Film Review: Sunrise – 8/10

‘This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place…’

Sunrise or Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans to give it its full title is significant for a number of reasons. It is the first American film of legendary Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau. It is the first feature film to boast an actual soundtrack. It also took home two Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Actress. With all that pedigree, it was inevitable that I would get round to it at some point. Luckily, it’s also great…

A simple farmer (Geoge O’Brien) is corrupted by a woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) into murdering his faithful wife (Janet Gaynor). In the end, this has the opposite effect, rekindling the romance between the man and his wife.

German director Murnau essentially created the idea of the movie monster with his film Nosferatu, and while Sunrise isn’t a horror film, some of the dark subject matter and eerie shooting techniques remain from that film. The opening 20 minutes feature numerous shots of an insidious potential killer creeping around a sleeping woman’s bedroom. From there, however, the tone changes and Sunrise becomes something altogether more romantic – whimsical even.

Released in 1927, Sunrise feels much more modern due to the ingenuity of Murnau and his talented cast. Some of the set pieces, namely the dance sequence, the scenes that take place at the funfair and the denouement in the water, are leagues ahead of what was going on in Hollywood at the time and it is clear that Murnau is drawing from his German expressionist roots to create something truly impressive.

I still think Chaplin is the best entry point for anyone looking to get into silent cinema, but Sunrise is near the top of the list also. An important and thoroughly enjoyable work.