Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Length: 95 minutes
F.W. Murnau's classic Hollywood silent movie "Sunrise" (1927) is on many lists of 100 greatest films, but it has been rather difficult to see for many years. At last Fox has released this great movie on a DVD that comes with some nice extras, which I've listed below. However, to the best of my knowledge, as of the time of this writing (March, 2003), it's unlikely you'll be able to buy or rent the "Sunrise" DVD at a regular store or order it from a major online retailer. In the last paragraph of this article, I'll describe a way of getting the DVD through January 31, 2004. But first I'll give a brief discussion of the film.
"Sunrise" was originally released at the dawning of the sound era, and while it wasn't a talkie, it wasn't exactly a silent movie either. Reels of film that contained both the picture portion of "Sunrise" and a musical score synchronized with the picture portion were created, and in theaters equipped for sound, moviegoers could see and hear this version of the movie. In addition to music, the soundtrack contained some sound effects, and in one crowd scene voices could be heard shouting things like "Get outta the way!" But "Sunrise" didn't contain dialogue that could be heard while watching moving pictures of actors appearing to speak the dialogue.
Murnau had already built quite a reputation making films in Germany by the time he came to the United States to make "Sunrise," his first American movie. Although "Sunrise" was a product of the Hollywood studio system and was shot entirely in Southern California, I think it has the look and feel of a European film. Murnau's stunning visual style appears to me to have been influenced by both German expressionism and German romanticism.
Before the story in "Sunrise" gets underway, we see a text card for the cast, listing the characters as the Man (George O'Brien), the Wife (Janet Gaynor), and the Woman From the City (Margaret Livingston). Then a text card comes up that reads, "This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere at any time." We realize immediately that the characters are archetypal and the story is fable-like.
We are soon shown a picturesque lakeside village, where the Man, a young peasant farmer, and his angelic Wife reside. Vacationing in the village is the vampish Woman From the City, who has already seduced the Man. When the Man meets the Woman From the City for a romantic tryst on a foggy marsh lit by a full moon, she puts the idea in his head to murder his Wife.
I won't spoil your fun by revealing more of the plot, but I will mention that the heart of the film shows a journey taken by the Man and his Wife to the bustling City and a series of adventures they have there. Perhaps the most memorable sequence is their visit to a thronging amusement park, which includes footage of a drunken pig.
I find it interesting that "Sunrise" was among the winners of the very first Academy Awards, which were given in 1929 for films released in 1927 and 1928. People involved in making "Sunrise" picked up awards in three categories, including a win for Best Cinematography. Also, Janet Gaynor received the Best Actress award, but the rules were different in those days, and her win was for her performances in three movies, one of which was "Sunrise." Finally, "Sunrise" won the award for "Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production," a category that was discontinued after the first year of the Academy Awards. The 1929 awards were handed out at an industry banquet attended by about 250 people at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
I think that "Sunrise" is one of the masterpieces of world cinema. The visually poetic style and the strong humanistic story pack a powerful emotional wallop that makes it a great film. The "Sunrise" DVD is one that every serious cinephile will want to own.
Which finally brings me around to the matter of getting the "Sunrise" DVD. Through January 31, 2004, it can be obtained from Fox via a special offer: You pay $2.50 and supply proof of purchase of any three of the following DVDs in the Fox Studio Classics series: "All About Eve," "Gentleman's Agreement," "How Green Was My Valley," "An Affair to Remember," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Anastasia," "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," "Titanic," "The Mark of Zorro," "Laura," "The Ox-Bow Incident." Inside the box containing each of these 14 DVDs is a mail-in certificate that can be used to send away for the "Sunrise" DVD.
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