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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars probably the greatest film of silent era,
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Song of Two Humans,
In many ways, Sunrise is the last great masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. The cast and the studio may have been American, but those behind the camera were almost exclusively German (cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, who many years later would delve deeper into film noir with Detour, was one of the assistant art directors), having a notable effect on the look and feel of the film. There is little in contemporary American cinema to compare with it save King Vidor's less experimental but emotionally similar The Crowd.
At the time, Murnau was the hottest of the German Expressionist filmmakers, due to the international success of Nosferatu and, in particular, The Last Laugh. He was eventually wooed to Hollywood by William Fox, who put all the resources of his studio at his disposal. Surrounding himself with his favourite collaborators, most notably cinematographer Karl Struss and screenwriter Carl Mayer, he built massive sets and constantly reshot scenes in his quest for perfection. Expectations were high, and were bound to be disappointed.
Many felt the story, based on Herman Sudermann's novel The Journey to Tilsit, too slight: a farmer (George O'Brien) is persuaded by a woman from the city to drown his wife and run off to the city with her, but finds himself unable to do it and falls back in love with his wife (Janet Gaynor), only for her to fall overboard in a storm. Indeed, it has often been argued - especially by some the films admirers - that the plot is merely an excuse for Murnau's visual experimentation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Both characters and narrative have an unpatronising simplicity that is completely involving. Set against the contrasting worlds of the country and the city, the design is striking only in that the film is almost entirely studio shot: both the city and the funfair were in fact false forced perspective sets, as was the swamp. There is certainly a real sense of a world existing beyond the requirements of the plot, but Murnau uses them to ensure his total control of all the elements and does not linger on them unduly, keeping the focus firmly on the characters throughout, never giving in to spectacle purely for spectacle's sake.
Murnau's use of the camera is truly remarkable, with a look and composition that remains unique to this day, but his visual approach is in the service of the emotions, building a cumulative effect that has few parallels. The husband's shadow appearing at the window to signal to his mistress or the camera following the woman's footprints in the mud, even the shadows of the trees against the white farmhouse wall in daylight create an oppressive atmosphere in the first third that adds to the joy and despair that follow. Yet, where one of the key criticisms of the expressionists has always been their relentless pessimism, Murnau belies this with the sheer fun of the central city sequence. There's a lot of humour in the film, be it George O'Brien chasing a drunken piglet in a ballroom, Arthur Housman's lech putting moves on Gaynor in the barbershop or Eddie Boland repeatedly rearranging the strap's of a woman's dress.
As what was intended as a murder becomes a second honeymoon, the film does not give in to cheap sentiment but instead has a real feeling for the everyday, simple pleasures. When the couple respond to the barbershop manager's entreaty to 'Come again soon' by inviting him to visit them someday, the film does not condescend to either party. He takes it as much of a compliment as they intended it. Indeed, considering its early appearance as a motive for murder, everyone they meet in the city is remarkably benign as if the city were bringing them back together to make a liar of the woman of the city and her motives.
The film is filled with ambitious visual effects: images of a bright shining city of light and motion are conjured up out of a swamp in stark contrast to the funereal atmosphere of his farm; a ghostly image of the woman is superimposed over the tormented farmer as he makes up his mind to kill his wife; and when crossing a city street with his wife, it fades away to reveal an idyllic countryside that is only shattered when they realise that their passionate embrace is literally stopping the traffic. Yet the most powerful effects are the emotional ones.
The primary problem with any romance has always been the language. How to convey the growing closeness between two people which transcends the limitations of the dialogue? Murnau simply dispenses with it altogether and just gives us pure, undiluted emotions in action.
There are surprisingly few titles, those there are resonating throughout the film, often being repeated to bracket key shots. The film is a fundamentally visual experience. We don't need to hear or know what O'Brien and Gaynor are saying - we feel it through the way they respond to each other, the way the distance and mistrust is gradually, painfully lessened as they move back together. Even in their cathartic moments in their reconciliation - his inability to kill her and his breakdown in the church when they watch a wedding - more than just the mere essentials are expressed through body language. Their actions and reactions speak far more eloquently than any dialogue ever could.
