In 1927, German film director F.W. Murnau (known for his role in German Expressionism) was invited by William Fox to make an Expressionist film for Hollywood and in return, Murnau created a film that would simply become a true classic and a true masterpiece with "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans".
The film is highly regarded as a masterpiece and is featured in the American Film Institute's "100 Movies List of Great Films" (#82) and the British Film Institute's critic's poll as the seventh best film in motion pictures. The film won an Academy Award for "Unique and Artistic Production" at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 (including "Best Actress in a Leading Role" for Janet Gaynor and "Best Cinematography" for Charles Rosher and Karl Struss) and was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Although the film was highly regarded then and now, the film was not a success at the box office because of its creative and artistic interpretation while critics were calling it a true masterpiece.
"Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" was the first film with a soundtrack of music and sound effects utilizing Fox's Movietone souund-on-film system and for its creative and artistic style, the use of groundbreaking cinematography during that time would influence many filmmakers and even has been referred to as the "Citizen Kane" of American silent cinema.
Despite the original negative for the film being destroyed in 1937 due to a major nitrate fire (nearly 80-90% of Hollywood's silent films by Fox Film Corporation's created between 1910-1920's were destroyed) at Fox's storage facility in New Jersey. Fortunately, a 1936 print held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the NFTVA were still present (the UCLA print was later destroyed due to advance decomposition in 1992). In 1995, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill of Photoplay Productions prepared a new print for the 1995 London Film Festival using the NFTVA print and in 2002, restoration talks for the film began. A fifth generation 1940 nitrate negative print was found in 2002 and then a 1927 print loaned by the Narodni Filmovy Archv in Prague featured a Czech version of footage not featured in the American release.
Eureka! via "The Masters of Cinema" has released "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" featuring both Movietone and Czech films on the Blu-ray release and with a choice of the monaural Movietone score and the stereo Olympic Chamber Orchestra score.
"Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans" were shot with two cameras thus one has the aspect ration of 1:20:1 and the other with 1:37:1 According to Eureka!, the Blu-ray version of the films were encoded with both HD masters in 1080p AVC format on BD50. Eureka! decided against HD-DVNR, MTI or other forms of digital restoration or grain removal after tests revealed noticeable disruptions of the film's "Sfumato" qualities in many scenes. And thus, their hands off approach was their respect to the filmmaker and the patina of the image. The level of damage still present is exactly what you would see if the film was projected via 35mm theatrically.
Having not seen any previously DVD or VHS release of "Sunrise: A song of Two Humans", I can tell you that from what I saw... despite it having some scratches and dust, I was very impressed with the picture quality of the film on Blu-ray considering the film is over 80-years-old. According to my associates who have compared this film to the previous standard definition releases from Fox and Eureka!, this HD release of the film is absolutely fantastic!
I will say that the Czech version is a bit much more difficult to watch because it's missing frames and thus I prefer the Movietone version.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
Eureka! via "The Masters of Cinema" has released "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" featuring both Movietone and Czech films on the Blu-ray release and with a choice of the monaural Movietone score and the stereo Olympic Chamber Orchestra score by Timothy Brock. According to Eureka!, the absence of any surviving soundtrack for the Czech version led Fox to roughly approximate the Movietone score to it in 2008.
Original English intertitles on the Movietone version are featured and optional English subtitles on the silent Czech version.
"Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans - The Masters of Cinema Series #1" comes with the following special features:
* Audio Commentary - Full-length audio commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey on the Movietone version. Interesting to hear Bailey's comments, especially on the camerawork and effects used.
* Outtakes - (9:57) Outtakes with optional John Bailey commentary. It's amazing that a film of this age has any outtakes. So, I was surprised to see this on the Blu-ray.
* Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film - (40:55) Janet Bergstrom's updated 40-minute documentary about the lost Murnau film "4 Devils" featuring still pictures, art and details of scenes from the film.
* Original Theatrical Trailer - (1:50) The original silent theatrical trailer.
* Original `photoplay' script - The original "photoplay" script by Carl Mayer with Murnau's handwritten annotations (150 pages in pdf format). You can download these from the Masters of Cinema website as well.
* 20-Page booklet - Illustrated booklet with film restoration and DVD/Blu-ray transfer information, along with a comparison between the two versions.
I have wanted to see "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" for such a long time. I've waited with heavy anticipation for UK-based entertainment company Eureka! to release this film via Blu-ray courtesy of their Masters of Cinema series and I am so grateful that they decided to release this film with no region encoding, so anyone from all over the world that has a Blu-ray player can enjoy this film.
