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Persona

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

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One great reason to live in the Chicago area:

Gene Siskel Film Center - Coming Attractions - Oct-Nov 2004 - F.W. Murnau!

Featuring Journey Into the Night (1921), The Haunted Castle (1921), The Burning Soil (1922), Phantom (1922), Nosferatu (1922), The Grand Duke's Finances (1923), The Last Laugh (1924), Tartuffe (1925), Faust (1926), Sunrise (1927), City Girl (1930), and Tabu (1931).

Wow. The Haunted Castle and Phantom. On the big screen. Wow!

And -- i'm not even sure i know what City Girl is?!

-s.

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They have names! I thought folks said they didn't have names.

According to multiple bonus features on the DVD (the original concept script and the screenplay), the "young peasant"'s name--very hard to read--is Ansess, and the wife is named Indre. The woman from the city, however, does not have a name.

That is how I understood it as well. Only the temptress did not possess a name.

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I have squinted my eyes at the screen on several occasions, internally debating this topic. I'll be darned if it wasn't "Anders" and "Ingrid." Although i still like Russell's "Donna" better, and it goes quite well with the muted trumpet when he calls from the boat.

-s.

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There's some nice commentary on the film as part of the Berlin filmmuseum's new exhibition on production design. (The Publications section has some really nice PDFs for free download; the section on Sunrise below is from "Lost in Transition.")

Transparency and Modernity

A classical example of a filmic transit situation is Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's silent film SUNRISE. A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1926/27), in which a boating excursion from a village by a married couple (Janet Gaynor, George O'Brian) ends with the woman fleeing aboard a tramcar on the opposite shore of the lake. The woman feels threatened by her husband, runs away when they reach land, clambering aboard a tramcar that suddenly appears in the woodland idyll. The husband, incited to murder his wife by his mistress from the city (Margaret Livingston), pursues his wife onto the vehicle.

This could be a typical scene in a thriller: pursuer and pursued in one vehicle, preferably a subway, scrambling from carriage to carriage. When used in such a classical genre, transit spaces usually have the function of intensifying the thrill generated by the pursuit of the victim by the perpetrator. They stress that the situation is momentarily a closed world, that there is no way out. The basic situation of the journey in Murnau's film SUNRISE is different. The viewer knows that the husband is serious with his repeated insert-title plea "Don't be afraid of me". There is only the one car, no other passengers, only the conductor. There is the wife's despair and the husband's remorse, no hopelessness or inescapability but sunlight views of the passing landscape, which first show a lake, shifting to images of suburban development with more and more people and traffic. With the journey into a city a metamorphosis begins -- a fresh start for the couple. The constellation of the two protagonists develops from a coercive situation to one of reconciliation and freedom, a transformation given expression by the transparency of the glass architecture.

A key scene of the film, shortly after the arrival of the couple in the city, is set in a cafe with a vertically structured glass facade giving a view of passers-by in the street. In his book Filmarchitektur (1996) the design historian Dietrich Neumann points to the link between the transparency and modernity of this set and the basic situation of the couple -- the "manifest guilt of the man and the fragility of the newly-won trust", describing it as a "timeless metaphor for the force of production design".

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Edited by Doug C

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A key scene of the film, shortly after the arrival of the couple in the city, is set in a cafe with a vertically structured glass facade giving a view of passers-by in the street. In his book Filmarchitektur (1996) the design historian Dietrich Neumann points to the link between the transparency and modernity of this set and the basic situation of the couple -- the "manifest guilt of the man and the fragility of the newly-won trust", describing it as a "timeless metaphor for the force of production design".

Doug:

Interesting link...but I'm struck by the basic assumption that production design is somehow "essentially" expressionist (it has been, of course, for much of film history) as opposed to impressionist, or naturalistic or any of the myriad other ways these ideas can be applied.

For instance, part of what makes Malick's The New World fairly unique is that it doesn't seem tied to a particular ideology vis-a-vis production design. There are impressionist moments, naturalistic ones, and even expressionist touches all within the same film. That may make for some primal unease as people try to decide what they are watching.

