture in a film (though their process remains its physical basis). Thus Gilles Deleuze’s useful coinage, “photogramme”:

[...] pour Vertov le photogramme n’est pas un simple retour à la photo: s’il appartient au cinéma, c’est parce qu’il est l’élément génétique de l’image, ou l’élément différentiel du mouvement. Il ne « termine » pas le mouvement sans être aussi le principe de son accélération, de son ralentissement, de sa variation. (Deleuze 1983: 120)

[...] in Vertov’s view, the frame is not simply a return to the photo: if it belongs to the cinema, this is because it is the genetic element of the image, or the differential element of the movement. It does not “terminate” the movement without also being the principle of its acceleration, its deceleration and its variation. (Deleuze 1986: 83)

Photo-grammic gesturing limns its message less remotely, more corporeally, than a tele-gram. What is the result, though, when film’s content is the fixed, frontal, and more minutely linear form of a belletristic textual message itself?

Silent pictures’ title cards were only the visual facsimile of a real book’s pages, supplementarily, but often essentially, to condense the narrative information that the image was about to dramatise, or had just dramatised. Cinema’s printed or scripted lines, for obvious reasons, tended toward the succinct. When not displayed as an incantation or mystification, text and titling bridged the familiar, “official” or collective, wider world of narrating or narrative authority with the less familiar, intimate flickering world of silent picture dumb show. The second title card in Murnau’s vampire photoplay functioned much as might the gesture of raising forefinger to lip – to exhort a “shhhhhh!”

Tӧut dies Wort Dich nicht an wie der mitternächtige Ruf eines Totenvogels. Hüte Dich es zu Sagen, sonst verblassen die Bilder des Lebens zu Schatten, spukhafte Träume Steigen aus dem Herzen und nähren sich von Deinem Blut.

Does this word not sound like the deathbird calling your name at midnight? Beware you never say it – for then the pictures of life will fade to shadows, haunting dreams will climb forth from your heart and feed on your blood.

Much is conveyed here, but especially film’s own terms of viewing. A hush blankets its actors; silence is a condition of the images’ dreamlike life and illusion; and “nähren sich” even encodes two of the film’s actions: earning its keep from paying customers and literally bringing certain images nearer in such disturbing shots as the dormant Count’s close-up face when Hutter first discovers him in his coffin, in the castle cellar.

The film’s third title card is briefer. “I have reflected at length on the origin and passing of the Great Death in my hometown of Wisborg”, it reads cursorily. “Here is its story. Once in Wisborg lived a man named Hutter and his young wife, Ellen.” [Lange habe ich über Beginn und Erlöschen des großen Sterbens in meiner Vaterstadt Wisborg nachgedacht. Hier ist seine Geschichte: Es lebten in Wisborg Hutter und seine junge Frau Ellen]. Tellingly, the original German typeface places no full-stop after the word “Ellen” because we are no longer really in the lettered, print-cultured, self-enclosed universe of belles lettres with their laborious, perfected typesetting rules. It is all transient prelude, scene-setting conceit – genuflecting toward a revered yet superseded medium – to get on with the real meat and thrill of film’s animate imagery and suspense, its flow of “self-telling”. Like a tinted photographic postcard, we are treated in short order to a live-action, high-angle, aerial establishing shot – a sequence in real time, with distant pedestrians moving about below – of the golden-brown “Wisborg” cityscape, its cathedral steeple in the foreground. And then to a sustained scene of Thomas Hutter looking into a mirror (how unvampiric!) tying his necktie in a domestic interior sequence with Ellen, etc.4

The opening title cards serve the needs of the suspenseful photo-play. Both the lines of typeface and moving-picture progressing forward are consumed in time, as I have already pointed out. Cook (1992: 159) assimilates the two (in contrast with even film’s close cousin, dramatic performance): “The bodies, active on stage in the theater, are dematerialized in the film. As sequential, the experience of the film resembles reading, and also its simulation through darkness of the solitude and interiority of the reading act.” What we do note, however, is that film as the pictorial and surveilling agency of the new literary tends early on to do away with the traditional authorial identity that marked individualised creators of the written word. Enno Patalas (2002) remarks how “[t]he proliferation [in silent-era pictures] of non-literary, pre-literary, popular and anonymous forms of speech and writing already goes some way towards dissolving the link between film and literature [...]”. Nosferatu’s very first title card gauges this dissolving, depersonalising effect:

The original German print title coyly includes “von” to indicate that the three crosses are a symbol stand-in for an unnamed author. The subsequent translated English title-card suppressed the “by” – making the title page an authorless “report” just like all the other authorless printed document inserts that figure in Murnau’s film story (the Of Vampyres, Terrible Phantoms and the Seven Deadly Sins legend-book Hutter finds by his bedside at the Carpathian Inn, and Ellen later reads; the official announcement broadside about plague outbreak that Knock pinches from the pocket of his asylum guard; the cargo contents Bill of Lading read by the port inspectors who examine Nosferatu’s six coffins to be loaded aboard the “deathship” schooner “Empusa”). To the extent that a signature by the Wisborgian historian would have constituted a writerly gesture of ownership harking back to the old Graphosphere’s convention of authored books (i.e., the appearance on book covers and title pages of the author’s name, like the Artist’s signature on paintings and sculpture bases), the substitution of the three crosses can stand for the symbolic replacement of literary identity with the photogrammic anonymity of the new non-linguistic story format.5

Beyond the literary realm, many of the ninety-seven or so printed cards interpolated throughout Nosferatu “transcribe” dialogue (Hutter: “Quickly, my dinner. I’m on the way to Orlok’s castle!”; Innkeeper: “You can’t go any further tonight! The werewolf is roaming the forests”). Many others narrate events in third person (e.g. “Thus Hutter entrusted his anxious wife to the care of his friends the wealthy ship owner Harding and his sister”). Moreover, the narrator actually refers to his own familiarity with characters and later off-scene events: “As soon as Hutter crossed the bridge he was seized by the eerie visions he so often told me of”; “the doctor described Ellen’s anxiety to me as some sort of unknown illness. But I know that on that night her soul heard the call of the deathbird [...] Nosferatu was already spreading his wings”; “Professor Bulwer, a Paracelsian, who was investigating the secrets of nature and its unifying principles, told me about it”; “I have wondered for a long time why it was that Nosferatu took his coffins with him filled with dirt. I have surmised that vampires can only draw their shadowy strength from the cursed earth in which they were buried”.

Interestingly, in the second French version (1926 or 1927) preserved by Henri Langlois of the Cinémathèque Française many of the original’s intertitles were altered when translated into French. Among the significant changes, the opening first title “page” specifically ascribed the “diary” of the original’s anonymous narrator to a Johann Cavallius, identified as an “ancien magistrat et habile historien de sa ville natale” (Patalas 2002) where the original placed those three graveyard crosses in lieu of a signature. This positivist building-up of an authenticating profile for the author harked back to novelistic conventions, and Patalas concludes that the crosses were “obviously too irrational for whoever put together the French version” (ibid.). This may well illustrate that the exact degree of literary traits in the silent picture era was in a state of creative flux, and that a natural reaction to the new medium’s shaky epistemic status as visual truth-telling was to plug into the more reassuring and long-established “realism” of journalism.

Patalas (2002) comments: “We [...] discovered that writing in the film had originally had a far greater importance than the French version and its descendants suggested” – and cites numerous creative intertitling in Weimar films from Wiene (Caligari, 1913, Germany), Boese and Wegener (Der Golem, 1920, Germany) and Fritz Lang (in his silents before M, eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder [1931, Germany]) in which writing becomes a kind of expressive continuation, or prosthetic, of the designed film sets themselves. Thus the inter-operability of graphic words and expressive pictures, of the seen and the communicated, in all these imaginative pre-talkie artifacts, demonstrates that, far from being mutually exclusive, factual chronicle, signifying picture, and characterisation all “act” together in the new story-temporality of camera/screen kinesis.

Far from driving a wedge between text and image, Nosferatu synthesised them into a new immediacy of creative act and form. By the film’s end, and its final title card’s message, “and the truth bore witness to the miracle: at that very moment the Great Death came to an end, and the shadow of the deathbird was gone [...] as if obliterated by triumphant rays of the living sun,” one cannot be sure that the audience would have been able to discern or even care whether the print narrative enframes the photo-story or vice versa. Do the two compete? Or collaborate? It is the (constructed) chronicler, after all, who “presents” the figural allusive deathbird “image” (a holdover from literature’s metaphorical-rhetorical prowess). No Stokerian bats have made any explicit appearance on screen, but rather a brief reference by Hutter to a “mosquito” when he is writing his letter to Ellen. Still, without the affective, beheld sequence of the vampire’s fading out and leaving a puff of smoke, this discursive deathbird reference would have seemed wan and insubstantial. Daylight liquidates monster and metaphor in one stroke. The moving picture show has literalised (materialised) figuration even as the summary verbal account (Aufzeichnung) has, nominally, committed to chronicling only “the Great Plague in Wisborg”. It is as if the universality, or even euphemism, of rule-bound language, and its conventional Romantic adoption of metaphor (“deathbird”), stand back and apart from the eloquent but unruly photo-drama of the monstrous particulars.6

