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Sunrise film image, man and woman in passionate embrace

Arguably the consummate director of the silent era, FW Murnau created the iconic expressionist nightmare Nosferatu (1922) and the fantasy Faust (1926); an eloquent modern parable in The Last Laugh (Der Letzte Mann, 1924); and prefigured the film noir in the transcendent love story Sunrise (1927). Murnau brought unparalleled visual sophistication to motion pictures.

Murnau was schooled in art history and sometimes modeled his compositions after specific paintings. Like other German filmmakers of the WWI era he was influenced by the lighting and staging techniques of Max Reinhardt (he was part of Reinhardt’s company for a time), and embraced the Expressionist effects of chiaroscuro and distorted perspectives. But more importantly, Murnau made the leap to re-imagine space in terms of the mobile camera; his films have a fluidity and dynamism that still feels modern to this day. Murnau’s fluent articulation of expressionist devices like superimposition, camera angle and especially traveling shots, all in a naturalistic drama, proved an international sensation, and he was soon offered a Hollywood contract with Fox.

The first fruit of that contract was Sunrise, which Cahiers du Cinéma would one day declare to be “the single greatest masterwork in the history of cinema”. The story could be described as slight: a villager is seduced by a city vamp, and comes to the brink of murdering his wife before he finds redemption. Murnau’s virtuoso technique doesn’t dress up the material, rather, his sublime images are the heart and soul of this essential film. Like Orson Welles in 1940, Murnau enjoyed unparalleled privilege on the strength of his pedigree as an artist and innovator, someone who would bestow quality and prestige to the business.

In many ways it represents the apogee of the silent era, a synthesis of filmic devices including dissolves, tracking shots, expressionist acting and lighting and breathtaking set design – plus a Movietone score and effects track.

John Ford, for his part, called Sunrise “the greatest motion picture ever produced”, and at the first Academy Awards, it was singled out as “Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production” (as opposed to Wings, “Best Picture, Production”).

Sunrise came =11 in the 2020 Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time.

Sunday’s Pantheon screening will be preceded by a 15 minute introductory lecture and feature a book club-style discussion afterwards.

The summit of the then-new artform. Since then, in so many ways, it’s been a downhill road for American filmmaking.

Joseph McBride

The film is electric: overwhelmingly passionate and sexual.

Antonia Quirke, London Evening Standard

Reckless, romantic, and extravagant.

J Hoberman, Village Voice

 

Presented by

Director

F.W. Murnau

Cast

Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien, Margaret Livingston

Credits
Country of Origin

USA

Year

1927

Language

No Dialogue

19+
94 min

Book Tickets

Sunday June 16

11:00 am
Guests/Q&As Hearing Assistance
VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre
Book Now

Tuesday June 18

5:50 pm
Hearing Assistance
VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre
Book Now

Credits

Producer

William Fox

Cinematography

Charles Rosher, Karl Struss

Editor

Harold D. Schuster

Original Music

Hugo Riesenfeld, Ernö Struss

Art Director

Rochus Gliese

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