After watching the film, I can't help but gush about how fantastic this film is. From the crowded streets in the city to the innovative camerawork and editing, I was simply amazed of what was accomplished back then. The film is literally gripping as the film has its share of action and drama and literally from beginning to end, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" manages to captivate you courtesy of George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor.
O'Brien plays the man from the country with such a great presence as Gaynor transforms from this sad housewife to this vibrant woman, especially in one scene with the crowd ask the two to dance. But the camera work and artistic presentation was just phenomenal. The whole city sequence created on the Fox back lot with hundreds of extras and cars from that era in a traffic jam to the man and wife attending a fair. I don't know how much was spent on this film but everything on camera just worked. I was overwhelmed by how magnificent this film was but then watching the special features that came on the Blu-ray release, especially the slight differences from the Movietone and Czech version was quite interesting to see, especially to know that we will never be known of what was the final cut that Murnau had wanted due to the original print being destroyed in the Fox Warehouse and many other prints out there suffering from major deterioration.
But what we are able to see on this Blu-ray release, again...I'm grateful for Eureka! for releasing this Blu-ray via non-region but most importantly, choosing a silent film for its first major release on Blu-ray. If anything, I am more inclined to purchase the Murnau DVD box sets out right now and look forward to watching the Master of Cinema's next Murnau Blu-ray release "City Girl".
Overall, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" is simply magnificent and this Blu-ray release is just outstanding! If I had to give this film a rating, then definitely an... A+!
on January 21, 2010
Pure visual poetry. No serious movie-lover or historian should be without this disc. It is Region Free and so will play anywhere. It is also a new scan, since MoC felt that the 2005 scan wouldn't be good enough for a 2009 Blu-ray release (hear that, Criterion?), and it's gorgeous. The only real digital work that has been done is to stabilize the frame and even out the flicker, something that nearly drove me mad about the 2005 DVD release (but only after repeated viewings). Everything else is here, scratches, an occassional missing frame or two, film grain (thank god!) so the result is like watching a screening of a very good print. Sunrise, like Murnau's other monumental classic, Nosferatu, suffered a fragile and dangerous history, but has survived nonetheless. In typical Murnau fashion, the first half of the story is a brooding thriller, then it moves, quite logically, into a romantic comedy, then turns to tragedy. Murnau liked to cover the whole spectrum in his films, mixing laughter with tears.
A beautiful, mesmerizing visual poem. Get it, and help bring this kind of filmmaking back to life.
From the press release:
This new 2009 reissue of Sunrise (for the first time anywhere in the world in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, in addition to a newly mastered 2 x DVD set) contains two versions of the film: the previously released Movietone version, and an alternate silent version of the film recently discovered in the Czech Republic, which is of a higher visual quality than any other known source. The Blu-ray edition includes both versions in 1080p HD. Czech archive of a higher visual quality than any other known source. Supplements include:
1. Restored high-definition transfers of two different versions: the American Movietone version, and the silent Czech version Original English intertitles on the Movietone version, and optional English subtitles on the silent Czech version
2. Original Movietone score (mono) and alternate Olympic Chamber Orchestra score (stereo)
3. Full-length audio commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey on the Movietone version
4. Outtakes with either John Bailey commentary or intertitles
5. Murnau's 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film - Janet Bergstrom's updated 40 minute documentary about the lost Murnau film
6. Original theatrical trailer
7. Original 'photoplay' script by Carl Mayer with Murnau's handwritten annotations (150 pages in pdf format)
8. 68 page illustrated booklet with numerous essays including a new reprint of a piece by Dudley Andrew
End of press release.
There is nothing special about the story behind this movie. A farmer (George O'Brien) is attracted by a vamp from the City (Margaret Livingston) who seduces him and has gradually had him selling his farm off piece by piece to provide presents for her. She finally suggests that he leave his failing farm altogether and return with her to the City. However, to complete the plan, he will need to drown his country wife(Janet Gaynor). A few days later, the farmer takes his wife for a trip to the city. As he rows his wife across the lake that is between their village and the trolley, he comes close to doing away with her. However, always a reluctant partner in this plan, he recoils in horror and rows the boat to the shore, his wife unharmed. The wife, having seen the murder in her husband's eyes, jumps onto the trolley to the city with her husband in hot pursuit. Once in the city, he reassures her that he would not harm her, and he begins to feel real remorse for his previous actions. They slip into a church and watch a wedding ceremony going on, and in doing so begin to reconnect to one another. By the end of the day, they've fallen in love again; the man remembering why it was he married his wife in the first place. However, when a storm breaks out on their way back across the lake, the wife falls out of the boat. The farmer goes for help and the entire village looks for her, hoping she has not been drowned in the storm. This rather simple story could easily have been transformed into a hackneyed melodrama. What makes Sunrise a great film, though, is the majesty and tenderness F.W. Murnau managed to give it without the benefit of audible conversation.
