on 24 April 2013
There's a heading that will get me into trouble!
There are two versions on the Masters of Cinema release - the well known US print and a silent version (the Czech version). The US version is around 90 minutes long while the silent version is around 80. Few will disagree that the silent version has the better picture (by far) but the general view is that the familiar US print is the better and definitive version. I'm not so sure.
It is true that the Czech version uses alternate takes and sometimes has different edits, but most of what is missing is a few frames here and there, rather than entire sequences. And many of these alternate takes are actually better than those in the US version (compare the husband buying and almost forgetting to buy flowers for his wife in the silent version to the US print for example; the silent version is a better take). And some of the (very few) missing bits are better left missing - in general the more obvious and corny moments have been discarded but none of the scenes and moments of genuine feeling are absent (I am wondering if this was deliberate (that these were insertions rather than omissions), for the US market, in much the same way Fox insisted some comedy be inserted for audiences that they thought would be unhappy with the heavy and depressing opening act - at least that's what the commentary tells us). Furthermore, it is unarguable that the screen ratio is better in the silent one (the US print is narrower than normal to make way for an analogue soundtrack down the left side. Makes me wonder just which version (European) Murnau thought was the 'real' one. We may have been watching the wrong one all these years! There is no documentation to tell us one way or the other.
After watching the film a number of times over many years, I've come to the conclusion that the silent cut is the better film (even though it lacks the animated intertitles). When you've seen it (perhaps several times) see what you think...
on 6 September 2013
i had almost had a heart attack after quickly unwrapping the blu-ray only to look at the back and notice the label stating blu-ray REGION B and dvd REGION 2 ..... only to recall making sure it WAS region free using dvdbeaver as the reference ......
so i nervously checked if the dvds and the blu-ray would play on my REGION A/1 player and whew ! yes they do.
so don't worry about what this amazon.co.uk page states .... as it reflects the labelling on the blu-ray combo case. but make sure it's the THREE disc version.
what a wonderful package.
check the many wonderful reviews here for details regarding the films themselves!
on 23 September 2009
As a relatively new fan of Silent films, I had not yet seen the Murnau classic Sunrise.
I held off purchasing the DVD when I heard the news that Eureka were going to release the film on Blu-ray.
It was worth the wait.
Sunrise : A song of two humans comes in two flavours on this single blu-ray disc edition with the Movietone version and the Czech version both included. There are also several extras and a nice little booklet with some artwork and text pertaining to the restoration and other aspects of the effort to bring this seminal classic to the world once more in what certainly is the definitive release of this title.
F.W Murnau was a genius filmamker who incorporated incredible detail into all of his films. Favoured by William Fox, he was given alot of freedom to make movies as he wanted them to be. At this point in 1927, Silent films were a dying medium due to the introduction of talkies or sound films.
But one could also say that Sunrise is a good example of how far film had come after nearly 40 years of development, especially at a time when sound was set to further evolve the medium.
The plot is a simple story about love and betrayal. I won't spoil any of it.
But needless to say the performances are wonderful. Janet Gaynor puts in a bravura performance as the betrayed wife while George O' Brien plays his role as the husband with exceptional expressionism.
Though more typical of the late 20's productions, grand, vast locations are featured throughout such as in the city, at a fairground and in huge dinner dance halls filled with hundreds of people. So many people of the era are captured on film. The social history element here makes this an attractive purchase for researchers and historians.
All of the intricate details of the fashion trends, buildings and vehicles of the era are on display.
My main purpose for writing the review is to rave about the image quality.
Eureka have achieved a world's first here, this was the first silent available on blu-ray and one of the oldest films available in high definition.
I must reiterate, this is a genuine 1080p transfer of both versions of the film and the results are jaw dropping.
Never before have the 1920's been seen in such detail and clarity. It's a truly unique experience to watch this, it's like time travel.
For the first time a silent can be viewed in image quality that rates up there with very good 1960's prints and we can see this resolution at home now thanks to Blu-ray.
Shots taken at a fairground and in the cities radiate with defined lines.
The faces of the actors and people can be seen so clearly as to feel like you had seen them in person.
