This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club. It runs Feb. 1 – Mar. 3, in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar.
Well, dear Reader, there’s no getting around it. We are not as sophisticated as we pretend.
We’ve screened an award-winning movie, one that has received critical acclaim and of which multitudes have said, “It’s the best film ever.”
We, on the other hand, kept glancing at our wristwatch while screening it.
But do not let our uncouth ways dissuade you from watching the 1927 masterpiece, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.
For those of you who adore this movie, please don’t throw anything at us. You probably love all the great things there are to love about this movie – its use of perspective, its camera angles, its special effects. It is a stunning film and, as soon as you see the opening frame, you know the filmmakers have done something special here.
If it feels European, it’s because it was directed by the hugely influential German director F.W. Murnau, who was brought to Fox Studios in 1926 to produce more highbrow, artistic films. He is a show-off who puts the most intricate details in a nondescript scene, and he makes it look effortless.
Example: In one scene, O’Brien brings Gaynor to a quiet cafe in the busy city. The cafe is a serene oasis wrapped in windows; in the street behind the actors, there is non-stop traffic. Serenity in the foreground; mayhem in the background; and it is exquisite.
Plus, Sunrise was one of the first movies to have an actual soundtrack and sound effects, It was released just ahead of another groundbreaking film, The Jazz Singer.
The film was a critical but not a commercial success. There have been many reasons cited for this; we personally think the story is too weak to support the stunning cinematography.
And just never mind that the hero of the story attempts to murder two women in a single 24-hour period! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Sunrise is the story of a man (George O’Brien) who lives in a simple rural village with his wife and baby daughter. However, he leaves the house in the evenings to meet a vacationing “Woman from the City” (Margaret Livingston). Livingston, who slinks through the village in her high-heeled pumps and satin dress, is determined to bust up O’Brien’s marriage. Even worse, everyone knows this affair is taking place, especially the sad wife (Janet Gaynor).
Gaynor won an Oscar for this picture*, but it is Livingston who gives it traction. She is delightfully wicked as the wanton woman, with her sleek Don’t-Mess-With-Me wardrobe. Gaynor, on the other hand, is believable as the virtuous, hard-done-by wife with a hairdo that reminds you of a Ukrainian stacking doll.
O’Brien is very good here, too, and in his murderous phase(s) he looks startlingly modern with his unshaven face and unkempt hair. But we, as viewers, can never really trust his character. His attempt to drown angelic Gaynor in the lake doesn’t elicit much sympathy.
To sum: Should you see Sunrise? Yes. Will you be awed by the special effects and its beauty? Definitely. Should you expect to sit on the edge of your chair while watching it? No. But if you have a passion for films that make you gasp at its beauty, we urge you to see Sunrise.
Academy Awards won (1927):
- Best Actress in a Leading Role – Janet Gaynor
- Best Cinematography – Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
- Best Unique and and Artistic Production
*Note: In 1927, acting Oscars were given for the year’s work. Gaynor appeared in three films that year.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – starring George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston. Directed by F.W. Murnau. Scenario by Carl Mayer. Fox Film Corporation, 1927, B&W, 95 mins.