O'Brien's performance is predominately insular for much of the film, a man withdrawn into himself both physically and mentally, his reactions veering towards (but only at the end giving way to) violence, his posture almost simian as his humanity has been sapped away. With Gaynor the transformation is one from hope to realisation, but with O'Brien it is much more dramatic, almost a complete rebirth as he rediscovers his passion for his wife and for life itself. There's a real sense of, almost childlike, joy to him in the funfair sequence that makes you understand why Gaynor held on to him so long after the bad times came.
But the film belongs to Gaynor in a stunning performance that is one of the miracles of the silent cinema, indeed is one of the most remarkable pieces of screen acting in film history. She understands how to work to the camera, but is never 'working' it. It isn't a display of technique but an embodiment of the heart, remarkably natural and unaffected but very affecting: you don't merely observe her feelings, you share them.
Witness the expectation and disappointment in her face as O'Brien ties up the dog that has followed them into the boat. Her look conveys the memories, joys and disappointments of an entire marriage in a few seconds. Or the way that while he cannot stand to look at her, avoiding all eye contact, she tries to playfully move into his line of vision, only for the smile to fade tragically from her face. Later, when they are reconciled, as she watches him in the barbershop, the way she worries what his response will be to an attractive young manicurist is a delight to watch.
At first, their performances are stylistically at odds, as with the early scene crosscutting his wife's joy at what she thinks is reconciliation with his torment over her forthcoming murder, but it's not a selfish performance on Gaynor's part. As the film progresses, she seems to be willing the life back into him, so that when she is lost in the storm there is a real feeling that it is not only her life that has been lost but his as well.
Much has been made of the almost musical construction of his films, and it is very much a symphony in three movements: the opening section on the farm, the idyllic episode in the city, and the storm sequence and it's aftermath. But, if anything, Sunrise is ultimately a journey towards the light. The narrative begins in darkness and an oppressive mood of emotional frustration and, while the director had reputedly at one time planned a darker ending, it ends with a resurrection and the birth of a new day sweeping away the shadows of the old. In most films this would seem a cliche. Here it provides a fitting end to one of the most profoundly emotional experiences in all cinema.
Eureka's DVD offers a fine selection of extras to compliment the film too - not only all the extras from Fox's Region 1 DVD (outtakes from the film, choice of alternate soundtracks, audio commentary by cin ematographer John Bailey and a documentary on Murnau's lost followup, Four Devils) but also a few new ones of its own, such as a brief documentary on Sunrise as well as DVD-ROM screenplays.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another important silent movie finds his way to DVD,
By A Customer
This review is from: Sunrise [DVD] (DVD)Eureka presents Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's maybe most important silent movie "Sunrise - A Song Of Two Humans" for the first time in Europe! What can we expect? Eureka is not going to disappoint its customers. The list of special features is long and above all very promising:
* Documentary by Film Historian R.Dixon Smith
"Sunrise" found its place in the history of silent movies next to classics like "Metropolis", "Nosferatu", "Der Golem" or "Faust". What is the story about? A young quite naive man falls in love with a cold-blooded woman who persuades him to drown his wife in order to be with her. But then something goes wrong...
This movie was the first to be awarded with three Academy Awards at the very first ceremony in 1927 and there is no question why!!! But every movie-buff should make his own opinion about this very intelligent psychological thriller that is - even yet - a shining example of how a movie should be!!!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece!,
This review is from: Sunrise [DVD] (DVD)For years I had a copy I taped off television and was delighted
when a laserdisc was produced. Now it will be even better on the
dvd format. A beautiful story subtitled "A Song of Two Humans".
Janet Gaynor won the first best actress Academy Award and 75 years
later her performance is still marvelous. The film also won
"Most Artistic Film" a category dropped after the first ceremony.