And yet still language carries the day – by putting its stamp of traditional, textual, public authentication on a kind of bastardised, uncertain, experimental medium. Somewhere in between historical literature, oral folktale, pop violence, and the documentary recording of actors, locations, mixed with special effects – is this freakish movie monster born.

The other de-personalising makeover of the written or printed word by film, amply exploited in Nosferatu, was its material thing-ification and integration into the story’s action. Written or printed materials co-participated as plot-driving, or plot-turning, props. True, dramatic theatre had used the device of a letter’s arrival and reading (silently or out loud) for centuries. But silent pictures were also able to show the actual “face” of the page or pages themselves cited or reacted to or held by characters. The printed page from the Of Vampyres book Hutter and Ellen both discover and read for example, when projected into the frame, bears an illustrated evil eye at the top (Fig. 1). Just as this magnified graphic element thus turns into the equivalent of an acting “face”, so too do the faces of the characters who read or write words register expressions in response to them. The way an actor handles a letter or book, then, becomes an extension of their gestures – as with jubilantly mad Knock poring over the parchment marked with symbols.

As a theatrical scene, this “blown-up” role for graphic materials, would not have crossed the footlights if only because of the real, physical distance between actor and audience. Such illustrations from Nosferatu, therefore, raise the complex question of multiple points of overlap, as well as division of labour and rivalry, between the “page versus the stage” aspects of film performance, and its early silent medium. Some of the dynamics of their respective roles emerge if we jump ahead to the subsequent development of film and use it as a retrospective lens back onto Weimar’s silent era.

Still from Nosferatu: The book page of Von Vampyren. Source: The Internet Archive.


Erwin Panofsky, surveying film innovation in the early thirties, recalled the pre-1928 film experience as never wholly mute:

The old-time pianist [...] his eyes glued to the screen [...] would accompany the events with music adapted to their mood and rhythm, [...] the weird and spectral feeling overtaking us when this pianist left his post for a few minutes and the film was allowed to run by itself, the darkness haunted by the monstrous rattle of the machinery. (1947: 59)7

Panofsky’s wording reveals that it was the utter mechanism behind “events” onscreen, “running by itself”, which seemed haunting. Not the ghost in the machine but the machine in the ghost. Musical accompaniment makes film analogous to that most elegant art of scored gesturing, ballet, says Panofsky, “in that its acoustic component is not detachable from the visual”. Yet the sound picture “talkie” likened film to “the stage play, in that its acoustic component consists of intelligible words”. Live theatre, with its unique three-dimensionality, and relative fixity of environment, eventually came to be set even farther apart from cinema’s mobile plasticity of actuality, such that by 1945 Béla Balázs slightly exaggerated his phonocentric claim about theatre that

a play is only dialogue and nothing else; it is dialogue spoken, as it were, in a vacuum. [...] But in the film visible and audible things are projected onto the same plane as the human characters and in that pictorial composition common to them all they are equivalent participants in its action. (Balázs 1977: 217)

Balázs’ latter point here was anticipated by Panofsky: “In a film, that which we hear remains, for good or worse, inextricably fused with that which we see; the sound, articulate or not, cannot express any more than is expressed, at the same time, by visible movement [...].” (1947: 59)

Both theoreticians were leaning on a half-truth, forcing a contrast between media: we know, after all, how stand-alone lines of dialogue can be lifted from films and circulate independently; just as we have seen theatre of late freely borrow content from the film world and also adapt film’s pictorial dynamism (e.g., using video) on stage (especially in musicals). But the point about spoken words as co-participants in the action and movement meant that even as film evolved new opportunities and portions for the verbalised and the visual, the end product fused the two as naturally as a bodily gesture could be made either expressively in lieu of speech or as its accompaniment. Panofsky elaborated,

The play – or, as it is very properly called, the “script” – of a moving picture is subject to what might be termed the principle of coexpressibility. Empirical proof of this principle is furnished by the fact that, wherever the dialogical or monological element gains temporary prominence, there appears with the inevitability of a natural law, the “close-up”. [...] In showing us, in magnification, either the face of the speaker or the face of the listeners or both in alternation, the camera transforms the human physiognomy into a huge field of action where – given the qualification of the performers – every subtle movement of the features, almost imperceptible from a natural distance, becomes an expressive event in visible space and thereby completely integrates itself with the expressive content of the spoken word; whereas, on the stage, the spoken word makes a stronger rather than a weaker impression if we are not permitted to count the hairs in Romeo’s mustache. (1947: 59-60; emphasis in the original)

Reading this principle of adaptive co-expressibility of filmic elements backward, from when sound had just recently been brought within the frame, leads to the silent film Murnau directed after Nosferatu.