The studio say they have not used HD-DVNR and it shows. No softness, just beautiful black and white clarity.
Watching this 24fps AVC 1080p transfer is a treat and I will definitely put it on again and again.
If you have a blu ray player and love Cinema, buy this, you will not regret it.
Own a piece of Cinema history while also supporting this endeavour.
I hope to see many more BD releases focusing on the Silent Era.
Well done to Eureka entertainment for a fine job in getting this project together.
on 10 June 2015
This is a stunning and absolutely essential Masters of Cinema release of F. W. Murnau's iconic silent masterpiece Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). No.1 in this fine company's catalog, the film has justifiably always been high on Top 10 lists of greatest films ever made and in this incarnation the film sparkles as never before. Alas, a 1937 fire in the Fox studio vault destroyed the original negative and a new one had to be struck from a surviving print. This means everyone has been deprived of seeing the film in its full pin-sharp glory for the last 75 years. The version (actually two versions) offered here is as fine as we are ever likely to have. MoC present the film on 3 discs. The first disc has the initial release Movietone version, the 'standard' one that everyone knows. The aspect ratio is 1.20:1 and comes with the option of two soundtracks - the standard Hugo Riesenfeld compilation of Romantic classics from Liszt through Wagner to Gounod (in Mono), and a more recent highly effective score composed by Timothy Brock (in stereo). The second disc has a version found in the Czech Republic which has an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The film is cut by about ten minutes and has Czech supertitles. However, the visual quality of the print is astounding, far better than the Movietone version even if the same Mono soundtrack has been added to it. My personal preference is for the Movietone version together with the Brock default score. I wish the print could be as sharp as the Czech version, but feel a slight sacrifice in visual quality is justifiable in view of the film's apparent completeness. Murnau's fastidious visual style combining long languorous takes and exquisite painterly compositions with skillful montage and superimpositions is substantially clipped by the Czech version. The marvelous long trolley car journey into the city is an unforgivable loss as is the cutting of most of the Summertime montage at the beginning. Virtually every shot is chopped of a frame or two and the expressionistic titles which move to suggest emotion are gone. I doubt very much if Murnau would have been happy with this version. The third disc offers both versions on Blu-ray. Not having a Blu-ray player I can't comment on it, but other reviews here praise it highly.
MoC support their release with a barrage of highly interesting extras. The commentary (both on the Movietone version and on outtakes) is by John Bailey. A noted cinematographer who operated the camera for Nestor Almendros on Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (a loose reworking of Murnau's next still extant Fox picture City Girl), he has a lot to say about Charles Rosher and Karl Struss' astonishing cinematography, if not so much about Murnau's direction. Of outstanding interest though is Janet Bergstrom's excellent 40 minute updated documentary reconstruction of 4 Devils (1928). Inexplicably lost, it is said to be one of Murnau's most outstanding achievements and with a mixture of production stills and drawings Bergstrom guides us through what looks to have been a wonderful drama set in the circus world of a family trapeze act and with yet another love triangle (again involving Janet Gaynor). As well as the usual trailer there is also a decent booklet with articles which cover the film restoration, but again with no hard information on Murnau. The way William Fox plucked Murnau away from Germany by offering him absolute control over his films and the way this control was subsequently withheld as the studio tampered with every film after Sunrise, leading eventually to Murnau's flight to the South Seas to make Tabu (1931) and his eventual tragic early death in a car crash at the age of 41 makes for a fascinating story which could and should have been told here, if only to stir public interest in both City Girl and Tabu - outstanding films which barely register in the public consciousness today. No matter, I shouldn't complain. This is still a generous issue which needs to be in every film collection worthy of the name.
