Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Genre: Silent / Drama
Director: F. W. Murnau
Starring: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
Duration: 95 min.
Rating: 8.7/10

A woman from the city bewitches a farmer and convinces him to murder his neglected wife.  Just as he is about to kill his wife, he comes to his senses and the married couple renew their love in the city.

This post is inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Jack L.'s current Silent Film Marathon.  Check out his blog for a more in depth review.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is a silent film directed by F. W. Murnau in 1927.  In 1929, it was awarded an Oscar for Unique and Artistic Production at the inaugural Academy Awards, the only one of its kind.  It has since become an universally acclaimed film that consistently appears in many all time greatest lists and I'm glad that I finally watched this classic.

The story is one of love, betrayal, and redemption.  A farmer tempted to the brink of uxoricide stops himself at the last minute and his frightened wife runs away as he chases her to the city to plead for forgiveness.  In an amazingly powerful if unrealistic scene in a church they reconcile and spend the rest of the day as a second honeymoon in the city.  On their return to the farm, they are caught in a fateful storm.  Another criticism of the story is that at one point it includes a bizarre comedy sequence that feels out of place.

Both George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor are wonderful in their roles, displaying a wide range of expressions and emotions without dialogue requires some degree of over-acting but these two manage to do so very realistically and naturally.  However, Margaret Livingston, in a supporting role as the succubus like city woman, comes across as an evil caricature, exaggerated and menacing, a bit campy but still effective.

The most impressive aspects of Sunrise are the technical achievements.  There are some very good special film effects used, including some creative camera movement, stunning multiple exposures and blending of scenes with dissolves that produce a heightened dramatic effect.  Many of the set pieces are staggering, and must have been insanely expensive to film.  These include a scene on a busy city street as the oblivious couple wander across thoroughfare creating a chaotic traffic jam in their wake; an incredibly elaborate and visually breathtaking sequence in a fairground with hundreds of extras and a marvelously choreographed dance; and the climactic storm that relentlessly batters the couple as they row home on the lake.

Overall, Sunrise is a technically excellent film, and probably the best of the silent film era, but the inconsistency of the story, and the contrived ending hold it back from being a perfect film.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)


The Angry Lurker said...

 Not too sure about this as most of my silent movie experience is comedy like Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd etc.......

Das Auto! said...

i watched part of this in high school film, don't remember much of it though

Bonjour Tristesse said...

 That one is also an all time classic. 

Bonjour Tristesse said...

 No I haven't, but I surely will now.  Thanks for the recommendation.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah you're right he did, but I didn't enjoy that one as much.

Hermann Rorschach said...

 I stand by my percentages.  :D

Shutterbug said...

I like that old school movie poster! :)

thenitefalls said...

I saw a silent film lately The General with Buster Keaton and it was awesome! I need to check out more silent films, so thanks for the recommendation :D

Knifed in Venice said...

 Sunrise is such a beautiful film.  I screened Nosferatu to 600 people at the start of the year and was thinking of Sunrise as a follow up, have you seen Tabu : A South Seas Love Story?  Excellent too.

Great review!

Tony Van Helsing said...

Didn't F.W.Murnau direct Nosferatu? There are some striking images on your post from this film, excellent. 

G said...

 cool looking film....I've never really explored the silent era

FilmMasterT said...

I absolutely adore this film. Terrific review of a classic!

Hermann Rorschach said...

Damnit, well now we know the ending.  Ok, maybe since the movie is from the 20s it is safe to say all spoiler alerts are off.
I'm afraid any technical achievements of such an old movie would be lost on me.  From your words though, it seems like it is better than 80% of what I would have watched anyway.

Jack L said...

great review,
I'm glad you liked it anyway, and even if I liked it a bit more I agree that it's not exactly perfect.

It's interesting that you call the ending contrived, I thought it worked rather well to represent the constant cycle of happiness and sorrow. Sure it wasn't very realistic but still I thought it worked and was actually one of the most moving parts in the film.

Thanks for the mention as well, I really appreciate it!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I just don't think the farmer deserved that outcome, it just too easily excuses his behavior in the first act.  I do however agree that it works from a cyclical storytelling point of view.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Haha.  I normally refrain from revealing any story details in text and with my screenshots, but I'm sure in this case hardly anyone reading this post is going to be watching this film, and for those that do, they are watching it for academic or historical curiosity, not for the story.

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