Anticipating Orson Welles's artistic freedom on Citizen Kane (1941), German expressionist director FW Murnau was given carte blanche following the huge American success of The Last Laugh (1924). The result was this poetic fable making inventive use of every technical device then available, including in-camera multiple exposures and superimpositions, long elegant tracking shots, forced perspectives, complex miniatures and synchronised sound, as well as the largest single-street-scene set ever built. The result is a film that influenced everything from Hitchcock suspense to Titanic (1997) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Murnau summons powerful performances from his principal players--Gaynor would later headline A Star Is Born (1937) and O'Brien would take important roles in several classic John Ford westerns--while the transcendent finale evokes and reworks the ending of the director's earlier classic, Nosferatu (1922). Though now inevitably dated Sunrise remains essential for anyone seriously interested in the development of cinematic art.
On the DVD:Sunrise is presented on an immaculately produced two-disc special edition. Though restored to full length and presented in the original 1.2:1 ratio with the complete music and effects soundtrack, the film has been taken from a print made in 1936, the original camera negative having been destroyed in a fire. As a result this is the best possible modern presentation of Sunrise, though the print, while perfectly acceptable, is very grainy, lined and flickery by contemporary standards. The mono sound has been superbly restored and is remarkably effective for its vintage; an alternative stereo musical track recorded for recent reissue sounds excellent. The film also boasts a commentary by John Bailey: apart from talking a little too much about how beautiful the lighting is, Bailey offers seriously in-depth knowledge about the film and about Murnau that really puts everything into historical context and explains the constant technical ingenuity.
The second disc presents the useful A Song of Two Humans, a 12-minute visual essay by film historian R Dixon Smith, and almost 10 minutes of outtakes with optional commentary by John Bailey, as well as a trailer, stills gallery and notes explaining the nature of the restoration. There is also an excellent 40-minute documentary Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film, telling the story of the director's lost follow up to Sunrise. Microsoft Word and PDF files available via DVD-ROM present various incarnations of the screenplays for both Sunrise and 4 Devils. --Gary S. Dalkin