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That's a very interesting point...although it highlights the role of editing and the visual/aural construction of space as much as set design per se. (Apart from an impressionist set, like Epstein's The Fall of the House of Usher, but then you weren't referring to a visual style, ie. German expressionism.) Some spaces are meant to be continuous wholes that reflect the protagonist's thoughts and feelings (however subtly), but some spaces do not cohere in three dimensions; they are built in piecemeal fashion, discontinuously, impressionistically.

Malick certainly shares Murnau's love of nature, but can the natural world reallly be considered a "set" in terms of film design?

I've been revisiting Vampyr recently, and David Bordwell's comments on how Dreyer uses long takes and camera movement to present non-rational space have been quite fascinating. And I think of how Ozu's bottles and jars continuously rearrange themselves from shot to shot to balance his compositions. ;) Are you thinking along these lines?

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At long last! Can I just say how excited I am over this? Sunrise. On the big screen. In this gorgeous theater. And for free.

Posts like this are rare for me, so I just had to share. :)

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How about that boat-trip sequence? I will never forget that as long as i live.

-s.

One of my favorite sequences from the movie, too. The feeling of danger and betrayal I felt in the first act of Sunrise was more genuine than I feel from most modern movies, which is surprising since I know they wouldn't actually let him go through with it.

By the way, I saw the "city girl" as a kind of demonic temptress figure, which made it easier for me to forgive the husband when he realized what he was doing.

Have you seen the Japanese movie Ugetsu? There's a boat sequence in it that's reminiscent of the one in Sunrise.

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Have you seen the Japanese movie Ugetsu? There's a boat sequence in it that's reminiscent of the one in Sunrise.

It's been recommended to me over and over, so I guess this is the straw that breaks the camel's back to at least get it into the queue.

At the moment, I'm watching movies quite methodically. I just finished a wonderful Ki-Duk Kim marathon, right now I'm working through the No

Edited by Persona

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Jonathan Rosenbaum:

Some film industry bigwigs dream of owning a Rembrandt. In the 1920s, William Fox, head of Hollywood’s Fox studio, wanted a Murnau. A prestigious German director in his late 30s, F.W. Murnau already had 17 German features to his credit (only nine of which survive today). But this was an unprecedented case of a well-stocked studio giving carte blanche to a foreign director simply for the sake of prestige. Murnau took advantage of this opportunity by creating a universal fable that, as an opening intertitle put it, could take place anywhere and at any time: his 1927 masterpiece, Sunrise. . . .

Part of what continues to make it great is its creation in a particular utopian moment in film history: the end of the silent era, when movies reached a certain pinnacle of visual expressiveness that was tied to a dream of universality, a belief that cinema could speak an international tongue. Properly speaking, Sunrise is less a silent picture than a pre-talkie, existing in a strange netherworld between sound and silence. It has a very beautiful and adroitly stylised soundtrack of music and sound effects, composed by Hugo Reisenfeld, that is an essential part of its magic.

The aesthetics of Sunrise have a lot to do with painting, music and literature, brought together in a remarkably interactive way that suggests another utopian dream: a definition of cinema as the meeting point for all the other arts. Subtitled A Song of Two Humans, the film has three movements, beginning and ending with slow tempos in a rural setting that are separated by an urban Scherzo. Apart from the happy ending, which functions like a coda, the movements might be described as melodramatic, comic and tragic, in that order — accompanied by a painterly control of light passing from night to day in the first movement, from day to night in the second and again from night to day in the third. . . .

With a story this elemental, inflections are everything, and Murnau’s richly imaginative and nuanced direction synthesises performances, sets, camera movements and special effects (including many different kinds of superimposition) to spell them out. Early on, when the Man walks across the meadow to meet the City Woman in the marshes, the camera, in a startling effect, eerily takes on an independent intelligence: first following the Man, then moving alongside him and finally rushing ahead of him to arrive at the City Woman by a separate route, before he does. And her evocations of the city once they meet are sexually charged expressionist visions rendered through double exposures and camera gyrations, while the overlaps and distortions of the music convey the same cacophony. Even the intertitles are integrated graphically in the visual design: the City Woman’s line “Couldn’t she get drowned?” sinks and wavers like a body receding below a lake surface covered by mist — an effect complemented at the very end of the movie, when the watery, wavering title “Finis” stiffens from the heat of the rising sun.

