Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sunrise (1927)

(From Cherie) Hollywood executive William Fox (who founded Fox Film Corporation) invited German director F.W. Murnau to come to Hollywood and make a film featuring Expressionism, which was a style that used distorted art design for symbolic effect. I will remind you that Sunrise historically did not win “Best Picture.” It won Most Artistic Quality of Production. Visually, Sunrise is really beautiful, which was unexpected for me. Furthermore, the artistic element is enhanced by the fact that the film is silent. However, the plot is really jacked up.

Essentially it is the story about a man, his wife, and his mistress. Man and wife are happily married until the town hussy comes by and the man starts cheating on his wife. Town hussy convinces the man that he must kill his wife so they can live happily ever after. He is to do this by taking her to a nearby town via boat, drowning her on the way, and then capsizing the boat to make it look like an accident. He reluctantly agrees, but is overcome with guilt while standing over his wife ready to throw her overboard and cannot do it. Instead, he frantically rows to shore, where his wife jumps out and runs away from him. He eventually catches up to her and buys her flowers. All is forgiven. However, as they are rowing back home to live happily ever after, (even though he almost killed her hours before), a storm comes along and sinks the boat. The wife is thrown out to sea where she presumably drowns. The man is so angry/sad at his wife’s death that when the mistress shows up thinking that he has murdered his wife and now they are to be together, he chokes her almost to the point of death. Just then, someone calls out that the wife has survived and was rescued by a fisherman. The man runs to his wife, and they kiss and the sunrises over their farmhouse.

So Sunrise: beautiful movie, terrible husband/lover.

(From Chris) I totally agree with Cherie on this one …

How can a movie be so stupid and so profound at the same time?

The story seems at one level so absurd and moralistic and is acted with such exaggeration – To see the town slut as such a stereotype of the moral-less sex pot and his wife the perfection of doting sweetness – to watch him lurch towards said doting wife with his arms outstretched like Frankenstein (to kill her) then so quickly and pitifully repentant –to see her react with such naivetee and forgive– then to see the ease with which they transition to ‘normal’ – one thinks: “how dumb were audiences back then?”

But on the other hand and simultaneously – to see her eyes reflect a simple beauty

that cannot be merely acted – to see him struggle within his dark inner world primitively reflective of the feelings of one partner or another in so many torn-up marriages – to witness a genuine renewal that is played out I am sure in one level or another in enduring commitments across the globe – that one is thinking: “how profound were audiences back then?”

It’s as though every marriage in this world must go through just such a crisis. It’s like this film is but a very literal interpretation of the inner torment followed by the existential choice followed by change of heart that makes ‘happily ever after’ possible at all.

Warning: there is a gratuitous showing of legs and even shoulders in this film! One even suspects the released pig to be a mere excuse for the gratuitous showing of a row of women’s knees (must every movie have a ‘sex scene’???). There are several attempts at levity in the city part of this film that will be mostly in the ‘laugh at’ category for modern audiences but that are still retrospectively cute, like a time capsule of silly humor.

The method of the film is deeply introspective and seems (I can only imagine since I wasn’t around then) well ahead of its time. The surreality of some of the scenes is even anticipatory of some of the ‘psychelic’ tricks of 60’s drug films. That introspectiveness then aids the viewer in the non-literal interpretation of this film as ‘beautifully profound’ rather than as ‘trite and absurd’.

I am so happy to have begun our journey with a silent film something that says much more than the vast majority of movies today. At its worst it’s ridiculous at its best it’s the song of every human.

Interesting facts:

· Sunrise's original negative was destroyed in a fire. A new negative was created from a surviving print.

· The film contains the longest continuous tracking shot ever made, over four minutes in one take.

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