One is mesmerized with Murnau's work which was ahead of its time.
The irony of the ending is not to be forgotten. This should be
one of the best if not the best dvd reissue of 2004 and I am
greatful to Eureka for doing it. I can't wait.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars expressionist marvel,
This review is from: Sunrise [DVD] (DVD)Sunrise is a great experience which packs an emotional punch in a huge boxing glove! George O'Brien certainly looks like a prize-fighter and his physical force is partly what makes his rediscovery of love so moving, as Janet Gaynor is quite sparrow-like at his side, and the incredible return journey from the city requires all his strength. There is an irony that comes to light in the boat that is almost unbearably moving ... as is so much else. It is quite extraordinary how Murnau manages to get so much emotional voltage into some of the sequences - the wedding, for instance, or the cafe scene where he pushes a plate of sandwiches towards her. How can such a simple gesture release such a flood of emotion in the viewer? There is joy and exuberance also - the peasant dance and drunken piglet being especially delightful - and temptation, wrestling with goodness in a man's soul a bit like Jacob with the Angel. The film gives surface expression to all the pulsions of the heart, including its darkest recesses, and everything is acted out in a highly expressionistic manner. The sets also look very Germanic, somehow, as if they have come straight out of German 19th century painting, even though it was Murnau's first Hollywood film. And the music also adds greatly to the effect. It is altogether stunning!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfull edition for a wonderfull movie...,
By A Customer
This review is from: Sunrise [DVD] (DVD)I'm just getting into the movie history, the 'real' classics, the 'silents'. It's a wonderfull world to get into. These films are made with a lot of love for the movies, and you can notice.
So I bought this dvd, and it really surprised me. The cinematography is great! For example a really long dolly shot of the man walking to the lake. And the 'special effects' they use, like the double exposures... Fantastic!
Then we get to the story. The beginning is absolutely fabulous. A real psychological thriller. In the second part, they lost 10 % of my attention, the thrill was gone. But the climax is real nice.
And what about the extra's? Well. This is how every dvd ought to be. It's really full of it. Choose between the original soundtrack, or a later one (I prefer the original) and commentary (sorry, didn't hear the commentary yet, I will next week). I was really blown away by the documentary about '4 Devils'. With sketches and production photographs they tell you the story of the presumed lost film '4 devils' of Murnau. This takes 40 min. Two films for the price of one. The documentary of Dixon Smith is really nice, the outtakes really worth watching,...
If you like silents, this is a must!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful!,
Almost everything has been said about "Sunrise" in the excellent reviews below. So rather than repeat what has been said before I will simply state that I find everything exciting about this film. The story, the visual effects combined with the music, make this film so mesmerizingly beautiful that I can watch it over and over again. It never fails to lift my spirits. As mentioned by other reviewers, the DVD comes with an extraordinary amount of extras, adding to the feeling that "Sunrise" is something of a little treasure. This must be my most precious DVD box.
For all "Sunrise" fans out there who can't get enough, I bought Sunrise on Amazon France ("L'Aurore"). This version has, besides all the usual extras from the UK release, the option to watch the feature film with music by Lambchop. This special version was made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of "Sunrise", and suddenly gives the film a very modern feeling.
All in all, "Sunrise" is for me one of the best films ever and should be part of any (early) movie fan's collection. The French release is especially highly recommended: Beautiful!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Murnau classic..../ contains spoilers,
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This tells the story of a young married couple who lives in the Country as farmers. It begins with both of them being lonely and unhappy for different reasons. The young bride takes care of their son, while her husband has an affair with a woman from the city. This woman is completely different than his wife. She has red lipstick, and dark short hair, while his wife has long blonde hair and looks angelic like a virgin.