Particularly intriguing is the set of the unnamed "City". If the traffic patterns shown in this movie are indicative of traffic laws in the 1920's it's a wonder anybody made it to or from work alive. Early autos, horse-drawn carriages, and people all chaotically race through the streets without rhyme or reason. Also wondrous are the night shots of the Coney Island-style amusement park where the farmer and his wife go for some fun before returning home as well as the view of the trolley ride and and the glide following the farmer through the moonlit marsh. This truly was the "Best Artistic Picture" of the year.
A little known fact is that Sunrise was one of the first feature films to use sound-on-film techniques, in which Fox was a pioneer. There were fully synchronized sounds of automobiles, church bells, crowds, and other effects. Unfortunately, "The Jazz Singer" was released shortly after Sunrise, and Sunrise failed at the box office. Time, however, has had a different judgement. Today, "The Jazz Singer" is mainly remembered for ushering in the age of the talkie. Likewise, "Wings" which won the first Best Picture "Oscar", is largely remembered for its aerial stunts, for which it also won an engineering award. Sunrise, however, is still appreciated as a whole motion picture experience, not just a temporary technical triumph that has faded as other technical triumphs take its place.
on June 25, 2010
Amazon has many versions of Sunrise, I was looking at the imported Korean version because it came up with my search for it in Blu-ray. It even had reviews that referred to a Blu-ray version.
But upon a more thorough investigation, I found out that the imported Korean version is only the regular DVD Version - not the Blu-ray. If I had purchased it, I would have been very, very displeased.
This is something that Amazon has been doing a lot of lately - mismatching reviews - one has to be careful.
my two cents.
on March 1, 2014
Is SUNRISE the greatest silent film ever made? Many polls consider it so but to me comparing it with a handful of other silents such as NAPOLEON or BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN or GREED (not to mention the comedies of Chaplin and Keaton) is like comparing apples and oranges. What is without question is that SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (to give the film its complete title) is one of the greatest movies of all time sound or silent. The fact that we still have it is a miracle as the original negative was destroyed along with virtually all of the pre-merger Fox Films (except for Shirley Temple and Will Rogers) in a horrific warehouse fire in 1937. That is why there are so few Fox silents available. Fortunately more and more are being discovered in foreign archives like the John Ford film recently discovered in New Zealand.
A simple story of love, betrayal, and redemption is transformed and elevated into a work of art captured on film thanks to director F.W. Murnau and cameramen Charles Rosher & Karl Struss. There are so many things to savor in this film, such as the breathtaking cinematography in the village scenes which is reminiscent of the 17th Century Dutch Masters, the Bauhaus influenced set designs of the City, or the remarkable performances by George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor (who won the first Best Actress Academy Award), that trying to compile a complete list of them here would take up too much space. It is the first film to officially feature a soundtrack (as opposed to sound on disc) and is the only movie to win an Oscar for "Unique & Artistic Production". The first Best Picture award went to WINGS.
The new U. S. Fox Blu-Ray / DVD combo pack is a cause for celebration as it provides us with the best surviving American version which looks remarkable considering its age and history. It also comes with a Czech version of the European release (which is 79 minutes instead of 94) as well as valuable audio commentary and your choice of the original Fox Movietone soundtrack (which has been sonically remastered and sounds fantastic) or a newly recorded score by Timothy Brock and the Oympia Chamber Orchestra. There are also outtakes, the original script, and promotional materials as well. If you are truly a lover of cinema then you need to see SUNRISE and decide its status for yourself. Like all truly great films, it can be watched over and over again and that is the highest compliment I can bestow.
on June 30, 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.
on November 1, 2011
I have already praised F.W. Murnau's 1927 masterpiece in a DVD review, so I just want to say here that a blu-ray upgrade is definitely worth it, especially if you're like me and really love this film. I also want to point out that the shorter Czech version included in this edition was transferred from a slightly sharper source print, and differs from the American version in its use of alternate takes and in the length of some shots. Eureka's release is the best we're apt to see of this exquisite, cinematic work of art.
on December 25, 2013
This set is a three disc combo (one blu-ray and two dvds). The blu-ray disc has two versions of the movie on it. The dvds have the two versions of the movie on separate discs. There is a less expensive set that has just the one blu-ray disc if that is all one needs.
One version of the movie is the Movietone (US) version which is 93 minutes long, and the other version is the Czech version which is 79 minutes long. The Czech version is missing some footage, but it is clearer and has a higher resolution than the Movietone version.