In 1924’s Der letzte Mann / The Last Laugh (Germany) Murnau would make a silent film entirely out of co-expressible gestures. He would re-naturalise gesture where his vampire film had de-naturalised it as monstrously freakish when socially out of place. Der letzte Mann’s camera and frame treatment needed no narrative titling. Everyday life’s motions and the movements of the human body did not rise to the level of an event a narrator might otherwise be called in (i.e., the title card’s print surrogacy for a narrator) to situate historically in time and place. “The camera is the director’s sketching pencil,” Murnau himself would later insist, “it should be as mobile as possible to catch every passing mood” (Murnau 1928: 68). Nature’s and the camera’s movements chronicle themselves. The very sunrise light of a cyclical day on earth which had destroyed Count Orlok became the setting for “low” generic, comedic actions synchronised to that day’s rhythms. Emil Janning’s flamboyantly bushy-bearded, habit-cultivating doorman comes alive with the day. He is lower-key, and soon for good reason despondent, in the same recurrent twilight and night that animated the Count. (Murnau had used color tinting to suggest the dark, technically unable to film in it.) The revolving entrance door of the “Atlantic” hotel – its name perhaps the film’s sole identifying word in letters displayed – functionally symbolises daily cyclicity. The rounds of the doorman, whose public purpose is to be the face and figurehead of entrance and departure, intersect almost balletically with the rounds of the hotel guests and staff. When the working body’s gestures consist of formal salutes, hat-doffing/tipping, cab-summoning, well-wishing, making small-talk, they all but disappear into their repetitive, unconscious performance – an adjunct of the very values and rituals of politesse of the society, not unlike those codified gestures of veneration prescribed by medieval religion. (The film combines the ornamental doorman with the hotel porter of valises, as its plot requires his visible declining strength handling luggage as reason for his demotion to washroom attendant.)

While the exotic on-location landscape in Nosferatu and complex travels through it demanded title- and dialogue-cards’ clarifying information, hotel lobby and door served Murnau as a “universal” theatrical fixed set, even though surrounded by swirling cinematic motions such as the frenetic circulation of pedestrians and urban traffic. Karl Freund’s camera is almost worshipful as it keeps filming while shadowing night glides along the courtyard of the doorman’s modest block of flats, or Hausfrau-gossips recurrently beat their rugs on the stairway banister. He makes the humble gesture of honouring the clockwork regularities of life. All these repetitive actions, along with the plot’s “events” (the doorman coming to terms with aging and demotion; daily ablutions and beard-primping; marriage; eating) so perfectly absorb into the recognisable (if distinctly German) gestures of lower-comedic life that it seems fitting that scenarist Carl Mayer had planned Der letzte Mann as the middle “panel” of a “medieval” triptych: Lupu Pick’s films Scherben / Shattered (1921, Germany) and Sylvester. Tragödie einer Nacht / New Year’s Eve (1924) were to be its flanking “leaves”.

Lotte H. Eisner observes how “the absence of titles gives rise to a succession of shots in which the action progresses by purely visual means” (1973: 206). And how, in turn, all of the story’s inorganic objects, however symbolic, participate in the action – most symbolically of all, the doorman’s gold-braided, double-breasted uniform. The livery is central to the doorman’s self-esteem and niche in social and familial life, intimated by all of his habits, actions and body-attitudes. Its possession and loss define standing itself: deprived of it, he slouches. As do the gestural tics and dejected attitudes that abruptly take hold when he faces demotion’s new menial tasks in the lavatory. Body becomes state of mind: his head leans dejectedly when he painfully returns the borrowed uniform; he collapses in the manager’s office, after receiving the letter demoting him; slumps and slows eating his soup in the washroom; crouches and hunches over when evading the night watchman to retrieve the source of all outward respect he puts on for his daughter’s wedding. Generosity is associated with wearing prosperous costume, as when he stops urchins from abusing their playmate on the way to work, or lavishes a dinner, money and tips on the new attendant in Der letzte Mann – a utopian alternate happy ending, well-dressed from the shaky plot device of a lucky inheritance.

