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Simply the best
tprofumo22 July 2003
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.
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The Greatest Of The Silent Films
FlickeringLight21 July 2004
I am a big fan of the silent era, especially the German expressionist films, and I would have to say that although there are many great silent films-- Metropolis, Pandora's Box, The Wind, etc.-- this film is my favorite. I feel that it is Murnau's greatest film. While it does not have the social implications of his films such as "Nosferatu" or "Faust," the cinematography, acting, and Murnau's unabashed belief in the power of love helps this film to rise above the rest.

The acting is sterling, with a 21-year-old Janet Gaynor looking incredibly similar to Drew Barrymore, and delivering a layered performance that reveals her character's strong but tenuous emotional state. I suspect that George O'Brien wasn't exactly what Murnau wanted for his lead actor, due to the lengths that Murnau went to to extract O'Brien's performance, but credit is due the actor for a performance which was brave at times and never ego-centric.

Murnau's use of symbolism and metaphor are suppressed compared to the standards of his other films. In this film their use is more to augment the story rather than actually being the story under the narrative. One example is the fish nets waving the wind as O'Brien returns home from his tryst with the dark seductress, a terrific metaphor for his entrapment and helplessness.

The story itself is one that can appeal to many audiences, as it has its fair share of melodrama, comedy, sap, and suspense. I saw this film with my 17-year-old nephew, who is your typical disaffected digital generation teenager, and he was awful quiet during the dramatic sequences and awful loud during the comic portions. It is amazing how I my own emotions were manipulated by the film without Murnau ever being manipulative or obvious.

The true star of this film, of course, is the cinematography. It is simply awesome. I have done a lot of work with old film cameras, and I have no clue how Strauss managed some of the shots he did. Murnau was one of the first directors, if not the first, to use camera motion during a film. This was no small feat in the days where the camera was not motorized and had to be hand-cranked. The camera movement is amazing. There is a shot where O'Brien moves through the swamp, with wet, muddy, and uneven ground, to meet the woman from the city, and the camera tracks along with him. It looks like a steadicam shot! No track could have performed this shot as it exists, and I have no explanation on how he did this other than that he must have suspended the camera from the ceiling of the studio. Shooting a swamp scene with fog and a full moon in a studio is a feat in itself. There are also other feats of cinematography. There are several shots where the city is the typical cardboard cutout, there are people milling around in the street, yet the trains and trolleys are obviously models. HOW????? If you are able to get the DVD with the cinematography commentary, it is well worth the investment.

To the king of the silents... 10/10
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If you only see one film this century...
benoit-314 July 2003
I finally got a hold of the 'Sunrise' DVD, which is only available in English-speaking America (for free) by buying three titles of the excellent Fox Studio Classics line and sending in proofs of purchase. I urge everyone to get this DVD either by sending your three coupons to the promotion or by dealing with someone in the province of Québec since it appears to be the only place in North America where this contest is void and one can buy it directly off the shelf.

I have heard about 'Sunrise' all my life but the closest I ever got to see a part of it was, as a quote, in Martin Scorsese's 2-DVD made-for-the-BBC lecture with illustrations 'A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies' (1995). Nobody told me the following:

It is a pioneering, overwhelming piece of cinema that still manages to move me (ME!) after I thought I had seen everything. It is a profoundly human film which made me cry for 15 minutes solid in its first part (a reconciliation scene that has to be seen to be believed). This film has more special effects than Terminator 3, all in the service of a thoroughly poetic, bucolic, pastoral, personal, contemplative, idiosyncratic, lyrical, late romantic and expressionist vision of humanity. Its love story, poignant and comic elements have inspired, in no specific order, René Clair ('Le Million'), Jean Vigo ('L'Atalante', 'Zéro de conduite'), Charlie Chaplin (all his subsequent films), Fellini ('La Strada', 'Nights of Cabiria') and even James Cameron ('Titanic').

The camera is extremely mobile (more so than in most of today's films, except maybe The Matrix) and the acting is superb. I finally understand why Janet Gaynor was such a big star and a big deal in her time. Her co-star George O'Brien would be hunk-o-rama of the month at the box office today if he was still around. Margaret Livingston (who she?) is also quite realistic as a believably enticing city girl vamp (of modest means) who tries to lure the hero away from his deserving wife.

