MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
George O’Brien as THE MAN
Janet Gaynor as THE WIFE
Margaret Livingston as THE WOMAN FROM THE CITY
Bodil Rosing as THE MAID
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
BY KEVIN CARR
“Sunrise” is one of those films that the average moviegoer has never seen, unless they have taken a class in film appreciation or obsess about silent movies. Take a look at myself, for example. I’m more than your average film buff, and I’ve never seen it.
This is because few people seek out silent films, and even those that do have a hard time finding them in a watchable format. This is why I appreciate any studio that goes out of its way to re-release its classics of the silent era on a modern media like Blu-ray.
The new release of F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise” is significant not just because it’s a significant film. The format allows the viewer to see the film in multiple contexts.
“Sunrise,” also known as “A Song of Two Humans,” was groundbreaking for its day because it used the Fox Movietone sound system, which allowed the silent classic to have a specific soundtrack that included music and sound effects. To someone watching the film in his or her living room today, that might not seem like much, but this was a huge step ahead towards synching pre-recorded sound with the movie reels rather than relying on whatever music was provided at the theater level.
Knowing this historical context makes the movie intriguing on its own. Fortunately, there is also a story in the movie that keeps the interest as well.
“Sunrise” tells the story of young lovers who face problems in their life when a saucy woman tries to come between them. The story is relatively simple, but it is played out in traditional silent film mode. However, with the strength of the imagery and the concept behind the movie, it’s more than a simple film.
Films from the 20s are quite amazing to behold, featuring some incredibly impressive set design and costuming. A bit of this scope was lost as movies became more disposable in the middle of the 20th century, but I am always impressed by the impressive nature of the image composition of these earlier movies. After all, image is what drove them rather than sound and complex dialogue.
Sure, the acting is dated and at times quite corny, as you’d expect from any silent era film. However, you have to look past the trappings of the era to really appreciate the composition.
On the Blu-ray, the film is presented with two versions: The Fox Movietone version with the restored soundtrack and audio effects, and the European silent version which played outside of the U.S. The original theatrical version is the best one to watch because it offers the most complete presentation of the film and also has 17 more minutes to the running time, which were edited out for the overseas release.
It might be a bit different from what one tends to watch, but a film like “Sunrise” gives the modern viewer a way to look back at the history of cinema.
The Blu-ray comes with a DVD flip-disc that also includes both versions of the film. Special features include commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes and additional footage with optional commentary, the original theatrical trailer, the original scenario written by Carl Meyer with Murnau’s annotations, the original screenplay and notes on the restoration.