Iconic Spotlight : Nosferatu the Vampyre, by Eva Sereny

Nosferatu the Vampyre

Nosferatu the Vampyre, acclaimed director Werner Herzog’s inspired 1979 remake, is well known for the startling makeup used on the lead actor as well as for its chilling beauty. The noted critic Roger Ebert wrote: “look here at his control of the colour palette. . . if ‘vampires’ were real, here is how they must look.” The fascinating vampire film brought me to the delightful small Dutch City of Delft. Little did the inhabitants imagine how their lives could be changed by a film director. When I arrived, the film was more or less halfway into its shooting schedule. I was introduced to a charming Werner Herzog whose first words were, “Come along, Eva, and I’ll show you something very interesting.” After a ten-minute walk from the city hall square we reached an opening which resembled a flower and plant nursery. In the background was a huge greenhouse-type building. Before entering it, Herzog warned me proudly that what I was about to see would be a big surprise. I could have kicked myself. I didn’t have a camera on me, having literally only just arrived. Werner held the glass door open for me. I looked around aghast! On the concrete floor there were hundreds of open wooden boxes, like apple boxes filled with thousands of little mice! The stench was unbelievable. I rushed out the door – went around the corner and threw up. He was going to let them free in the city hall square for one of the important scenes of the film. However, the City of Delft forbade it and only permitted the use of a few fenced-off square feet. I knew Klaus Kinski from a previous photo session when he came to Avoriaz in the French Alps during a horror film festival. I took pictures of him in my small mountain pad. He was very obliging and a joy to work with. His acting in Nosferatu was outstanding. Werner and Kinski got on very well together. They were really two of a kind. They lived in their trailers and washed their laundry in a Delft fountain. The lead actress Isabelle Adjani was someone I worked with quite frequently on photo sessions and on the set. She is considered one of the top actresses in France, having won many accolades.

I was a “special photographer” and not a unit photographer and was thus obliged to gain the approval of my images from the actors in question. If an actor didn’t like the shots they could “kill” them. Very appropriately put, as they could punch a hole in the middle of the negative or the colour transparency. I do remember Isabelle being extremely aware of her looks. On a later film, Possession directed by Żulawski, she sent me back an envelope with 60 percent of my images “killed”. I was very upset. However strange as it may seem we had a good working relationship. After the above incident I had a studio shoot with her which worked out magnificently with covers on Paris Match, Elle and Epoca.

Extract taken from “Through Her Lens” by Eva Sereny, available at the Iconic Images Store.

See more from Eva Sereny’s remarkable archive here.

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