“They say that I have a passion for ‘camera angles’,” Murnau wrote in 1928. “To me the camera represents the eye of a person, through whose mind one is watching the events on the screen. It must follow characters at times into difficult places, as it crashed through the reeds and pools in Sunrise at the heels of the Boy, rushing to keep his tryst with the Woman of the City. It must whirl and peep and move from place to place as swiftly as thought itself.” . . .

For all the dated and melodramatic aspects of Murnau’s eccentric stylisation, the erotic charge of the Man’s two relationships — a sexual object for the City Woman, a dominating figure to his Wife — remains startling today in its directness. In more ways than one, Sunrise triumphs as a masterwork of thought and emotion rendered in terms of visual music, where light and darkness sing in relation to countless polarities: day and night, fire and water, sky and earth, city and country, man and woman, thought and deed, good and evil, nature and culture.

Side note: This film was just ranked #7 in the A&F Top 100 for 2010.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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An ad for this movie from a December 1928 copy of a Vancouver newspaper:

IMG_4446b.jpg

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Wow, that is really cool.

7500 people? I kinda thought they just set up in the city and shot, but the ad makes it look like they were all paid.

Edited by Persona

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We just watched this at our film night summer outdoors special, and it was a great experience, and there is certainly loads to love about the film, particularly early on. The camera on it's way to finding the city girl at the lake and the composition when he gets there. The lake scene and its very expressionistic handling of the mood and the tensions therein, and that pursuit into town where the camera lingers on him pathetically pining for her, and her gradually thawing.

But then it seems to go off the boil a little. The second wedding, today at least, feels a bit obvious. The tracking shot into the fair was masterful, but the pig scene is too long and seems out of place with the rest of the film. It trundles along, but compared to the tour de force that has just preceded it, it feels a little pedestrian. I like that this film is different from how it would have been done by most directors today (longer spent exploring the love triangle, a bigger build up to the murder, a shorter time being reunited), but it also doesn't quite work.

And then the ending.

Of course I wanted the girl to live, but it's also a bit of a cop out which weakens the story arc in my opinion. As with the final "shot" in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" which really left me shocked first time I saw it, the ending we want is not always the right one.

So it's great - and perhaps further proof that the maxim about a great film having 3 good scenes and no bad ones doesn't always work (Singin' in the Rain being another example) - but I'm left feeling it could have been even better. I'm impressed by it, but I don't love it. I enjoyed sitting with my friends in the dark watching it in the cool of the evening on a large bedsheet, but the experience will stay with me longer than much of the film. In a way I'm grateful that I can see all the film's best bits in about 20 minutes, but...but.

Incidentally, I'm intrigued as to why it's so highly placed in the Top 100 (and also why its review is so short), I know we dropped the spiritual tag, but I don't find it particularly exceptional in that regard, Stef's brilliant, non-authorial intention comments aside, but neither do I find it so great as to see it ranking so highly without that element coming in to play. Is it this year's "Miracle Maker"?

Sorry the above is so crappily written.

Matt

PS - What's with all that VHS lending stuff at the start of the thread? So aware of PMs but seemingly so unaware of them as well...

Edited by MattPage

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For those of you who live near Chicago and haven't seen Sunrise, you have a chance to see it on the big screen. The Music box Theater is playing it Dec.29 and 30 at 11:30am.

Sunrise on the big screen

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Posted (edited)

I just saw this a week ago for the first time.  I still have to consider what to say and write about it, but for now just wanted to bump this thread in protest of this idea : that we could possibly have only 2 posts over the past 6 years for a film that is (A) #12 on our latest top 100 list and (B) #5 of all time from the Sight and Sound critics' poll.

