22 July 2003 | tprofumo
Simply the best
While some film critics disagreed in the late fifties, giving the nod to Murnau's equally brilliant "Last Laugh," this in my view is the crowning achievement of the German genius. Many polls rank it as the greatest silent film ever made and many rank it very high on the all time list of great movies.
The plot is melodramatic, the acting in places heavy handed, and the action seemingly non-existent, at least in the eyes of the "Terminator 3" generation,yet "Sunrise" is so captivating a film that it can be watched over and over again and deliver the same punch every time. In fact, like the other greats,including "Citizen Kane," you can probably get something new out of "Sunrise" every time you watch it, no matter how many times you watch.
Murnau takes barren sets and dark, hallow rooms and turns them into treasure troves of lighting and nuance. He creates something as simple as a railway depot or a big traffic intersection and makes it a story all by itself.
"Sunrise" stands today as one of the most visually fascinating films ever made. Murnau's cinematographers, Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, got an Oscar for their work and surely deserved it. Janet Gaynor won the Best Actress award for her body of work that also included "Seventh Heaven" and also richly deserved the prize. Her face expresses her inner emotions so perfectly that some of her scenes are achingly beautiful.
And the film itself received an academy award for "Most unique and artistic production," an award never given out again, maybe because no picture could live up to the standard set by "Sunrise."
The new DVD version being marketed on the quiet by Fox is marvelous, with a wonderfully restored print that seems just as bright today as it must have in late 1927 when the film was released. The DVD includes an interesting commentary option by cinematographer John Baily and no film is better suited for this, since it tells its story brilliantly with pictures alone, so the commentary option is not a distraction.
One of the great tragedies of the cinema in my view is that few people alive today have seen "Sunrise." They have no idea what they are missing.
This one ranks among the five best films ever made.