Full title: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
. A 1927 film directed by F. W. Murnau. It was his first American film and won three Academy Awards: Best Actress (Janet Gaynor), Best Cinematography, and Best Artistic Quality of Production (an alternate Best Picture award that existed only that year). It is perhaps best known for its massive critical acclaim (even over 80 years later) and for either inventing or perfecting many of the camera, special effects and storytelling techniques we take for granted now.
The story follows a rural man (George O'Brien) who, under the influence of an urban temptress (Margaret Livingston), plans to kill his wife (Gaynor) by pushing her out of a boat. He can't go through with it, though: the couple continue their boat ride to The City
, where they reconcile and have a day's worth of innocent adventures.
But when they begin to row home, a storm rises, the boat sinks, and the man believes his wife to be dead.
The temptress approaches the man again, but this time he rejects her; he is about to strangle her when villagers arrive with news of his wife's survival. He abandons his erstwhile mistress and returns to his wife. The film ends with them together, watching the sun rise.Sunrise
is considered a stylistic masterpiece and is the Ur Example
, Trope Maker
or Trope Codifier
of many now-common camera and special effects techniques like Epic Tracking Shot
and Forced Perspective
. Its lyrical camera movement and minimal use of intertitles are typical of Murnau, and German Expressionist
influence shows in the oversized sets of the amusement park where much of the film takes place and in the juxtaposition of outdoorsy tactile details with soundstage artificiality in the village scenes. But the setting is not disturbing in itself, as it is in many German Expressionist films (the fractured brainscapes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
, the cold machine-world of Metropolis
, the corrupt antiquation of Murnau's own Nosferatu
). Instead, it functions as an unobtrusive, archetypal backdrop for what is in essence a modern fable.
The film was selected for preservation in the inaugural year of the Library of Congress' National Film Registry (1989).
- Academy Award: See above. It should be noted that at the time acting awards were given for one's body of work within the year, so Gaynor's Oscar was not just for this film, but also for Street Angel and Seventh Heaven.
- Amusement Park
- Betty and Veronica
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The bulrushes.
- The City: The Woman is from there, and the Man and Wife renew their love there.
- Comforting Comforter
- Down On The Farm
- Easily Forgiven: Your husband said he was sorry. Check. He said he was really, really sorry. Check. But you know, he did almost murder you, and that was after he cheated on you and sold off much of your farm.
- Enforced Method Acting: O'Brien achieved the beaten, plodding walk of the Man in the first part of the film by putting weights in his shoes.
- Epic Tracking Shot: Not by modern standards, maybe, but the way the camera follows the Man as he walks through the swamp to meet the Woman was very innovative for 1928 Hollywood.
- Evil Detecting Dog: When the Man takes the Wife out on the lake, their dog knows something is up.
- Forced Perspective: Used for much of the movie to make the sets both in the village and in the city look bigger than they really were.
- Fun With Intertitles: When the Woman asks the Man "Couldn't she be drowned?", the titles melt and fall to the bottom of the screen.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: If we hadn't already figured out that the Woman From The City was bad after finding out she's breaking up the Man's marriage, or after seeing her plot the murder of the Wife, that cigarette she keeps puffing on would do it.
- Heavy Sleeper: The Wife falls asleep on the way back and doesn't wake up when the wind picks up and a storm rolls over the boat. It takes a clap of thunder to bring her around. In fairness, the film does show that she's a little bit drunk after their night out in the City.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Gaynor didn't even get to O'Brien's collarbone level. This makes the scene where he looms over her in the boat particularly effective.
- Letting Her Hair Down: The Wife in the last scene.
- Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: The Woman from The City is the Dark Feminine (hedonist, cheater), while The Wife is the Light Feminine (goody-goody all the way through).
- Messy Pig: One gets loose at a restaurant.
- The Mistress: The Woman From The City.
- Mood Whiplash: Everywhere. The scene where the Man tries to murder his Wife is pretty scary. After that the narrative is tragic for a while, then it morphs into something like a country-bumpkin-in-the-city comedy, then it's quite romantic and sweet as the Man and the Wife sail home under the moon, and then the storm happens...
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Averted at the last moment.
- Nameless Narrative: The archetypal characters are known only as The Man, The Wife, and The Woman from the City.
- Silence Is Golden: While, yes, its a "silent" film, the movie actually has very little dialogue and very few intertitles. Most character interactions are through facial expressions and body motions.
- "Silent film" is in quotes here because the only thing that makes it a silent film is its lack of spoken dialouge: Sunrise was the first film to use the experimental Fox Movietone system, making it the first motion picture have its sound track printed on film. Aside from the score being present, there's even some early use of sound effects during a scene where the Man and Wife are standing in the middle of an intersection (that scene also features some wordless grumbles, making Sunrise one of the earliest films with some form of recorded human noise).
- Thunder Equals Downpour
- The Vamp
- Wedding Day: The Man and Wife stumble upon a wedding in the City, leading to their reconciliation.
- When It Rains, It Pours: On the way back home.