The DVD has more extras than a Criterion issue, including a tentative reconstruction of Murnau's missing American masterpiece 'The Four Devils' (a circus love story) and the entire shooting scripts of both 'Sunrise' and 'The Four Devils'.

'Sunrise' is presented with two soundtracks: the original (mono) Movietone (i.e. optical track) anonymous composite soundtrack cobbled together from several sources (think Wagner's Siegfried Idyll) and a newly written and recorded (stereo) score with all-original themes, that closely follows the original in spirit but not in melody.

Both soundtracks try to add an intimate, poetic dimension to the film, which is subtitled 'A Song of Two Humans'. The music is an integral part of the experience as the film is conceived as a tone poem and, as such (my theory) is a kind of transcription for the masses of Schoenberg's 1900 string ensemble tone poem 'Verklärte Nacht' (Transfigured Night), a late-Romantic/early expressionist attempt to describe musically the 'truly profound and authentic' relationship between a man and a woman who have problems (the music follows a poem of the era).

Both soundtracks succeed admirably, my preference going to the new one, despite the original's polish, historical value and magnificent preservation. And that would be because, although in the silent era there was no stigma attached to accompanying silent movies with a score made up of public domain and rather recognizable pieces, as long as they fit the mood, times have changed ('2001, A Space Odyssey' notwithstanding) and this practice is more distracting than anything for a contemporary, moderately educated spectator.

Murnau had very highbrow ambitions but his film is totally clear and populist and made to reach the widest popular audience thanks to the incredible sums of money and artistry that Fox poured in the project. 20th Century Fox basically imported a genius from Germany, gave him a ton of money and told him: 'Make us a movie that will be the most prestigious ever made in this town and that will win us the first Oscar'. And that's just what he did!

Needless to say, that was a long time before Rupert Murdoch took over the Fox Corporation...
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An Artistic Masterpiece & Also A Joy To Watch
Snow Leopard2 January 2002
This is one of the few movies that fully deserves all the raves that it gets. Some movies are artistic masterpieces more to be admired than enjoyed, leaving the viewer feeling a little distant; other movies can be enjoyable and satisfying to watch, but with obvious artistic defects. "Sunrise" is a nearly perfect movie that is impressive in every detail, and it is also a joy to watch, offering moments of suspense and tension and other moments of humor and humanity.

The story provides a very thoughtful look at the importance and the fragile nature of human relationships. Janet Gaynor is wonderful as the wife - she is always believable, endearing, and completely sympathetic. George O'Brien is also good as the husband, and both of their performances are enhanced by director Murnau's use of their body language. There are also many minor touches in the settings and action that help guide the story and the mood, and it is all complemented by some fine camera work. The first time you watch the film, your attention is fixed on the leading couple, as you hope against hope that things will work out all right for them. Repeated viewings reveal many of the other fine details that make everything work so well.

The movie also has plenty of variety and a masterful structure. The first part and the last part are tense and full of suspense, but they sandwich a very enjoyable series of lighter vignettes in the middle, which make a perfect complement both to the story and to the tone of the movie.

It is very difficult these days to track down this movie, which is a real shame, and even when you do find it you generally have to make do with a rather fuzzy or defective print. But it is well worth the trouble, and "Sunrise" is highly recommended to any silent film fan or to anyone who can appreciate a movie made the way that movies ought to be made. It is not only one of the great masterpieces of the silent era, but is as good a film as any made since.
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A story of two humans.
boris-265 December 2001
SUNRISE is easily the greatest film made in the silent era. Murnau's story (or filmed poem, according to the credits) is about a troubled farmer (George O'Brien) and his secret girlfriend (Margaret Livingston) plotting to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor, possibly the sweetest, most likable adult character in film history!) The storyline, the dark, moody photography, the creepy sets (especially that swamp!) makes you think this will be a thriller with an unhappy ending, much like AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. About half-way through the film, Murnau pulls such a daring 180 degree turn with his film, you'll shake your head, and will love it. I doubt film-makers today would try for such a daring move!

