The New York-based Italian artist Andrea Mastrovito has spent the past three years working on an animated adaptation of FW Murnau’s Nosferatu: Symphony of Horror, the classic German Expressionist silent film (1922) based on the Dracula story by Bram Stoker (1897), using its treatment of fear and the unknown it to look at immigration—for instance, the vampire as a symbol of the “other”—and other major socio-political issues in this millenium. In Mastrovito’s adaptation, NYsferatu: Symphony of a Century, the foolish and naïve protagonist Thomas Hutter (whose name switches during the film: Hatter, Hutter, Hunter…) heads to Syria to try and sell the former immigration gateway Ellis Island to the vampire, while his wife Ellen stays behind in New York.
About an hour long, the film includes around 35,000 individual drawings that Mastrovito made with a team of 12 artists, put together in a style that mimics the medium of early cinema, and also sticks to the appearances of the characters, old-fashioned clothing, hairstyles and all, in Murnau’s film. The myriad visual and cultural references range from Goya’s Disasters of War print series to Metallica (whose lyrics are referenced throughout; Mastrovito says he’s a big fan), and news (“Grab her by the neck!”). Those who know Murnau’s film will enjoy spotting similarities and adaptations—for instance, the “Ich liebe dich” Ellen stiches in Nosferatu has been replaced with an “I <3 NY” motif.
Mastrovito worked with recent immigrants participating in writing and film studies workshops at the Queens Museum and Turning Point Brooklyn to write some of the title cards that helped drive the storyline. He also borrowed from a real, matter-of-fact letter written by a small girl from Aleppo and used a drawing she made of her experience during the bombings for a letter Hutter sends home to Ellen. While sometimes frightening or dystopian, the film has funny moments, many of which particularly resonate with New Yorkers new and native, such as complaints about the subway.
NYsferatu is accompanied by a soundtrack written by Simone Giuliani, which skips around from jaunty piano music to Middle Eastern-inspired tunes to metal. The film, which is put on by the New York arts non-profit More Art, premiered in New York this month, and the next showing is due to be held at Brooklyn Bridge Park on 7 September, with live improvisational music by the Michael Leonhart Orchestra in the place of Giuliani’s score. Five other screenings in New York, some with special events, are planned through 26 October.