As Eisner makes abundantly clear, it is not only the actor’s genius (Emil Jannings), proudly smoothing his moustaches and the like, but the versatile movements of Karl Freund’s camera, in near-view shots co-expressively capturing his states of mind, that carry forward the narrative as smoothly as paragraphs in a short story. When a wedding musician blows the horn we gape into its bell and draw back in recoil with the camera. When the neighbour-gossips bruit word of the old man’s demotion, across the courtyard, the close-up of a receiving ear adds to a montage of shame. And in the most famously distorting sequence of his drunkenness at the wedding party, the room spins and guests’ faces jumble and blur in montage. The unchained camera organises, vocabularises, conventionalises a new dynamism for its audience, much as the old doorman is energised ushering guests on their way. The externals of its kinetic technique are in the service of a deeper psychological communicativity, in which critics have seen both irony and sentimentality, even a Chaplinesque pathos. And in fact, well before Panofsky anatomised the “speaking” close-up in the post-1928 talkie, Murnau/Freund refined it here in lieu of, but as a kinetic counterpart to, vibratory audibilia.

A caveat here, however, may be needed. It is hardly the final say in the matter when film scholarship singles out “canonical” problem-solving such as the close-up, or the naturalness of Jannings’ gestural movements (and unnaturalness of Max Schreck’s), within Murnau’s films. The internal or formalist history of a genre or of acting is not the same as the history of its embedding in culture. And when one approaches the former history vis-à-vis what can be reconstructed of the latter history, discontinuities due to historical change come to light. Robert Gottlieb’s conclusion about Sarah Bernhardt’s career span of sixty years, e.g., makes it clear

that she was a different actor at different times in her career, rather than one who simply improved or deteriorated. One of the ironies of her life is that at the start she is seen as the exemplar of a new realism in acting in contrast to the stylizations of Rachel, while thirty-five years later, she is disparaged as representing the stylized acting of the past, and [Eleonora] Duse [an Italian stage actress who eschewed all make-up] is the exemplar of a new realism. (Gottlieb 2010: 188; emphasis in the original)

Refracted through its particular historical moments, silent cinema’s gesturing is hard to place definitively as melodramatic and exaggerated. Appraising Robert Weine’s female vampire in Genuine, die Tragödie eines seltsamen Hauses / Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire (1920, Germany) (which was much more typically early-Expressionist, with its angular, oblique artificial backdrops), Eisner found that “the body-wriggling of Fern Andra – a pretty woman but a mediocre actress – would be more appropriate on the stage of a music hall” (1973: 27). Documentary evidence from both American and Russia may lend credence to Roberta E. Pearson’s bifurcation of screen body language of the era between scenery-chewing melodrama and acting within a more restrained radius.

By looking at the quality of the gestures in the early [Griffith] Biographs we can conceive of a range of options between what I shall term the checked and unchecked histrionic codes, the latter more closely resembling conventional, stereotyped notions of melodramatic acting. In the unchecked [...] gestures are quickly performed, heavily stressed, and fully extended, the arms being held upward, downward or outward from the body. Often these gestures are repeated, either immediately or a little later in a series. Slower, less stressed, and less extended gestures, the arms remaining close to the body, characterize the checked histrionic code. (Pearson 1992: 27)

At least in Moscow, circa 1913, an exaggerated style may even already have peaked. Some audiences were so aware of vulgarised screen-acting conventionality that in 1911 at the theatre Krivoe zerkalo (The Crooked Mirror) “Nikolai Yevreinov and Aleksandr Kugel included a ‘cinematic’ version of Government Inspector among ironic sketches showing five different ways Gogol’s celebrated comedy might look as staged by fashionable directors. [...] The famous epistle informing the Town Council of the inspector’s arrival was shown as a huge ‘letter insert’ covering the whole stage” (Tsivian 1986: 195-6). Since the so-called “theater of miniature” (“teatr malykh form”) was staged with cabaret variety acts borrowing from American and other shorter-form repeated routines, with bedroom farces, operetta highlights, monologues, songs, sketches, and scenes from Grand Guignol, film was competing with robust live vaudeville – even as live actors stepped up to keep people amused between reels. (“Songs, playlets, ballet scenes, sceances of hypnotism [...] flourished in film palaces” [ibid.: 198]) The specialised feature-length film, debuting in 1913, forced out live performances even while cross-pollinating with them, just as Nosferatu assimilated live theatre’s horror tropes: Grand Guignol fright, trances, etc., as if authenticated by eye-witnesses. The Moscow, St. Petersburg and German picture palaces also showed shorter scenic travelogue and didactic science pictures (Curtis 2015) – incorporated as well into Nosferatu sequences, e.g., the ghostly polyp seen under Dr. Bulwer’s microscope.