It is shame that Murnau died middle aged in 1931. Had he of lived another 30 years, and made films up until the age of Cinemascope, looser censorship, 60's technology, what great films we would have.
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A bittersweet symphony of life and love
The_Void16 October 2004
Before the movie starts properly, Sunrise professes that life is sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet, and that is exactly what this film is; a bittersweet symphony of life and love. Flamboyant German director, F.W. Murnau directs this film with a great love and precision, his direction in the movie is flawless. Sunrise features very little story cards, and it almost totally told with just visuals and music. This is a testament to Murnau's talent for storytelling; to portray a story without dialogue is something that all silent films have to do, but to tell a story without many story cards either is something that many directors would struggle to do. The music in Sunrise is simply sublime; it fits what's going on in the film to a tee, and also succeeds in making the visuals' power more potent. Sunrise is a groundbreaking film, some of the techniques used by Murnau to tell his story are amazing, especially for the time. Techniques such as his use of flashback have had a major impact on cinema as a whole.

And the film isn't just a technical marvel either; there is more than enough substance here. The plot isn't massively substantial, but it's the subtext that is important. It follows the story of a man who, tempted by a woman from the city, gets talked into murdering his wife. Him and his wife used to be madly in love, described by their maid as 'being like children', but the love has since stagnated and so the man is easily taken in by an offer from a beautiful to move to the city. However, when it comes to doing the act; he can't do, and so the film moves into following the two falling back into love. Like life itself, the film is never plain sailing and that seems to be it's central message, along with the fact that love is more powerful than anything that life can throw at you. And those are welcome messages in any film, especially one as brilliant as this.

Overall, Sunrise is a masterpiece. It easily ranks as one of the best, and most important silent films ever made and it is as brilliantly technically as it is on the substance front. A must see for all fans of cinema.
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A movie of redemption.
dbdumonteil30 March 2003
This Murnau work comes from the end of the silent era,and the miracle is that it needs nothing:it has everything.There are hardly a dozen of subtitles for a ninety- minute movie,and that's enough.The rest is the actors'sublime performances and Murnau's flawless directing. George O' Brien and Janet Gaynor do not speak,and however,we can hear them,with all our heart ,with all our soul.Their faces reflect what they endure,suffer and enjoy.Because this is not only a drama.Sometimes it turns to a true comedy.For me the scene in the church climaxes the work:the husband,desperate to a fault,and his wife ,who saw her sincere love atrociously betrayed ,"get marry" again and the priest's words will drive you to tears.

Unlike "Nosferatu",which took place in dark places ,and before "tabu" which would be an hymn to the nature -in every sense of the word,and probably the key to WF Murnau's entire canon"-,"Sunrise" is a diurnal movie,beginning with a meeting with the husband and his mistress at the break of dawn,and ending in the deep of the night,but the very last picture brings back sunrise,which epitomizes a new beginning, a new christening,a redemption.And the man ,crying and begging for pardon,it might be Murnau who thought his homosexuality was a crime -Nosferatu might be a metaphor as well,as the hero who abducts a priestess he's in love with in "tabu" -A true auteur opens up in his movies,if we can read between the lines.