So what makes this film special? Most critics will point to the sheer originality of the work. Coming towards the end of the silent era, William Fox wanted something new for the American market and decided on Murnau's brand of expressionism. He didn't want another American picture. He wanted a German one which would really seize people's imaginations in a radically innovative way. Therefore though Sunrise is Murnau's first American film, in essence it is as German as Faust (1926) or Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh,1924). An adaptation of Hermann Suderman's German short story Die Reise nach Tilsit (A Trip to Tilsit) by Austrian Carl Mayer, the only Americans involved in the film apart from the Fox studio technicians were the actors, Karl Struss (of German extraction) and Fox himself. The film was shot on the Fox backlot at amazing expense with exteriors done at Lake Arrowhead, California, and yet we never feel we are in America. The city is left deliberately unnamed (as are the three central characters) and could be anywhere. Interiors (a farmhouse, a city café, a church, a barbershop, a photographer's studio, the amazing Luna Park funfair) are close to the German Weimar republic ones as shown in earlier Murnau and in Fritz Lang's German films, showing typically shadowy lighting and angled perspectives achieved by raised floors, optical illusions and even the use of midgets in crowd scenes. Exteriors (especially the buildings around the lake) look Austro-German. The influence of Austro-German Romantic painting of the 19th century (Arnold Böcklin, Casper David Friedrich, even Egon Schiele) is particularly striking as per the German expressionist remit. The Dutch masters also exert their influence as shown by numerous languorous studio shots which are Rembrandt-lit (John Bailey) exquisitely. The use of light sources is radical especially in the farmhouse scenes which depict the Man's tortured conflict. The length and the sheer sophistication of many of the camera set-ups in which the camera moves (The Woman from the City's night walk, The Man's famous swamp tramp, the trolley car ride into the city, the entrance into Luna Park, the storm) just hadn't been seen in American films before, Fox continuing the radical modernity of Der letzte Mann in particular with stunning success. That film did away with intertitles and this one could easily exist without them as well.
After the film's staggering mise-en-scène, it's worth emphasizing the amazing sensitivity of the acting - Margarite Livingston as the vampish `Woman from the City' who distracts George O'Brien's `The Man' from his wife, `The Woman' played by Janet Gaynor. Of these it is Gaynor who really lights up the screen in one of the most astonishingly touching performances ever seen in the cinema. She desperately wants her man to love her and through his attempted murder of her on the lake, the escape away on a trolley car, the blind rush into busy city traffic, the gradual rapprochement with him via a café scene, flowers and then a pivotal church scene wherein the couple renew their vows to each other, her performance is simply pitch-perfect. She makes the improbably swift transition from petrified fear to radient happiness seem so natural. Her celebrations during the central funfair sequence are never mawkish and when she returns with her man on the boat atop the moonlit lake we have a miraculous picture of Paradise Regained which feels entirely organic.
The splendid photography and wonderful acting are two things, but the key to the film's greatness really lies in its stupendous narrative structure, one of the most perfect in existence and one which is completely symmetrical. I have commented elsewhere on the amazing sophistication of Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen (1924) and here we have the same extraordinary craft, but on a human scale. The film is in three parts denoted by the settings - the country, the city and the country again. Each scene from the outer parts is refracted in its opposite number either side of the city episode with the whole film pivoting on the Luna Park funfair sequence and the ecstasy of the couple's love reignited. To make things clear I offer the following overview which should be read bottom up as well as top to bottom:
Part I: The Country - Infidelity and planned murder
(a) Prologue: Summertime montage (gradual sunset)
(b) The Woman from the City has arrived
(c) The Man and Woman in crisis
(d) The nocturnal tryst between The Man and The Woman from the City
(e) The boat trip across the lake toward the city (attempted murder)
(f) The Woman petrified and burning to escape The Man
(g) The trolley ride into the city (anger and torment)
Part II: The City - Reconciliation and Celebration
(h) The café (disharmony)
(i) The church wedding service (Man and Woman renew their vows)
(j) The barbershop / The photographer / the Luna Park funfair
(i) The 'wedding reception' dance (a peasant dance "Midsummer")
(h) The wine restaurant (harmony)
Part III: The Country - Fidelity and Love
(g) The trolley ride back to the country (love and bliss)
(f) The Woman relaxed and happy with the Man (sleeping)
(e) The boat trip across the lake away from the city (love and storm)
(d) The nocturnal fight between The Man and The Woman from the City
(c) The Man and the Woman in love
(b) The Woman from the City leaves
(a) Epilogue: The Woman awakes. The start of a new life (sunrise)
Within this strict symmetrical structure Murnau/Mayer build the narrative out of a series of binary opposites - sunset/sunrise, day/night, good/evil, sun/moon, corruption and sensuality/purity and innocence, country/city, rustic simplicity/urban sophistication, blonde/brunette, fidelity/infidelity, love/hate, sin/redemption and more. Murnau/Mayer not only balance entire scenes, but they carefully bookend each one with a powerful emphasis on the idea of fate, inevitability and the whole wheel of life moving around inexorably. Note the nocturnal tryst where the Man throttles the Woman from the City for suggesting he murder his wife balancing the corresponding scene near the end where he again throttles her. Then there are the reeds which the man prepares in the boat for his own safety which end up saving his wife. The funfair sequence begins and ends with the same shot, the couple walking past a giant fountain to be confronted by the extraordinary scene replete with rollercoasters only to walk back past the same fountain at the end. The man's search for the Woman is framed by identical shots of the Woman from the City lurking on a rock just above a path. A number of bookends exist in this film and repeated viewings reveal more of them. The film stays remarkably fresh no matter how many times you watch it.