Ciné-kinesis: films and gestural motion in nature and human behaviour

A distinct pattern, or polarity, emerges from all of these fertile interactions: between live theatre and reproducible picture show; context and reflection (stylised or distorting); culture and nature; music and pictures; mimicry and mechanism; the monstrous and the mundane, the grotesque and the respectable, mass-entertainment and high art. That pattern is the theme of mimetic doubling. Both silent film technique and story content bear its traces.

Film exhibiting was the double of variety music-hall, and of its accompanying musical score. Der letzte Mann’s double was his respectable, larger-than-life self in uniform. Count Orlok’s doubles range from Knock, to Hutter, to Ellen, to his own dark shadow, preceding him on the stairway (in the same way the doorman’s shadow precedes him in one sequence). Even the photo-film devices within Nosferatu double and mutually influence each other. We have already seen Nosferatu’s “jump cut” synchrony between title/intertitle cards and dramatic action. Content on the cards “rubs off” onto the juxtaposed sequences in more poetic, less “narrational” ways. E.g., after Dr. Bulwer has contemplated the ghostly polyp with tentacles under his microscope, his text card transcribes his remark, “little more than a phantom”, and in the next shot he raises his prodding stick to emphasise the point with his surrounding medical students. This gesture of an inanimate object of course replicates the eerie sitting-up gesture of the reclining phantom vampire in the scene below deck on the “Empusa”. This spooky action of mutual influence also works from scene back to title: just after the shot of Bulwer’s carnivorous Venus fly-trap closing on the fly, the title card qualifies “As the predator Nosferatu approached, it seems that the estate agent, Knock, had already begun to fall under his spell”. As far as the doubling effects of unusual shot sequences by themselves, even an attempt at adopting an unusual angle on the monster ends up doubling or pairing the viewer with a point of view proper to catatonic vampires: the Count is beheld upwards, looming foreshortened, the sail’s ropes behind him, from deep below the hold of the ship – precisely the undead’s perspective awakening in a coffin. Murnau’s frequent use of the iris-out to transition between scenes, melds a glimpse through a keyhole with the eyelids shutting in sleep or death. Moreover, movement itself in Nosferatu takes two paired, if unusually divergent, courses (Fig. 2).

Stills from F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, nautical sequence (00:52:03). Three “screen-shot” frames show the ship sailing out of the frame while the continuing shot (having to be filmed from a boat on open water) approaches and veers to the right, as if avoiding a collision. Eisner wrote, “Murnau could [...] enhance the effect of a transversal movement by spreading it over the whole screen: for instance, the dark phantom vessel speeding with all sail set over a surging sea [...]” (1973:104).

The creative powers first unleashed by silent cinema and by its almost diabolic penchant for doubling resist anyone’s taking their full measure. They inflected modern psychology, culture, literature, philosophy, semiotics. To follow up my earlier assertion, film’s transformation of segmentation into temporal flow and sequence became nothing less than modernism’s own “poetry”. When the film is shown, Lotman contends, the frames “flow together in the same manner as metrical feet flow together into words during poetry reading (feet – metrical verse units – do not exist as perceptible units for the average audience). For the viewer it is a succession of pieces of depiction which, despite some changes within the shot, are seen as integrated” (1976: 24). Lotman identified film’s aesthetically functional unit of meaning as the shot.

The shot is not a static concept, it is not a motionless picture joined to the succeeding, also motionless shot. Therefore we cannot equate it with an individual photograph or frame on a film. The shot is a dynamic phenomenon, it permits movement, sometimes a good deal of it, within its boundaries (ibid.: 26).8

Pearson (1992: 23), quoting Eco (1979: 231), makes exactly the same anti-atomistic point about gesture:

A gesture is not a word or a syllable but a whole phrase which cannot be further broken down. There seems to be no gestural equivalents to what linguists call phonemes and morphemes. Umberto Eco labels this phenomenon a “super sign”, defining it as a sign “whose content is not a content-unit but an entire proposition; this phenomenon does not occur in verbal language but it does in many other semiotic systems”.