Murnau was,along with Fritz Lang,one of the two most influential forces of the expressionism .
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Sublime, beautiful silent romance
Fredalba Road18 March 1999
Warning: Spoilers
Put simply, not only the greatest silent film ever made, but one of the 10-15 perfect films. Sunrise, to me, is the definitive moment in silent cinema. Not only is sound unnecessary, but so are words -- indeed, there are remarkably few title cards. Instead, Murnau trusts in the ability of his images to convey his story; he doesn't need words. The story itself is simple, archetypal. It functions primarily as a frame onto which Murnau fastens scene after scene of breathtaking splendor. In particular, the first shots of the City are dizzyingly complex and layered. Additionally, it's impossible to come away unimpressed by the Storm which tosses the characters during their return journey. Murnau is one of the few filmmakers, and perhaps the first, to truly embrace the possibilities of film as its own medium, rather than as a novelty or, alternatively, a convenient way to preserve a stage play. Though he is better remembered for other films, most particularly Nosferatu, Sunrise is his crowning achievement.
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Sunrise of cinema
egomacp1 July 2004
I have no words. This is cinema. This is not a story, this is not a plot. This is THE STORY, this is THE PLOT. Murnau can describe the human beings, the men, the women and the fast blind society. The woman of the city seems to be a post-modern nosferatu. She is a vampire, she moves like Dracula, she is like a witch around a tree. This film holds the tragedy and the comedy, the laughing and the crying. "Sunrise" doesn't belong to the past, but It belongs to the story, to the time. Sunrise, yes...the sunrise of the modern cinema waiting for "Citizen Kane".
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Cinematic Magic Realism
Preston-107 October 2003
I found this movie at the library the other day and I had to rent it after being aware for the longest time that it's the highest film on the Sight & Sound list that I have not seen yet. After seeing it, can I say that it deserves its honor? … I would say so, it's the polar opposite of modern film and that gets my interest since it reveals so much that cinema has gained and lost in 75 years. It tells a simple story while getting the most out of my reaction…as opposed to movies that utilize technology, over character and story development, even though this is a movie that has time to be showy and flashy with its beautiful city sequences. After seeing Abel Gance's Napoleon, a film from the same era, I would consider this movie on par for its technical angle, which I think is half the selling point for the critic's circles. It employs a magic realism that you will not find in any modern film today, a movie where you don't care if it takes them a minute to travel from the forest to the city….
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crying on film
caspian197817 October 2000
A lot of film historians will tell you that Gone With the Wind was the first film that has the leading man crying on film. Clark Gable was said to be the first actor to do this.

This is not so.

In fact, George O'Brien is the first actor to do so. In the famous wedding scene, O'Brien breaks down in tears in front of his wife when he remembers back to the vow he took with his wife.

Sunrise is one of the last great silent films that is filled with so many wonderful moments which helped it win the first and only Academy Award for Best Silent Film.
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Its influence is seemingly endless
laursene17 September 2004
Sunrise is a masterpiece, and its influence shines through in many later films. A couple come to mind very powerfully: Vigo's L'Atalante, another story about a couple who find each other, lose each other, and find each other again against the backdrop of a kaleidoscopic city; and Fleming's The Wizard of Oz, which has a similar conceptual framing - starting with monochromatic rural setting, moving to dazzling, dreamlike fantasy metropolis, and then back to a new dawn in the old rural setting. (I guess that means Janet Gaynor is Dorothy, George O'Brien is the Scarecrow, the city folk are the Munchkins, and the Woman from the City is the Wicked Witch of the West. But then, one can go too far with this kind of thing!) There are certainly more, and why not? Sunrise is a perfect example of what silent movies did so often and talkies seem to have to work like crazy to squeeze out: The illusion that one is entering a wonderful dream world. Escape, in other words, in the very best sense.

O'Brien was a big star for Fox in the 1920s, and several of his other firms are worth looking up as well (there's one I forget the name of where he plays a boxer). Gaynor is beyond perfect for her part, and in 1927-28, when she won the Oscar, she really must have seemed like the most powerful screen presence in Hollywood. I recently saw her in Street Angel, which was made about the same time, and she's equally superb in a quite different role.
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Aizyk7 October 2000
I usually don't care much for silent films, but this one impressed and touched me. There were a couple things that bugged me just a bit, like the husband's apparently dismissable propensity towards violence, but I won't go into detail about that because someone already mentioned it. The director was skillful and his sense of visual style was nice, especially in the shot from inside the barn where the husband opens the door, and beyond it, the fog is shown passing by some wooden wheels in the background outside, and also the scene where the woman describes the city as they lay in the grass, while above them, superimposed shots moving down streets are shown. The most powerful thing about this movie, however, was Janet Gaynor's performance. She was sweet, and touchingly innocent, but not in a gratuitous, annoying kind of way that tries to sloppily, unskillfully and patronizingly manipulate the emotions of the viewer. My heart ached for her as she joyfully prepared to go out boating for the day with her increasingly distant husband, not knowing what was really in store for her, and afterwards when she'd had her heart broken by the devastating realization that he had almost murdered her. The loving look on her face, slowly melting away as she began to sense something was very wrong during the scene in which her husband rows away from shore was a powerful one for me, and an example of the acting skill that won her the Best Actress Oscar.

