Film Review – ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’

I haven’t done a film review on my site yet and boy am I thrilled that the first one is ‘Sunrise; A Song of Two Humans’.

I’m currently working on a short film which is very much inspired by many of the artistic black and white films from the 20s – 50s. So the director leant me a whole pile of films for me to watch so that I knew what it was he was trying to acheive for his new project. A little overwhelmed at the tone of the films as I spotted ‘Nosferatu‘, ‘Suspiria‘, ‘Inferno‘ and ‘Vertigo‘. Not exactly the most relaxing of movies to sit back and watch at the end of a long day at work. However, I delved into the pile, and this is one of the first gems I came across.

I didn’t know anything about this film. As far as I could tell, it was old and black and white. I had had a few people recommend it, and since I didn’t feel like watching Italian horror, I thought I’d see what it was about.

The film starts with a number of title cards and I soon realised I was watching a very elegant silent movie. Having just watched ‘The Artist’, a very spot on homage to the silent era, I was curious as to what a genuine silent film of the time would be like.

Upon meeting the characters and the plot being laid down before me, I was hooked. The characters were a lot less 2 dimensional than I expected, with strong elements of deceit, vanity, purity and unabashed selfishness.  The plot in itself was was thick with heartbreaking desires and evil motivations.

The film follows a simple farmer who lives with his wife and young child. The farmer is ensued by an evil femme fatale from the city. The farmer falls prey to the temptress, callously ignoring his wife, he goes to her, selling off stock to provide her with wealth and comfort. Not satisfied with their brief meetings and his money the woman begs him to murder his wife so they can be together. The foolish farmer agrees and the two plan a way to be rid of the wife without any suspicion. The farmer begins to carry out their plan, taking his wife out on a boat with the intention of drowning her. The farmer becomes torn as to what he should do and struggles to go through with the plan. His wife soon realising his intentions, she is heartbroken, she watches as her husband comes before her with outstretched hands.

I don’t want to tell you what happens as it is truly gripping right up until the final moments of the film.

Made in 1928 and directed by F.W Murnau. It stars George O’Brien as the Farmer, Janet Gaynor as his wife and Margaret Livingston as the woman from the city. ‘Sunrise’ was the first and only film to win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) ‘Best Picture’ award in the category of “Artistic Quality of Production”. The film also took home Oscars for ‘Best Actress award for Janet Gaynor and Best cinematography for Charles Rosher and Karl Struss.The film is also quite bold in style and visual effects. Known as the finest silent movie ever made in Hollywood, it truly lives up to it’s reputation.

I was amazed at some of the effects. Most impressively scenes where it appeared there was a superimposed image giving a ghost like effect to it. I have read since that they did this in camera. Where they covered part of the film, only partially exposing it, then put the exposed film back in again, without the coverings, and exposing it again. That just blows my mind! Murnaus’ creative and imaginative flashbacks are also quite inspirational. Never before have I felt so much dread from such a short and blatant dream sequence.

This bittersweet story is completely engaging, hardly making use of title cards at all, the performances are directed so well that it barely feels like a silent film. With a sublime orchestrated soundtrack, charismatic characters and it’s groundbreaking effects this is certainly one to watch.

Heres the trailer, which unfortunately doesn’t feature the beautiful film score.

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