#78. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
Written by: Carl Mayer (based on The Excursion to Tilsit by Hermann Sudermann)
Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
1927 marked the release of the first full-length film featuring synchronized sound in the form of The Jazz Singer, effectively rendering the silent long-standing film industry irrelevant. Famed German director F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans stood as one of the last major films of the silent era. Silent films would continue to be released for a number of years while major Hollywood studios worked to iron out the many kinks in synchronized sound, but many historians agree that Sunrise may be the definitive film of the medium’s last years. Murnau’s film won the first and only Academy Award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, which would be recognized as something of a runner-up prize to first ever Best Picture winning Wings. Sunrise follows a Man (George O’Brien) as he carries out an affair with a city woman (Margaret Livingston). The woman tells the Man that he should sell his farm and come live his life with her in the city. They decide that in order to do this, the Man must first murder his Wife (Janet Gaynor). After a failed attempt to drown his Wife, the Man has a sudden change of heart and the two spend an eventful evening together in the city. Sunrise tells a beautiful and moving story of love, regret, and temptation, but with unparalleled style and grace. Murnau’s experience with German expressionism is apparent throughout the majority of Sunrise, combining rich cinematography with elaborate, exaggerated set design. Sunrise is a true testament to the raw power of silent cinema, unfortunately arriving near the end of the medium’s lifespan. Murnau did for movies of the late 1920’s what Citizen Kane did for the medium in the 40’s, employing the use of superimposition’s, tracking shots, and forced perspective. It’s certainly a slow-burn when compared to the romantic films of today, but Sunrise packs a tremendous emotional punch in its many touching, genuine moments. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is everything that a silent film could possibly be, and served as a fitting farewell for the relevance of the style.