Beyond this somewhat cold and schematic reduction of the film's narrative (one which perhaps is beter intuited emotionally than stated intellectually) lies a second structuring feature which I would argue is what primarily makes this film such a potent emotional rollercoaster ride. The film's subtitle, A Song of Two Humans guides us to the idea that the film is in essence music made visual. Murnau had already given us 'Eine sinfonie des Grauens' (a symphony of horror) in Nosferatu (1922) and here he gives us another three-part symphony, one on the scale of a work by the Austrian song-symphonist Gustav Mahler. Contrary to the classical tightness of Beethoven and Brahms, Mahler's huge symphonies seem to embody entire worlds and express extra-musical ideas/storylines. The 30 minute first movement of the Third Symphony for example is an extraordinary account of spring over-powering winter. His nine symphonies vary in structure, but they tend to open in total darkness and surge towards blinding light with a strong (often Adagio or Andante) opening movement (almost a symphony within itself) followed by one or even two jokey Scherzo dance movements, a tranquil Largo and then culminating in a joyous life-enhancing Rondo-Finale. Not all the symphonies follow this pattern (Nos. 3 and 9 end with astonishing slow movements of the most exquisite poise), but for the purpose of my comparison with Murnau, I would say that the structure of No.5 broadly fits Sunrise. Mahler expert Henry Louis de La Grange calls the symphony, "Dankgesang eines Genesenen" (a song of thanks of one restored to health), an entirely apt possible title for the film! Like the film, the Fifth Symphony is in three distinct parts. A dark opening movement (marked Trauermarsch - Funeral March) is followed by a tormented violent Allegro (marked Sturmisch bewegt, mit größter vehemenz - stormy with gross vehemence). Part Two is a long and highly complex Scherzo movement full of dance and joy which acts as a pivot for the whole work. Part three opens with a miraculous Adagietto introduction which leads through stormy episodes towards a blindingly exultant Rondo-Finale conclusion.