The resemblance of gestures to phrases or even whole sentences rather than words normally precludes a gestural dictionary, since there are an infinite number of possible gestures. This distinguishes both cinema and gesture from natural language systems.

The powerful influence of a medium whose molten core is movement, however, poses new problems of an ethical and social nature, if only because human life, behaviour, social being, and thought can hardly be reduced to movement. Giorgio Agamben has pointed to Deleuze erasing “the fallacious psychological distinction between images as psychic reality and movement as physical reality.” (2000: 55) And the impatience with plodding theatre, registered by Sigmund Freud’s collaborator Lou Andréas-Salomé in her notebooks In der Schule bei Freud: Tagebuch eines Jahres 1912/1913, versus the kinetic shortcuts and energising of the new medium, has its psychical risks:

Only film technology permits the rapid sequence of images that roughly corresponds to our own imaginative faculty and in some measure imitates its jerky unpredictability [Sprunghaftigkeit]. Part of the fatigue to which we finally fall prey while watching theatrical works of art results not from the noble effort of aesthetic enjoyment, but rather from the exertion in adapting to the plodding, affected movement of life on stage. Spared this effort in the cinema, one is free to devote a considerably more uninhibited commitment to the illusion. (Cit. in Curtis 2015: 209)

Andréas-Salomé was simply acknowledging film’s supra-theatrical power to elide and compress its representations of actions, as no medium had ever done so effectively. Editing, varied camera speeds (Orlok’s carriage arrives at faster pace to pick up Hutter on the footpath), walking through walls, stop-motion photography (a ship’s canvas moves aside, the hatch raising itself) – all these effects re-created and abbreviated movement on the screen “supernaturally”.

Cinematic illusion’s recreative doublings of movement and reality – by popularly eroding the fixed distance between stage acting and the individual mind, which drama saw as its duty to edify or socialise – collapsed the space and the nomos that had stabilised roles for personality.

We know much better what our attitude should be toward characters in fiction and drama. Unlike these forms, films emphasize acting and character, often at the expense of forms and language. Films add what is impossible in the group situation of the stage or the omniscient world of the novel: a sense of the mystery inside character, the strong core of connection with the face and body the audience comes to know so well, the sense of an individuality that can never be totally expressed in words or action. The stage cannot have this effect because the audience is constantly aware of the actor’s impersonation. Character in film generally is more like character as we perceive it everyday than it is in any other representational art. The heightened style of silent film acting could be considered an extension of stage acting, but the more personal style allowed by sound film paradoxically both increased the appeal of films and lowered their intellectual status. [...] Films can be less didactic about character because the film frame is less confining than the fictional narrative or the the theatrical proscenium. [...] The line between film actor and part is much more difficult to draw than that between stage actor and role, and the social dimension of “role” contrasts [...] with the personal dimension of “part”. Film acting is less impersonation than personation, part of personality but not identifiable with it. (Braudy 2004: 420-1)

In Nosferatu, the lettered and socialised title-card narrator recedes and metamorphoses as if in direct proportion to the memorably odd, iconic apparition-personation of Orlok by Max Schreck. In Der letzte Mann is not the Doorman symbolic of the costumed role an audience could stably identify on a stage, so that Jannings can flesh out such a personal performance only through the removal of the old man’s traditional social impersonation. The idiom of film these and other silents developed was premised on its non-reducibility to public or declamatory language in the older, distancing and rhetorical mode. Film’s intimate personations and photogrammic gestures of the movement-image and movement-psychology – in which the kinetically expressive inorganic can connote with a forcefulness and fancifulness comparable to (even exceeding) the merely speaking and acting human agents of movement, in a circumscribed social situation – open more possibilities for interpretation, more questions, than they can possibly answer on their own terms.