George O'Brian's performance was good as well, especially when he was overcome with guilt. But did anyone else besides me think he moved a lot like Frankenstein's monster in certain parts? Not to say that it was any detriment to his performance however, since the movies with those stereotypical Frankenstein portrayals came later.
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A work of art about the permanence of love and the temporary nature of lust...
AlsExGal10 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
... and yes, I have plot spoilers in this review, but you could read the plot of Sunrise from beginning to end and have taken away no more versus actually seeing it as you could substitute the reading of a menu with actually enjoying a fine meal. In other words, plot is not the point of this film at all.

There is nothing special about the story behind this movie. A farmer (George O'Brien) is attracted by a vamp from the City (Margaret Livingston) who seduces him and has gradually had him selling his farm off piece by piece to provide presents for her. She finally suggests that he leave his failing farm altogether and return with her to the City. However, to complete the plan, he will need to drown his country wife(Janet Gaynor). A few days later, the farmer takes his wife for a trip to the city. As he rows his wife across the lake that is between their village and the trolley, he comes close to doing away with her. However, always a reluctant partner in this plan, he recoils in horror and rows the boat to the shore, his wife unharmed. The wife, having seen the murder in her husband's eyes, jumps onto the trolley to the city with her husband in hot pursuit. Once in the city, he reassures her that he would not harm her, and he begins to feel real remorse for his previous actions. They slip into a church and watch a wedding ceremony going on, and in doing so begin to reconnect to one another. By the end of the day, they've fallen in love again; the man remembering why it was he married his wife in the first place. However, when a storm breaks out on their way back across the lake, the wife falls out of the boat. The farmer goes for help and the entire village looks for her, hoping she has not been drowned in the storm. This rather simple story could easily have been transformed into a hackneyed melodrama. What makes Sunrise a great film, though, is the majesty and tenderness F.W. Murnau managed to give it without the benefit of audible conversation.

Particularly intriguing is the set of the unnamed "City". If the traffic patterns shown in this movie are indicative of traffic laws in the 1920's it's a wonder anybody made it to or from work alive. Early autos, horse-drawn carriages, and people all chaotically race through the streets without rhyme or reason. Also wondrous are the night shots of the Coney Island-style amusement park where the farmer and his wife go for some fun before returning home as well as the view of the trolley ride and and the glide following the farmer through the moonlit marsh.

A little known fact is that Sunrise was one of the first feature films to use sound-on-film techniques, in which Fox was a pioneer. There were fully synchronized sounds of automobiles, church bells, crowds, and other effects. Unfortunately, "The Jazz Singer" was released shortly after Sunrise, and Sunrise failed at the box office. Time, however, has had a different judgment. Sunrise is still appreciated today as a whole motion picture experience, not just a temporary technical triumph that has faded as other technical triumphs take its place.
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A Universal Story
bkoganbing6 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In that first year of the Academy Awards when for the only time players were nominated for their whole body of work that came out in that period rather than for one particular performance, Janet Gaynor was so honored with the Best Actress Award. Besides Sunrise Gaynor was also acknowledged in the award for her work in Seventh Heaven and Street Angel.

But in Sunrise has any lasting importance it is because it is the most honored work of German director F.W. Murnau who succumbed to the lure of Hollywood and created this film as his first American production. Murnau did only four more films and died in 1931 prematurely in a car crash. Being a gay man, I'm sure he would not have found the atmosphere of the Nazi controlled cinema that would come to his native country very shortly. Unlike Emil Jannings who returned to Germany because of his language problems here in America with the coming of sound and who liked the new Germany, Murnau would not have found a producer like Joseph Goebbels very congenial.

