Previously, we used to release “In Praise Of…” articles each month, with details of carefully-selected filmmakers of film history that we highly regarded, with the intention of sharing with you the genius of their work, give you reasons to remember, and care, about them and their work, but mostly a way for you to discover and enjoy something new (even if their work was old). As part of what we plan to do on a weekly basis (starting January), we’ll be starting our Cinema Revival – an online Cinema of sorts. A way of keeping cinema alive. Each week we’ll be hosting a selection from the most important films of all time, with reasons to watch them, and promoting online discussion of them. Below is an example of how it will look each week. We’ll be releasing a programme after Christmas so you can get an idea of films ahead (including ‘Freaks’, and ‘Night of the Living Dead’). Prepare yourselves, and help keep cinema alive!
SUNRISE: A TALE OF TWO HUMANS
by F.W Murnau
The film opens with several title cards:
This song of the man and his wife is of no place and every place;
you might hear it anywhere at any time. For wherever the sun rises
and sets in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm,
life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.
Director F.W Murnau, and his screenwriter Carl Meyer (who wrote ‘The Last Laugh’ (1924) – also incredible) made the plot so simple, so universal, that the characters don’t even have names…
SYNOPSIS: A struggling farmer is smitten with a femme fatale from the city. She convinces him to drown his young wife and run off to the city with her. But when it comes time to do the deed, he realizes he can’t do it. When the wife flees from him, he follows her into the city, to apologize profusely. Eventually, he and his remarkably forgiving wife attempt to reconcile and rekindle their love for one other. A story so elemental it could be a fairy tale.
REASONS TO WATCH
– It shows cinema at it’s most powerful, creating pure empathy, irregardless of time, nationality, age, and on and on. A timeless classic about humanity.
– It’s been said numerous times – cinema, at it’s purest, is a visual medium, and a director should try to get as much, if not all, of the required information across visually. F.W. Murnau hated using title cards in his films. In ‘Sunrise’, the title cards become more and more infrequent as the film progresses, and are virtually non-existent by the end.
– Many of the superimpositions throughout the film were created in-camera. The camera would shoot one image at the side of the frame, blacking out the rest of the shot, then expose the film. They would put the exposed film back into the camera and shoot again, blocking out the area that already had an image on it. This was 1927!
– As historically important as it is creatively boundless – it was the first feature film released using the Fox Movietone system – the first professionally produced feature film with an actual sound track.
– It was released a month after ‘The Jazz Singer’ (1927) – considered the first of the “talkies”. Although adored by the critics, and containing a highly progressive use of sound, it failed to connect with audiences who were then clamoring for films where the actors spoke in them – signalling an end of the old, silent, cinema, and a new era – for better or worse.
– Often included in Greatest Films of All Time Lists – voted as 5th greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s Critic’s Poll, and included in ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ – it’s there regularly for a reason
– If you’ve never watched a silent film, considered them insignificant, dull, or hard to watch, maybe this is a good starting point.
German director F.W. Murnau’s silent cinema masterpiece, made in 1927, is a rare example of a foreign auteur who managed to keep his vision in the face of the Hollywood machine.
Prior to this film, Murnau was arguably the most important film director of his time. He directed a string of German Expressionist works that were as bleak and brooding as they were technically brilliant. Murnau’s eerily, hallucinatory ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) redefined the horror film. The spectacularly depressing ‘The Laughing Man’ (1924) featured a roving camera, double-exposure and forced perspective to brilliantly evoke the shame, humiliation and (in one tour-de-force sequence) drunkenness of a proud doorman demoted to a washroom attendant. And his adaptation of ‘Faust’ (1926) was the most lavish, expensive film Germany had ever produced at the time.
Murnau’s ability to spin absolutely dazzling images — using technology perfected in Germany – is what makes ‘Sunrise’ so memorable. At one point in the film, the camera seemingly floats over a crowd in an amusement park; at another the lovers walk down a city street that, without a cut, transforms into a flowering meadow. Compared to his Hollywood contemporaries – including D.W. Griffith – Murnau’s film still seems vital, modern, and unbelievably poignant.
Although the film earned a few Oscars – including Best Unique and Artistic Production, and Best Actress for Janet Gaynor — ‘Sunrise’ suffered the fate of many cinematic masterpieces: It flopped. But over the years its critical reputation has only grown. In 2012, it was named the 5th best film of all time by Sight and Sound magazine ahead of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.