Cinema of Silence
A Lunch community devoted to classic silent films.

F.W. Murnau's acclaimed 1927 drama.

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The sun also rises...

  • Jan 22, 2007
Never had a silent film struck so loud a chord as that which is made in "Sunrise".

Directed by FW Murnau and released by Fox Films (before they merged with 20th Century Studios), this is one of the most impressive films of the silent era. If "Citizen Kane" showcased all the tools in the filmmaker's box in the early sound era, this does the same for silent films.

The plot is deceptively simple. A Man, who lives on a farm with his wife, A Woman, and their son, A Child, meets a A Woman From the City (no one has names in this... really!). He has an affair with her, and she eventually convinces him to kill his wife so they can sell the farm and move to the City to live. She concocts for him a plan where he rows his wife out into the middle of the lake they live near and drowns her.

The Man agrees to this plan, but when the time comes, as he looms over his wife and she cowers in fear, he finds he can't do it, and the two travel to the City together, where they are reminded of why they fell in love in the first place.

As said, the plot is somewhat simple, but the same cannot be said for the direction and the sets. Murnau, famed for movies such as "Nosferatu" and "Faust" was hired by William Fox to come to America and make four movies, of which this was the first (and probably the best, though "Four Devils" was supposed to be sensational and is, alas, a Lost Movie).

Murnau, who was a major force in German film, brought to the studio all his gifts as a filmmaker. When you watch the movie look at the early trick photography that was used to create a split-screen view (they put tape on one side of the film, shot that image, and then put tape on the other side and shot that image to crea a split-screen effect), or watch the way the camera follows the Man as he goes to meet the Woman From the City out near the lake.

Just as amazing are the sets, surreal and grand in their design. Look at the first view of the City, where you see an amazing street view, with impossible angles that can't exist in real life. A lot of this was accomplished by having painted sets with normal adults in the foreground and midgets and children in the background to give an illusion of largeness.

To call it a silent film isn't really even accurate. At this point Hollywood had began to experiment with early sound technology, and "Sunrise" actually had a soundtrack, though it was composed entirely of music and limited sound effects. It won't blow away your sound system, but it adds a nice touch, particularly when a tune familiar to all begins to play. You won't know it by name, but it's called "Funeral March of the Marionettes", and you've heard it before, trust me.

"Sunrise" was nominated for awards at the very first Academy Awards. It went home with Best Actress for Janet Gaynor (who later said had she realized how important the award would become, she would have enjoyed it more, rather than swooning over Douglas Fairbanks as he gave it to her), and an award for "Special Artistic Achievement", which was never awarded to any other movie. For the curious a film called "Wings" took home Best Picture and is widely regarded as very inferior.

The film is both easy and impossible to describe. It really needs to be witnessed for itself. Your local Blockbuster won't have a copy, but the library probably does (though probably on VHS). The film was released a couple years ago on DVD as part of 20th Century Fox's "Studio Classics" line. Sadly, though, they didn't give it a general release and you had to send in proofs-of-purchase from other DVD's to get it. Or you can do what I did, and buy a copy off Ebay for about $15. It's well worth it.

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March 02, 2011
As a long time fan of Murnau, I really enjoyed your review. Having seen this film a few times on TCM, I've finally spent the money on Fox's "Studio Classics - Best Picture Collection" box set just for this film. I'm still hoping for a restored special edition from them in the future. A lot of the major studios haven't done a very good job with releasing high quality editions of silent films unfortunately. Have you seen any of Kino's restored editions of Murnau's other films? They're amazing and a must-have for any silent film enthusiast.
More Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans reviews
Quick Tip by . March 02, 2011
posted in Cinema of Silence
One of the best dramas from the silent age. Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans is F.W. Murnau's most famous and celebrated films and the only real success he experienced while working in America. The film is propelled forward by an unusual love story of a husband and wife who have drifted apart after he attempts to kill her so that he can be with his mistress, but the two find redemption and rediscover their love. Poetic, haunting, and at times quite comedic, Sunrise is a masterpiece that preceded …
About the reviewer
C R Swanson ()
   I'm an aspiring writer and reviewer. I run a blog, I'm working on a novel and spend my free time reading and playing video games. I also spend waaaaay too much time and money on movies. … more
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About this movie


Sunrise is a drama film released on September 23, 1927 and produced by Fox Film Coporation.  The film was directed by F. W. Murnau and was written by Carl Mayer and is based off a story written by Hermann. Sunrise was produced by William Fox, and starred Janet Gaynor, George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston.

Sunrise is about a married farmer who falls under thespell of a woman from the city, who is trying to convince him to break up with his wife.  After its release the film received 1 nomination, and celebrated 2 various wins and 3 Academy Awards in 1929 for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Cinematography and Best Picture.

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Genre: Classics, Drama, Romance
Release Date: September 23, 1927
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Carl Meyer
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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"The sun also rises..."
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