Dec 5, 2007

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is German auteur F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece. The film was Murnau’s first American production and it shows. Sunrise has more in common with German expressionist films than it does with American films of that time period(the film was released in 1927). Sunrise was also the only film to receive the Unique and Artistic Production at the first ever Oscar ceremony in 1929. American’s were quite baffled by the film’s artistry as American cinema had primarily been used as a business appealing to the working class. This has been true even before the start of the Hollywood studios(American films were first screened in traveling vaudeville acts in the early 1900s).

Sunrise has some of the most beautiful scenes ever committed to celluloid. When I first saw the early swamp scene I was pulled into a world that engulfed all of my emotions. Much like Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls, Sunrise put me in a trance from beginning to end. These are the only two films to effect me in this very particular way. Both directors meticulously constructed lucid dreams on film. This is amazing considering Sunrise’s fairly straightforward plot. F.W. Murnau, being one of the early pioneers of film, was more influenced by paintings than his own medium. This is quite obvious and prevalent when viewing Murnau’s lexicon of films(Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh, etc).

The utilization of sound in Sunrise is also quite effective in adding to its dreamlike feel. It was also one of the first films with a soundtrack of music and sound effects recorded in then-new Fox Movietone sound-on-film system. Quite an abstract way to derive emotion through sound and image collaboration. The horns in the score also become startling. Not something I expect from a film of any particular era.

Sunrise’s story also is quite touching. I am not one for romance films, but Murnau knew how to get it done right. Writer Carl Mayer’s dichotomy between country and city is something I truly appreciated. The mistress from the city represents everything immoral and corrupt of the manmade prison. The wife represents the essence of beauty and nature. The husband realizes the error of his way in being seduced into something that seems to offer progression and happiness, but in reality destroys the human soul. So quickly did the husband forget his fundamental reason for living, but so soon he remembered.

F.W. Murnau died in an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, California on March 11, 1931. According to pioneering filmmaker/gossip sleaze bag Kenneth Anger, the crash was a result of Murnau giving a blowjob to his fourteen-year old Filipino valet driver Garcia Stevenson while he was driving. Murnau had potential in future projects and his death was a serious blow to film innovation and history.

F. W. Murnau
28 December 1888 - 11 March 1931

-Ty E

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