I hereby attempt an experiment : to wrestle you out of the current cultural moment, out of the Marvel films and Oscar discussions of today, to make a comment or two on a great film from 1927. 

Let's start with this question : How does this film look to us today?  I myself struggled with the urge to say something cynical like : "Yes, it is great, but it is flawed.  It is hard to believe these dramatic swings of character and emotion."  But I think that opinion would be hopelessly rooted in the modern era, forgetting the value of fable and the value of melodrama.  I think I need to see more silent films and more melodrama in general.  And I need to open my heart to learn from the great films of the past.  Especially films that do not quite fit the mold of our current film era and current culture.

Thoughts about this film or reactions to what I've shared?  Is the statement in quotes above a legitimate criticism of the film?  I myself doubt it, but I would love to hear why. :)

Edited by Brian D

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On 3/3/2017 at 9:56 AM, Brian D said:

I just saw this a week ago for the first time.  I still have to consider what to say and write about it, but for now just wanted to bump this thread in protest of this idea : that we could possibly have only 2 posts over the past 6 years for a film that is (A) #12 on our latest top 100 list and (B) #5 of all time from the Sight and Sound critics' poll.

I hereby attempt an experiment : to wrestle you out of the current cultural moment, out of the Marvel films and Oscar discussions of today, to make a comment or two on a great film from 1927. 

Let's start with this question : How does this film look to us today?  I myself struggled with the urge to say something cynical like : "Yes, it is great, but it is flawed.  It is hard to believe these dramatic swings of character and emotion."  But I think that opinion would be hopelessly rooted in the modern era, forgetting the value of fable and the value of melodrama.  I think I need to see more silent films and more melodrama in general.  And I need to open my heart to learn from the great films of the past.  Especially films that do not quite fit the mold of our current film era and current culture.

Thoughts about this film or reactions to what I've shared?  Is the statement in quotes above a legitimate criticism of the film?  I myself doubt it, but I would love to hear why. :)

These are great questions. I'm due for a re-watch of this one. It's been years since I watched it (alone, and on a laptop), and I've had in the back of my mind since then it would be one to watch/discuss with my wife. It's also #4 on the Top 25 Films on Marriage list.

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Posted (edited)

On 3/3/2017 at 0:56 PM, Brian D said:

 It is hard to believe these dramatic swings of character and emotion."  But I think that opinion would be hopelessly rooted in the modern era, forgetting the value of fable and the value of melodrama.  I think I need to see more silent films and more melodrama in general. 

 

Others here  could answer better, but I recently watched this on YouTube and read through the discussion.

[spoilers]

Yes, it’s a stretch, to say the least, for the Wife to warm up so quickly to the Man after he nearly throws her off the boat.  For that matter, it’s questionable (as Peter noted) why either woman would be attached to a man who gets violent so often. The women are stereotypes, the meekly submissive madonna and the criminally-minded vamp...the Wife shown only in  daytime, the Woman shown only at night. Still the film is more nuanced than I expected… not a simplistic duality  between wicked city / innocent farm.  I liked the irony of the City being the scenario for the husband and wife to heal their relationship, through the spontaneous excursion...the peasant dance, etc.

Also I was impressed with the optical effects-- the camera angles, the superimposed images, the stylized title cards. I can see why the film is considered a poetic masterpiece. It comes across as a dreamlike allegory,  rather than a believable narrative.  And, as Persona pointed out - the shadow of the cross on the bed subtly offers a Christian perspective....as does the title with its sun/son resonance.

This tribute had some good insights--                 

http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/2012/sunrise-a-song-of-two-humans-1927/13663/

Edited by phlox

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Thank you for answering, Rob Z and Phlox!

The more I think about it, one thing I am very drawn to about this film is the fact that the soundtrack was made expressly for the film.  It wasn't added many years later.  This makes me more inclined to revisit the film and pay close attention the score and how it has been carefully woven into the poetic texture of the film.

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