Looking closer, the first part of the film (which in my schema conflates the first two movements of the Fifth Symphony) takes on the even larger scale of one of Mahler's other huge opening movements, perhaps the Adagio of the Tenth Symphony. After a quick and lively montage suggesting the city emptying of people (especially the Woman from the City), the film quickly settles into a series of long languorous shots which tell the story in the manner of a composer leisurely stating his themes, his first and second subjects, the development, the recapitulation and so on with the tension of the film building inexorably towards the blind madness of the murder scene. We see the Woman from the City first walk towards an assignation with The Man who is established as a farmer trapped in an unhappy marriage. Why he should be unhappy with his devout wife is a moot point, but every man will acknowledge the universal truism that Man cannot be married to Woman for a long time without his head ever being turned. The nocturnal tryst leads to the suggestion to murder his wife, his initial outraged reaction, but then his careful preparations for the fateful boat-ride in which he will push his wife overboard. Tension escalates as he is tortured by his desire for the Woman from the City - skillful superimpositions from Struss of the vamp embracing him as he works up the courage to suggest a picnic to the Woman. Then once the trip is underway the dog escapes his tether which forces the boat back to shore. The whole mood of the film up until this point has been of ever-deepening gloomy mental torpor as the Man gradually turns into a maniac looking like the Golem from Paul Wegener's famous 1920 feature. As he advances towards his wife on the boat in the middle of the lake she starts to pray. This is the moment in the Adagio of the Tenth Symphony when it bursts into an extraordinary atonal dissonance as the music structure is rendered asunder. So it is with the Man here, but he recovers at the last moment and (like the music) gets over his crisis. The Woman however is still shaken to the core and runs away from the Man. Just as that burst of dissonance can't let things settle completely in the music, so things can't settle for the Man. He pursues the Woman (the trolley car ride) and tries unsuccessfully to woo her with cakes and flowers. It is only when they enter a church and witness a wedding service that the Man shows sincere repentance for his sin and the Woman forgives him. They renew their marriage vows. The first part of the film ends on one the most amazing shots in film history as the couple wander out of the church straight into traffic which dissolves into a view of the country as they kiss oblivious to the traffic around them which they have brought to a standstill. It is typical of symphonic structure that the first movement ends in a recapitulation of the early main theme and just as in the Adagio, the first part of the film ends with a sense of circular completion.
The film's story in a sense finishes with the end of Part I. The Man has been reunited with the Woman, but of course the main subject of the film (the surge back to iridescent life) has yet to be told. This is also the sense we get at the end of any one of Mahler's opening movements. In the Fifth Symphony the hero is dead and is tortured by the powers of the beyond (conflating the first two movements), but in the second part of the symphony (the third movement Scherzo) he surges back to life with an unstoppable life-force. Just as the dance themes are numerous and complex, so in the film there are many strands of comedy/dance that work brilliantly together - the visits to the barber and the photographer and then the funfair. The funfair is an extraordinary polyphonic outburst which seems chaotic but which is carefully structured. As said the whole sequence is book-ended with the same shots of the couple entering/leaving past the fountain. Then there are two dances, one (a 'city' waltz) which the Woman looks at and then the other (a 'country' landler) which the Woman forces the man to take part in. In between there is an astonishing sequence as a pig runs loose in the fair. The animal upsets people, scares a waiter and even gets drunk. The close-up of the drunken pig's face is probably the very center of the film's symmetrical structure, underlining Murnau's true theme of the film - that life should be celebrated as a raucous crazy circus full of love and delight. It is perhaps significant that the couple perform an Austrian peasant dance (named "Midsummer") which is actually a ländler, Mahler's preferred dance form which inform all of his Scherzi. The composer/arranger Riesenfeld was astute in choosing the tune for the Movietone soundtrack (in fact, he had played the violin under Mahler in Vienna and had moved to New York in 1907, the same year Mahler began conducting seasons there - Jeremy Barham in his article "Plundering Cultural Archives and Transcending Diegetics: Mahler's Music as 'Overscore'" says, "His score for F. W. Murnau's Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans (1927) is cast in a rich late-nineteenth-century idiom, its scenes in the city pleasure palaces offering an unusual tour de force in collage techniques of composition that conceivably derived much from a Mahlerian multidimensional musical aesthetic."). The film's 'Scherzo' ends here on a sequence which is clearly designed as a kind of wedding reception, the dance complimenting the earlier wedding ceremony and ending the second part of the film on an ecstatic burst of adrenalin.
