Sunrise (1927) USA

When: Sunday mid-afternoon
Director: Frederick W Murnau
Film: 35 mm
Duration: 103 minutes
Live Music by: accompanist Mauro Colombis
Presented by: Dr. Stephen Juan, Author and Academic, University of Sydney

The plot of Sunrise can be told in a couple of sentences: A man from the country is tempted by a loose woman from the city to murder his wife, sell his farm, and move to the city. The man loses the nerve to go through with it all and, by way of a trip to the city and the accidental near drowning of his wife, remembers why he loved her in the first place. What appears simple on the page, however, is turned into an eloquent work of visual poetry by director F.W. Murnau, who successfully marries the unmatched technical proficiency and deep pockets of the Hollywood studio system with the distillation of particularly German strains of artistic and poetic Romanticism and Expressionism. The status of Sunrise as the finest silent film ever made is threatened perhaps only by Murnau’s own The Last Laugh.

The cinematography of Sunrise is some of the most sophisticated and technically skilled work of the silent era. The two cinematographers, Charles Rosher (who was Mary Pickford’s cameraman of choice) and Karl Struss (a fine art and portrait photographer), evoke a visual world that appears frozen in time and yet timeless. There are dozens upon dozens of spectacular superimpositions, matte shots, and montages in the film and what’s more amazing is that every single one of them was done in-camera. The set design is equally impressive, including elements of pastoral countryside straight out of a Caspar David Friedrich etching, severe Bauhaus-inspired architectural design, and fantastical Expressionistic interior spaces.