In neither of our Murnau films is there a clear ethical line to put a number of criticisms to rest. Is Nosferatu evil? Animalistic? Or perhaps simply addict-like, in his outlandish need for the blood that is the life and for its convenient embodiment in the “heroine”-victim Ellen Hutter ? Does evil really inhabit the natural world? Why is the polyp a phantom? And the Doorman: is he a victim of the corporate order? Is he foppish and vain – transparently, peacockishly ridiculous, for identifying so completely with the gentility of his “proscenium” the “Atlantic” Hotel? Egocentric, or superego-centric – those around him reduced to mere reflections of his own standing or lack thereof? Is even his happy-ending magnanimity too pat, oscillating between a sentimentalism that projects his own earlier fate onto hapless recipients of his gifts, on one hand, and, on the other, a screenwriter’s Weimar-era wish-fulfillment for class barriers as naught? As film bred so many permutations of gestural attitude toward nature, life, society, and one’s immediate fellow beings – with the post-1928 synchronised tract lending sounds and dialogue to camera shots and editorial co-expressibility – Braudy’s very notion of “attitude” in the passage cited above took on trans-human, parapsychological layers of meaning. When cinematics’ and actors’ powers of doubling and co-expressibility were so exponential, and the illusion of immersion in their time-sequence so displacing, what was to stop their co-participating human audience from thinking and acting “doubly” as well, in extra-cinematic contexts?

An etymology for “mediate” suggests an act quite opposite to this transitive verb’s primary meaning. Marked with a cross indicating obsolescence, the Oxford English Dictionary’s first entry for “mediate” gives “To divide into two equal parts”. An archaic usage from 1542 in English records “If you wold [would] mediate or diuide [divide] into 2, this sum” along with a specialised reference to an architectural diameter “mediating” an arch (OES 1971: 1758). Now, who can say whether a divisive karate-chop gesture of some sort might have accompanied uttering a term that today, more positively, signifies interposing, intervening, moderating or acting as mediator between two sides? But, to the degree that modern mobile media are dually-cinematically gestural, how might they thus double by dividing – when it comes to both the natural world and the representations of culture?

Though supernatural, Orlok belongs also to creatures of nature – beings that create their own environment and space in a way that extends the Darwinian ecosphere toward the “expressive” creative powers of evolution adaptation; and not just evolution’s natural selections and phenotypes but its prodigies. Here Steve Choe (2016: 95) mentions cinema’s powers to borrow from, but also re-define, life (and death) itself on its own terms, citing Arnold Zweig’s 1922 Theses on the Theoretical Foundations of Film: “The attraction that radiates from objects in film is that of seeing something inanimate become animated. Film is based entirely upon the free unfolding of the living.” Since forms of life remain relational, we glimpse in silent pictures a crossing of both Heisenberg’s physical Nature9 and Darwin’s organic and animal-human Nature. The science of kinesis – which names the motion of a biological organism or living part of one in response to a stimulus (such as light for a cell or plant) – thus intersects, through film, with the more mechanistic science of kinematics, the “science of pure motion as it occurs in machines, emerg[ing] as a specialist branch of mechanical engineering towards the end of the 1870s” (Nead 2007: 18). As film technology historians have illustrated, there was a kinematics of both the photographic and film camera itself (Rossell 1998), and, to the degree that Kittler and Deleuze (via Bergson) are right, of the empirical human senses and motor reflexes themselves – “automated” or made “stock-responsive”. As Anna Powell extrapolates from Deleuze, it may well be the case that

Kinetic art acts on us, and in us, as a form of possession that displaces our egoic selves. [...] External images transmit movement and the human living image modifies its own movements in response. We are images, so it is mistaken to locate images in the consciousness. (2005: 111f.; emphasis in the original)

From such observations, consider a new approach to cinematic movement we can call ciné-kinesis. The coinage itself is a doubling: movement in film plus natural movement of bodies in space.

In the same way Nosferatu’s and the other silents’ gestural kinetics opened new vistas onto human motions and emotions (including “supernatural” ones), so quantum mechanics posited a new field in which observation was “subjective” at microscopic (electronic) levels. Quantum “objects” only become actual when observed, just like film’s objects. In the quantum two-slits experiment, the essence of light is dual. It hesitates between particle and wave. So too the essence of filmic imagery was to be material and filmable in time and space, yet de-materialised on screen. It recorded photographically, yet propagated a greater whole or field. Even the “event” was doubled by film: the event of actions that took place when filmed, and the event of the artistic “field” of influence of screened, reproduced life emanating from the movie palace. The experiment of the physicists and the experiment of the filmmakers forced light to make a dual gesture with new meanings for modern interpretation. The particle’s position was identifiable in traditional, isomorphic space-time, but not its momentum. Only as a probabilistic wave function can the latter be calculated, but never along with the precise location in micro-time and micro-space of the photon.10

We detect an unstated affinity between cinematic motion and quantum photons’ spookiness and synchronicity – in the way Nosferatu can “be” (appear) in two places at once – a “tele-presence” to which his double, Knock, and of course Ellen are (tragically) attuned (Fig. 3).