The Czech version also has slightly more width (1.37:1) to the image compared to the Movietone version (1.20:1) which evidently was cut down a bit to incorporate a soundtrack back in the day when this movie was originally being edited. The two versions also have slightly different title cards with some of the Movietone title cards having an animated effect. It was common back in the silent era to film the same movie with two cameras side by side: one version was for U.S. distribution and the other was for Europe. It is likely for this reason that some of the footage may appear to be shot from a slightly different angle. The Czech version also has optional English subtitles. This is a UK release with all of these discs being playable on North American blu-ray players, however the dvds might not play on all North American dvd players.
There is an interesting full-length commentary by John Bailey on the Movietone version as well as some rare outtakes from the film. Both versions have been restored but with careful remastering so one will see some scratches on the print since some of these were actually believed to have existed on the original print. There is also a forty minute documentary which reconstructs a lost Murnau film called "4 Devils". A 19 page booklet has essays on the film restoration and a comparison of the two versions of the movie presented here.
on March 10, 2014
What makes for a cinematic masterpiece?
*An evocative story told with layers of meaning and a strong message.
*Cinematography that lends atmosphere. *Direction that creates realism.
*Editing that holds your attention regardless of pace.
And many other subtle elements including texture, lighting and composition.
*And of course acting that is not just convincing and understated, but which evokes deeply complex emotions.
When a picture can do all that, it deserves the designation "Great Film".
Among my favorites from the history of cinema would include: "The Best Years of Our Lives", "The Good Earth", "Marty", "High Noon", "The Time Machine" (1960), "West Side Story", "The Godfather Trilogy", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Tender Mercies", "Lonesome Dove", "Blade Runner", and "Saving Private Ryan".
"Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans" by F.W. Murnau might easily top the list. This movie begs to be watched again, and again......and again.
To bad, most films today do not come close; See my review of "Gravity", the first film to draw us into the theater in 23 years. What a difference between that over-budget lightweight and Murnau's complex and poetic masterpiece of almost 90 years ago - "Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans".
Here is some of the best acting ever (with or without words) in a setting that is is truly great art. The story is rich in layers, twists and ironies.
This movie can speak to so many people on so many different levels.
For me, without spoiling the film for others, the crisis point recalls Psalm 73.. Where Asaph finds his answer: "Then I went into the sanctuary of God..."
When a relationship is destroyed seemingly beyond repair, no one but Providence can bring about true repentance and true forgiveness.
Yet there are more lessons to be learned...
I don't know if that was Murnau's intent, but great art will speak to the individual's heart.
The multi region DVD plays nicely. You may need to disable Korean subtitles in set-up, and, by all means, go for Murnau's original Movietone soundtrack. It adds to the emotional power of the film.
See it, and you might just agree with Francois Truffaut, that it is "..the most beautiful movie ever made."
Sunrise", made in 1927, is a masterful movie that was released at the beginning of the era of talkies. It is not exactly a silent movie, because it has a musical score synchronized with the story and the soundtrack included some sound effects. During a crowd scene in a busy street you can hear voices yelling "Get out of the way!" "Sunrise was well done and poetic with deep themes of guilt and redemption. The plot is simple and poignant. A young, married farmer with a baby, falls for a seductive city woman. She is a flapper that just wants to have fun, the money from the farm and move to the big city with all its action. She uses her feminine wiles to convince him to drown his wife.
At any rate the naive farmer plots to murder his sweet, trusting loving wife during a boat ride. He promises her a day off the farm with a boat ride to the city. They leave their rustic farm and cross a lake or a river to the bustling, crowded, tempting city. His wife is full of anticipation of a good time as they leave their young child with their live-in servant. He looks dark and evil as he rows the boat, her expression changes slowly from one of anticipation to horror. The farmer's conscience is awakened as he starts to get up to throw his wife overboard. He is ashamed and she is frightened, betrayed and crying so hard her body is shaking in misery. As soon as they get to land, she hops out of the boat and runs to the trolley, which he catches as it takes off to the city. Once in the city, it seems they do not belong and are confused and caught in the wild traffic. They find some quiet in a church while a wedding is in progress. They renew their commitment to each other while vows are being made. It is a touching scene and brings light to their lives as they enjoy the rest of their time with a photographer and then the big wild and futuristic nightclub.
The story is heart-wrenching poignant, and a silent movie masterpiece. I found it romantically beautiful and deeply poetic. It should be noted that the special effects were used skillfully to show the effects of light, night and day and themed elements of good and bad. The faithful wife is blond, the evil temptress Flapper has black hair and painted eyes and lips.
It is a fabulous movie and hardly needed the subtext - the acting and directing gave it great emotional power and each themed scene had the best technical touches for the time. Janet Gaynor starred as the devoted wife and George O'Brien starred as the adulterous husband.