The tender (and much loved) strains of Mahler's Adagietto open Part III of the symphony and this could be said to echo the opening of Part III of the film with a comic/romantic restaurant scene in which cupids are superimposed flying around the lovers as they slumber love-sick at their table. This effect may seem mawkish now, but it is in keeping with the tradition of 19th century German painting. The scene comments ironically on the film's earlier dark café scene as does the scene where the Man whisks the Woman onto the tram which counters the Woman's earlier headlong rush into traffic. The quiet still mood carries over onto the return trolley-ride and then most tranquilly of all onto the boat. Another peasant dance takes place in the distance to offset the feeling of Paradise Regained as these lovers reach out for each other. But of course that is not the end and as the Adagietto is only a prelude to the stormy Finale of Mahler's symphony, so this quiet scene is merely the quiet before the storm of the film. The Man had started the day wanting to kill his wife and now he must pay the price as hubris catches up with him in a violent storm which capsizes the boat and seemingly kills the Woman. The Man's grief is rendered extraordinarily effective by the shots of him scouring the lake, one of them having his face leer famously into close-up (one of only two close-ups to compliment the one of the pig!) as the boat carries him toward the camera. The business with the Woman from the City has to be tidied up (one of the themes of past movements which a Rondo-Finale must deal with) which involves a second night walk to parallel the first and a second throttling. Her death is averted by the news that the Woman has been saved by the reeds that were initially meant to save him and the Man and Woman are united for a euphoric conclusion, the sun rising on a new day and a new beginning for their lives. This is of course exactly how Mahler's Fifth Symphony ends with the hero miraculously brought back to life and the world set to rights on a glorious chorale. The film works in the end for me partly because of the amazing narrative structure, but mostly because the film appeals to the same senses that respond to music. We shouldn't forget that the greatest music is also structured with astonishing intellectual acuity to work its visceral emotional effect on the listener. Murnau here achieves the rare feat of creating a cinematic visualization of music which is as appealing to the intellect as it is over-powering to the senses. Completely satisfying in every respect, for me it is cinema's greatest love story, a truly glorious Song of Two Humans.
Some films become instant classics. Others are not so lucky. 'As cold as the marble a sculptor uses', 'the sort of picture that fools highbrows into hollering Art', 'there is a not a heart-throb in Sunrise,' 'Mr Murnau's film is more than technically competent but woefully ignorant of matters of the heart.' There were good reviews too, more for it's ambitious technique than it's other merits, but Sunrise was generally regarded as a disappointment on its first release. It was quickly overshadowed at the box-office by Janet Gaynor's following film for Frank Borzage, Seventh Heaven and left a shadow over F.W. Murnau's Hollywood career, only finding an audience many years after his death and assuming its position as one of the great achievements of silent cinema many years after his death.
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 all-region BluRay 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 cinematographer John Bailey and a documentary on Murnau's lost followup, Four Devils) but also the fairly recently rediscovered shorter alternate Czech version of the film!
on 16 February 2010
This movie is a masterpiece of late silent films made for Fox Film Company (later Twentieth-Century-Fox) by master filmmaker, F. W. Murnau.
This Blu-Ray is a revelation. I saw the "Movietone" version (included here) when it was released in Canada and the US as a standard DVD a couple of years ago. The recently discovered Czech print (also included in this package)is vastly superior. Because the original reel for this version did not include space for a soundtrack, the whole width is dedicated to a much wider picture.
I am not waiting for Twentieth Century-Fox video in North America to release this. This version plays perfectly well on my Blu-Ray player. This must be a region-free disk.
on 16 August 2012
Few simpler stories could be told: a man's love for his wife is threatened by another woman, and this conflict threatens to not only tear their family apart, but culminate in personal tragedy and a great crime. One of the women is from the country, devoted although a bit plain; the other is from the city, who would stop at nothing to get him. The man is torn between the two forces. The results are sentimental and full of grand melodrama, played by simple, almost archetypal figures (the cast even names them: The Man, The Wife and The Woman From The City).
Nevertheless, Sunrise is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, and transforms its material into something that transcends kitsch and becomes universal and powerful. Images, light, scene composition and acting all form a unified whole, and the result is an astounding clarity of expression that makes the title cards superfluous (there are not many). Here is human emotion in visual terms - sorrow, hope, desire, love and remorse - and there is little else to write about. It is very hard to do simplicity like this right, without becoming trite or ridiculous. Most dramas manage both. Unlike Faust, an earlier Murnau picture whose pathos is rather self-defeating (the emotional strings soon become plainly visible, after which the viewing becomes a lot more abstract than at its start), Sunrise stays engaging by simply striking a good balance and making the viewer care little about being manipulated. Here are two sympathetic characters, and it is hard not to share their grief or joy.
