Sunday, April 19, 2009

31. Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans - 1927

Synopsis: A woman from the city suggests a man drown his wife. The man flies into a rage and starts to choke the woman from the city. He then changes his mind and decides to drown his wife. He starts to drown his wife but is overcome with guilt. They reconcile in the city even though he tried to murder her. They have a great day and realize why they fell in love even though he planned on murdering her. They return home and storms cause their boat to capsize drowning the wife (irony!). The woman meets the man thinking he purposefully drowned his wife but he goes tries to choke her again. The villagers find the wife alive, floating in the water. The man and wife meet as the sun rises even though he planned on murdering her.

Basically, why you always got to be murderin the women in yo life?

Review: The first best picture winner at the Oscars is usually cited as some film called Wings that no one ever talks about except when discussing Oscar history (ie - is boring everyone). If the source you happen to be reading is dedicated exclusively to Wings, the story typically stops there. If the source is not dedicated exclusively to Wings, Sunrise is usually mentioned as kind of also being best picture winner. Why this confusion?

There was no best picture nomination in 1927. Wings won "outstanding picture"--listed occasionally as "best production"--and Sunrise won a little award for "unique and outstanding production." So the Academy Awards officially list Wings as the "best picture" winner but says "two films were singled out for top honors."

I have not personally seen Wings outside of some bootleg Paul McCartney DVDs but I know which movie has a legacy of any kind (hint: it is Sunrise). Wings isn't even available on DVD in North America but Sunrise barely qualifies as being available (only as a limited time mail in with proofs of purchase for other Fox DVDs and part of huge box sets).


I watched the "Movietone" version of this film. The disc Netflix has features a "Silent European" version which, as far as I can tell, is the exact same movie but shortened by half an hour. Neither version is silent though. Quite the opposite.

This movie is the first with dialogue. It's only a a brief scene with mostly indiscriminate yelling but it is recorded dialogue. Move over Jazz Singer. Sunrise is also the first Fox movie with a recorded score. So, I'm not sure from where the "Silent European" distinction comes. Other than preparing a print for projectors unable to play films with sound, I can't see the purpose when a film features actual human voices for the first time.

Beyond it's huge step forward sonicly, this is innovative with its special effects. Some of the things stick out big time to a modern audience but they had to be amazing at the time. What amazed me most about the film visually was that this was shot on a massive set. It's not a real city and I wouldn't have known otherwise had I not read it.

Most striking of all is that this film shouldn't work but does. A man cheats on his wife, almost murders his mistress twice and his wife once over the course of a couple days. Despite that, I want the man and wife back together. Why am I worried about their relationship when I should want the wife out of there? It's a bizarre reaction. Instead of focusing on his murderin' ways, I get swept up in the love story. I guess that is the power of Murnau's directing skills and the actors; it is certainly not a testament to the story which plays like a fable.

I am not quite sure this qualifies as "the Citizen Kane of silent films" as it has been labeled it is not a misguided classification. "The greatest silent film" title is kind of crazy though. It's good but not that good.

Score: 9/10

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