Sunrise is the first feature film directed by F.W Murnau for Fox Film Corporation. It was released with synchronized sound-on-film using the Fox Movietone system. It was a big budget production. But the ‘first talkie’ The Jazz Singer (1927) from Warner Brothers which, came after a few days cut into its profits. The film fared badly at the box-office.
Also known as A Song of Two Humans is a fable portraying rural life versus urban life. The story could have been set anytime and anywhere. A rural couple’s enduring love overcomes the hostile, destructive forces of the Jazz Age city. Within this we have love seduction, attempted murder, forgiveness and reconciliation the whole gamut of human emotions to qualify this as a melodrama but in its treatment and development the story acquires a lyrical quality: it is poetic work of art with roots in the German Expressionist movement (from 1914 to 1924).
Austrian Carl Mayer wrote the screenplay, adapting the story/novella A Trip to Tilsit (“Die Reise Nach Tilsit“) by novelist/playwright Hermann Sudermann.
A farmer falls prey to a seductress from the city. She suggests him to do away with his wife.
Woman: Tell me. You are all mine? (He nods and kisses her again. She strokes his hair.) Sell your farm…come with me to the City.
Man: …and my wife?
Woman: (laughing and holding close to his neck) Couldn’t she get drowned? [The word drowned fades into view.]
He plots to murder her during a boat trip to City of Bright Lights. During this trip, the conscience of the farmer is pricked and he relents( reminiscent of a similar situation in the George Steven’s film, A Place In The Sun). In the city the couple fall in love again. On their return trip, a tempestuous storm appears to drown the wife, but she is eventually found and the family is reunited and reconciled.
Their tearful reconciliation is completed by a view of a church across the street where a wedding is taking place. It seems to bring to the farmer his own wedding and what it means to love. Overcome by emotion in a close-up, he sobs in his wife’s lap and recites along with bridegroom the vows. He now understands its significance of love even as the minister asks the bridegroom: “Wilt thou LOVE her?”
The minister continues:
God is giving you, in the holy bonds of matrimony, a trust. She is young…and inexperienced. Guide her and love her…keep and protect her from all harm.
Charles Rosher and Karl Struss won the first Academy Award for Cinematography (the first with panchromatic stock), for their skillful use of superimposition, effective employment of imagery and symbolism, and lyrical quality. Breakthrough camera tracking movements gave the film its fluidity and it wonderful atmospherics owe to the manner the camera could move through space (the marsh, the trolley ride to town, boats, dance halls, trolley cars, and city traffic), creating an unusual illusion of depth and vastness. The moving camera was to influence future films, including John Ford’s The Informer (1935) and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). All the sets (both exterior and interior) were constructed to recede slightly in the distance, to produce further illusions of depth. Other techniques included placing larger physical objects in the foreground of shots, and having midgets as figures in the city backgrounds.
The contrast between rural ‘country’ life and urban ‘city’ life are emphasized through sun-lit and studio-lit exterior and interior shots and this sets the mood and interest. The moonlight, the swampy marshes, and the surface of the lake all capture the astonishing play of the light.
The Man: [pleading to his wife] Don’t be afraid of me!
[opening title cards]
Title Card: This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time.
Title Card: For wherever the sun rises and sets, in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.
* The original negatives of the film were destroyed in a fire in 1937.
* Fox studio’s first ever feature film with a recorded score.
* Was the first and only film to win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) ‘Best Picture’ award in the category of “Artistic Quality of Production” (or “Unique and Artistic Picture”). This was the only year that this award was ever given out.
* The scenes in the city were not filmed on location. They were filmed on a vast and expensive set, built especially for the movie.
* Many of the superimpositions throughout the film were created “in the camera”. The camera would shoot one image at the side of the frame, blacking out the rest of the shot, then expose the film. They would put the exposed film back into the camera and shoot again, blocking out the area that already had an image on it.
Director F.W. Murnau wanted Camilla Horn (with whom he had worked in Germany on _Faust (1926)_) for the part of “The Wife”, but she was under contract to the German studio UFA at the time and they refused to loan her out, so the part went to Janet Gaynor.
* Although well-received critically, this film did not do well at the box office, which led to the studio “reining in” F.W. Murnau creatively for his next several films.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #82 Greatest Movie of All Time. It was the first inclusion of this film on the list.(imdb)
* Much of the exterior shooting was done at Lake Arrowhead in California.
* Murnau makes extensive use of forced perspective throughout the film. Of special note is a shot of the City where you see normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and little people in the background along with much smaller sets. (wikipedia)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Directed by F. W. Murnau
Produced by William Fox
Written by Carl Mayer
Starring Janet Gaynor
Cinematography Charles Rosher
musical score by Hugo Riesenfeld
Editing by Harold D. Schuster
Distributed by Fox Film Corporation
Release date(s) Sept. 23, 1927
Running time 95 minutes
Variété (1925, Ewald André Dupont)
Lonesome (1928, Paul Fejos)
Broken Blossoms (1919, D.W. Griffith)
A Day in the Country (1936, Jean Renoir)
Fièvre (1921, Louis Delluc)
Menilmontant (1925, Dimitri Kirsanoff)
An American Tragedy (1931, Josef von Sternberg)
East Is East (1916, Henry Edwards)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Tabu (1931, Robert Flaherty, F.W. Murnau)
The Johnstown Flood Narrated (1926, Irving Cummings)
A Star Is Born (1937, Jack Conway, William Wellman)
No Man of Her Own (1932, Wesley Ruggles)
The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935, Victor Fleming)
I Loved a Woman (1933, Alfred E. Green)
The Iron Horse (1924, John Ford)
Romance in Manhattan (1934, Pandro S. Berman, Stephen R. Roberts)
Other Related Movies
is featured in: Interview With the Vampire (1994, Neil Jordan)
(wikipedia, filmsite.org http://www.allmovie.com)