Murnau, who had already created beautiful contrasts of light and shadow in Faust, Nosferatu and The Last Laugh, was at the height of his ability when he directed this film. He uses fog and a sort of diffused shadow to great effect, highlighting the mood of his scenes. There is something very Gothic about the countryside (and the expressions of sin and guilt would look right in any Hollywood horror), while the city is equally unreal, a dreamscape of movement, glitter and spectacle.
Although this is a movie about ordinary human conflict, its technical tricks are not any less impressive than more fantastic productions. This was the twilight of the silent era, before sound set back the art form by a decade (if not more), but after the best directors had learned how to get by without it. Not that Sunrise is completely silent: it is accompanied by a contemporary Movietone soundtrack which includes sound effects (although sometimes very stylised ones) and an excellent score.
But still, silent cinema here is pure cinema: the art of moving images. The film earned three Oscars two years after its release on the first ceremony where they were handed out, for best actress, best cinematography, and for "unique and artistic picture", a statue never awarded before or after. Sunrise was seen as the pinnacle of an art form, the best movie ever produced. It may be possible to argue this point, even in comparison with its contemporaries, but it would be equally useless: Sunrise really is something out of the ordinary.
The dual format edition from Masters of Cinema includes two DVDs and a Blu-ray disk. The picture is presented in a wealth of different formats, including a new HD transfer promising outstanding image quality (which, lacking the appropriate drive, I could not check and compare to the others), the Movietone version featuring two different scores, and the silent Czech version, featuring a slightly wider image and different camera takes. The extras encompass a documentary about 4 Devils, a lost film Murnau made after Sunrise, the screenplay and script (which are in data format on the DVD edition) and a 20 page booklet, rather thin by MoC standards but serviceable.
on 29 March 2013
I love the genre 'silent', I have any number of films of the type, my wife, however, is not overly enamoured with them, but, after telling her that she will enjoy a love story of such magnitude, she gave in... we both sat down with the correct dvd of the three enclosed, the Blueray one will probably rot away in my collection, but, the one we viewed is exceptional. The picture quality is superb for a 1927 film, the acting, although ploddingly heavy sometimes, a sort of melodrama on stage acting, is still wonderful, the camera work stunning for the time, in fact, I would say this is a masterpiece of Murnau's making.... My wife was visibly taken with the film, so full marks there.
I loved the price for this copy, I had missed an online auction version, but got the better deal ultimately with this purchase.. superb all round. !!
on 24 November 2009
Love like an opera, i don't mean with songs, but for a silent film the music is pretty integral. I mean opera as in brechtian, like the difference between reality and truth.. big ideas sure, i can't really grasp them when other people talk about them, because most theorists make it all too complicated. Realism is a reliance on how the world looks and acts aesthetically. Truth is how the world is, with truth it doesnt matter if people fly or animals talk or any number of unrealistic events happen, because it has a 'truth'.
Sunrise has a truth, and it condenses reality, makes life move faster, is totally aware that it is a film, reveals itself as scenes, as snippets of life, and is possibly the most perfect silent film i've ever seen. Admittedly i have just watched it, and so am biased, i'm still on a high from it. But this is the 3rd time i've seen it and i feel stronger about it upon each viewing. It'll last like all great art does.
Directed by F W Murnau, 1927.
on 29 October 2013
This 1927 film is a magnificent achievement, a rollercoaster of emotion, and beautifully done. What impressed me was the way Murnau lets the camera linger in emotional scenes, instead of hurrying on, as a moderbn director would. The story is allowed space to breathe. Also impressive is the use of static and moving camera, always beautifully judged. One characteristic of this director is the way he suggests a world outside the frame of the picture: a character will enter the picture from the bottom right of the frame, for example. Thus a bigger world is suggested than what you actually see. There are many memorable scenes: for example, the long walk of the city girl early on,or the later scene in the cafe. One could name many more such scenes: Murnau's touch throughout is assured.
One of the extras included is a commentary by a cimematographer, which gives fascinating insights.