The temptress (which is the mistress) asks the young man to move with her in the city and sell his farm. He asks her what about his wife, to which she replies: "She could drown..." Alarmed, he wants to leave and is really angry. She notices and kisses him. As he kisses her, he has flashes of her wife drowning slowly, and at the same time the temptress kissing him and hugging him. This symbolises good and evil in simplistic terms.
What is really interesting is that at the time, faces had to be extremely expressive in silent black and white films, hence the fact that this era was called German Expressionism. The caption is very minimalist, but for example when the word "drowning" is taking form, it physically looks like drowning, being distorted in a slow process. This is the form of German Expressionism that Murnau used a lot in his other films under different aspects. It is interesting to note that the subtitle of the film is called: " A song of two humans". The sunrise is constantly shown in various scenes during the film to represent either happiness or sorrow of a constant monotone life.
To come back to the meaning of a song of two humans, what happened is that the husband expressionist look goes to bed that night (note that he sleeps in the same room than his wife, but not the same bed). His sleep is agitated and the next shot shows the water from the sea, and he himself, floating on it half asleep. He looks extremely deranged.
The next morning he suggests to his wife to take the rowing boat and go for a short trip. She is so excited and wears her best outfit for this rare occasion.
When they are in the middle of the sea he stands up and walks dangerously towards her...to kill her... She is so frightened as she understands his plan.
Suddenly, he changes his mind and feels so guilty. Once on shore, she runs for her life. He runs after her to apologize, but she is in extreme distress emotionally. She jumps on a train, and seems very fragile...
Little by little he will regain her trust, and they will act again like a young married couple deeply in love. There are even some funny parts in the film.
Surprisingly enough, on their way back with the same boat, there is a violent storm and she falls into the sea... The husband is in total despair...
His violent side reappears when he sees the woman from the city again.
Thankfully, he does not kill her, as some fisherman found his wife and rescued her.
The film ends well, but it is very clear that this is a very tragic and depressing film as were all of Murnau's films which I strongly recommend: Nosferatu, Faust, the Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. Even if some of them ended well for the morals, or if there were funny parts, the underlying theme was always dark, deep, and metaphorical representing surely the society and people's alienation in the late 1920s which was a time of extreme distress and poverty between the 2 World Wars.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant for its day, somewhat dulled now,
A Man, a farmer, has an affair with a Woman, who has escaped from the Town for a prolonged holiday in the Country. He is persuaded to murder his Wife, sell up and move to the City with his mistress. He takes his Wife on a boat trip - they cross the wide stretch of water which separates the Country (with its traditions and community and intimacy) from the City (fast, commercial, impersonal, morally suspect). He fails to murder her - they spend a day in the City rediscovering their love for one another but, on the trip back across the water to their Country home, a freak storm springs up and the Wife is swept away.
The acting - and Janet Gaynor as the Wife won an Oscar for Best Actress - is pure silent movies ... exaggerated, stylised, heavily made-up. There are some extraordinarily comic scenes, there is some tense drama, there are some striking images, and there is an almost child-like playfulness in the direction and photography. But is this one of the hundred greatest films of all time?
The cinematography, from a technical perspective, is exciting and innovative, and there is no doubt that this is a master at work. Murnau was a highly influential director - possibly most famous for his 'Nosferatu' and 'Faust' - and there is undoubtedly much quality in this production. But is this a great film to watch? It's entertaining, but it is highly stylised, and it can grate a little - the narrative is predictable, the story really doesn't measure up to modern sophistication. It's a moral film, it's uplifting, and it's entertaining, and if you're interested in cinema, you'll appreciate its age and its relative quality. You are not going to sit back and describe this as one of the greatest stories ever told.
The picture quality has suffered - it can be patchy in places, seems to flicker, and the scenes in darkness or near darkness would have greatly benefited from modern technologies. I wonder if it's possible to digitally enhance these without compromising the pictorial presentation? The extras provided are of interest to film buffs - the commentary on the film is definitely worth listening to.
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Sunrise [DVD] by F.W. Murnau (DVD - 2004)