Friday, 31 March 2017

Sunrise (1927)

Fig 1 - Sunrise Poster
Directed by F. W. Murnau, Sunrise tells the story of a couple reinvigorating their marriage following a failed attempt by the husband (George O'Brien) to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor). The initial plot comes about when the husband's mistress, a 'woman from the city' (Margaret Livingston), convinces him to sell his farm and move away with her, drowning his neglected wife in the process. He agrees but is unable to go through with the murder, and after pleading for his wife to take him back, the couple spend the day together in the city for what becomes a rather charming date. It would be difficult to describe the rest without spoiling the ending, but their relationship is somewhat 'tested' within the final act when things take a turn for the worst...

For the time period, the film is a technical masterpiece to behold. From the outset we are presented with shots of a paradisaical lakeside down, often overlaying multiple reels of film to create something of a montage of atmosphere. What's more is that the film uses shots blended together 'in-camera' by covering either side of the reel and re-filming with it. And this technique feels as professionally edited as you'd see made digitally today. In addition to this, the film was one of the first to synchronize it's visuals with a full soundtrack and additional effects, at one point even using Charles Gounod's 1872 composition Funeral March of a Marionette, which would go on to be known as the opening theme for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65).

Fig 2 - Sunrise - Pervert, Wife and Husband
I thought that the film, on the whole, was a little tonally unbalanced. On the one hand, we start with an affair and a murder plot which sets a very dark tone for things to come, but then all of a sudden the film becomes something of a light-hearted romp through the city alongside a couple who were utterly morose earlier in the day. And if you'd told me in the first ten minutes that I would eventually see the husband running around an amusement park chasing a drunk pig, I would've taken a good hard look at the synopsis again. I don't have any real qualms with the film though, if anything I found it to be quite a sweet demonstration of a couple rekindling their love for one another. Incidentally, I found the chemistry between George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor to be very apparent, despite a sincere lack of dialogue cards.

In my opinion, it is highly debatable whether or not Sunrise is a 'romantic' film, primarily due to the fact that one was ready to kill the other in the opening act. But that aside, the film is a technically proficient and heart-warming watch that has blatantly stood the test of time and has every reason to be in the Top 250.


Fig. 1 Sunrise Poster (1927) From: Sunrise - Directed by: F. W. Murnau

Fig. 2 Sunrise Screenshot (1927) From: Sunrise - Directed by: F. W. Murnau

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