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SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS
1927 - FW Murnau
United States
7
Opening Shot

Before opening to a dissolve into a crowed train station, Sunrise starts with title cards reading, "This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time. For whereever the sun rises and sets, in the city's turmoil or under the open sky of the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet." And so begins one of the very greatest artistic achievements in film.

The Film

What an amazing film this is! Simply in terms of artistic vision, Sunrise was decades ahead of it's time. As was it filmmaker, F.W. Murnau, who with such masterpieces created a cinematic language for the art form to expand upon. Sunrise is so impressive and so timeless it's mesmerizing. Ultimately, it's a film of images more so then plot. What results is a film that connects with both the characters and viewers subconscious. The performances are outstanding by the cast in capturing the emotions and feelings of Murnau's imagery. Their is not a single flaw, as each and every moment stands as pure brilliance (particularly the scene in which the married couple reunite their love and dream as they walk in each others arms through the crowed streets, oblivious to the city's congested surroundings). Using a free flowing camera, superimposed images, and very little title cards, Sunrise has a tone and style rarely seen in silent films. It's a multi-layered drama / tragedy / love story of psychological human emotion and behavior. While the tone and atmosphere is one of darkness, Sunrise is a film of warmth, hope, compassion, and love. The title can be viewed as a metaphor for the film: Even through the dreariest of storms the sun will always rise eventually. Such a lovely and hopeful film. Sunrise speaks of universal themes and timeless themes of love and the loyalty, betrayal, and redemption within love. But above all, this is a film of poetry and of images and dreams of the mind. Watching Sunrise is a magical, poetic and enriching cinema experience that exists as one of the art forms legendary achievements. I deeply love this film, and easily consider it among the greatest ever made!

The Filmmaker

F.W. (Friedrich Wilhelm) Murnau is one of the great innovators of film history. While the likes of D.W. Griffith or Georges Melies (among others) developed the earliest creations of cinematic language, it was Murnau who truly took the earliest creation into a masterfully expressive art. Murnau is a filmmaker that could tell an entire story with pictures alone and unlike some of Griffith's silent work, his films remain timeless and still fresh as ever today. Through a skillful control of every visual detail, Murnau's films captured flawless attention to photography, set design, lighting, and above all the atmosphere. His films capture emotions entirely through mood and visual imagery. He set the standard for all filmmakers to follow and build upon. To say his place in film history is important is an understatment. Murnau began in Germany where silent cinema was at its creative peak (with filmmakers such as Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, and GW Pabst). These were films and filmmakers of Expressionism and Artificial Realism that would reinvent the language of cinema as an art form. Sadly Murnau's earliest films remain unseen and lost today. However, what remains represents one of the most influential artists in the history of film. Murnau earliest acclaimed film is 1922's Nosferatu, a mysterious and chilling retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The film is a great achievement in atmospheric horror that stands as a monumental film of influence. Nosferatu establishes the definitive mastery of Murnau's visual and atmospheric expression through its use of lighting, shadows, and art direction (also much of the film was shot on location). It also captures one of the significant themes in early German cinema: the conflict of love and death. Nosferatu today stands as one of Murnau's most celebrated works, but to me he would go on to make even better films (each highly unique from one another). Among them is what I believe to be his most influential, 1924's silent masterwork, The Last Laugh. Through it's simplistic narrative and vivid imagery, The Last Laugh becomes a film of emotional connection that displays the sheer beauty of silent film. Here the camera completely changed the imagination of filmmaking, as Murnau and his cinematographer Karl Freund innovated techniques that gave the camera an expressive voice. After The Last Laugh, Murnau continued to work with the same crew, notably screenwriter Carl Mayer, who collaborator on a total of seven films with Murnau in the 1920s. With their next film (Tartuffe) Murnau and Mayer decided to adapt a satire play into a film-within-a-film. Murnau's mastery of mise-en-scene combined with Emil Jennings (who also starred The Last Laugh) make it an incredible achievement. Murnau's next film (1926's Faust) would be his grandest of all in terms of scale, and the most remarkable aspect of the film is how effortlessly Murnau handles it all with the vision of a poet. The world-wide success and attention of his last three German films (Faust, Tartuffe, and especially The Last Laugh), brought Murnau to Hollywood where he signed with Fox Studios. For his first film he was given total artistic freedom and a nearly unlimited budget to work with. As a result, Murnau made one of the very greatest films in the history of cinema: 1927's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The film is a poem of visual imagery, as it features almost no-title cards. It represents silent cinema at it's highest peak, and is ultimately one of the most beautiful artistic achievements in all of film history. To watch Sunrise is a cinematic experience that only silent cinema can capture, and really no film can ever top. There may be films as good, but I don't think it is possible for a film to be better then Sunrise. Murnau's freedom at Fox Studios would quickly end, as his next film (4 Devils) remains lost after the studio tried to force changes to incorporate sound. Then Murnau's run at Fox ended after disagreement on his next film 1930's City Girl (Murnau left the film and Fox Studios for good). He then teamed with documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty to produce their own film. Filmed entirely on location in the South Seas 1931's Tabu features a completely non-professional cast and a documentary like style a filmmaking. The film is a masterpiece and concludes with one of the most beautifully poetic moments of Murnau's career. A career that sadly and tragically ended shortly after the completion of Tabu. Just 42 years old and days before Paramount was planning to sign him to a 10-film contract, Murnau died in a car accident just outside of Hollywood. Murnau is a filmmaker that was always challenging both his own films and the very language of cinema. He stands as one of the great innovators of atmosphere, shadows, and camera movement, as well as the quintessential master of telling stories through images alone.

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Resources
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