There is no hint of the nationality of the leads George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor or the rest of the cast. It was deliberately so, I believe as Murnau was trying for a universal story about true love and virtue triumphing. Gaynor in both the silent and talking cinema nearly always played women of rural background as she is here. Her husband O'Brien is having a tough go on the farm and falls prey to a silent screen seductress played by Margaret Livingston. Her advice to just kill the wife and run off with her is met with horror. But it does prey on O'Brien's mind. Gaynor senses something wrong and becomes afraid of her husband for a time.

The story is a simple one, but the cinematography is mesmerizing. In fact Sunrise won another Oscar, the first awarded for best cinematography. The images created by Murnau of the city, especially the fair where Gaynor and O'Brien rekindle their romance will stay with you. And Sunrise has good special effects, especially the flood sequence.

George O'Brien was a popular leading man in the sound and early talking era. He first gained attention in John Ford's classic silent western, The Iron Horse. As the Thirties progressed he went down in popularity and was doing mostly B westerns. Ford always kept him in mind though, you might remember him as Captain Collingwood in Fort Apache and post commander Major Allshard in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. He was also a foolhardy Colonel who gets killed by the renegade Cheyenne in Cheyenne Autumn which was his farewell film.

I was interested in the fact that Murnau made very little use in this film of subtitles, fewer here than in most silents. He preferred to let his cinematography tell the story.

And it's a beautifully told tale.
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KylePowell15 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Captivating to say the least. In the beginning, this film bombards you with plot and puts you to the edge of your seat. All while telling a magnificent tale of a dying marriage, adultery, plots for murder, and the rekindling of a forgotten love.

The acting was done very well. George O'Brien does a wonderful job of depicting a man broken by society and looking for a way out of the life he's built. Margaret Livingston also does well with portraying the "siren from the city" who, in the end, ends up exactly where she started.

In all, I believe the film was ingeniously done and was revolutionary for it's time. With film-making being a fairly new concept (Just over 20 years), and the fact that the first sound film was released the same year, this movie truly cemented itself as one of the best silent era films.
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Best silent film I ever saw
Bored_Dragon19 November 2016
Beautiful, perfectly filmed story about love, passion, guilt and redemption. In my opinion, his sin is unforgivable, but if you are able to get over that, you'll enjoy for sure. Camera, directing, acting, music, everything is perfect. Movie leans on German expressionism and it truly is visual work of art. This is the only movie in history to win Academy Award for Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production, maybe because it was the single year that award existed, and maybe because no movies deserved it ever after. Beside that, it won Best Cinematography and Best Female Leading Role. Film keeps attention and conveys strong emotions. This is the very best silent movie I ever saw.
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Murnau IS Cinema!
PureCinema9 July 1999
This is the third F.W. Murnau film I've seen, and with Sunrise I'm absolutely convinced that he was one of the all-time masters of cinema, and deserves to be ranked among the greats. Murnau creates a beautiful, poignant film that expresses itself in purely cinematic terms... it's amazing to watch this film that has so much to say in so little words (there are only about 10 intertitles throughout the film). This, folks, is the sign of a truly great filmmaker.
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Where am I?
lionel-libson-123 March 2009
Murnau seems to be gaining a new appreciation among cineastes. I had just finished watching a beautifully restored print of "White Mane", Lamorisse's masterpiece, and tuned in TCM's Silent Sunday feature, Murnau's "Sunrise".

First, I must agree that his imagery is superb, a cinematic Atget.The downside was the plot. A muddled variant on Dreiser's "An American Tragedy". There seems to be a recent trend toward "drown your lover" films. The matter-of-fact aspect of the murder plot left me wondering about the seeming lack of humanity. Saying more would be revealing too much. Suffice to say, I was left to speculate about what constitutes a deal-breaker in a marriage.

The more confusing aspect was the sense that middle Europe was a suburb of Los Angeles. We drifted between the Black Forest , 1920 Berlin and L.A. Villagers evoked scenes from "Frankenstein"--not horror, but peasant life.

The most telling scene for me was the open trolley ride from forest to big city. It was a magical scene, moving through space and time. It recalled for me the similar ride in 1940's Philadelphia from Fairmount Park to Woodside Amusement Park.

Given the time in which "Sunrise" was made, it certainly broke new ground in imagery. Unfortunately, the narrative was More banal melodrama.
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An Absolute Masterpiece
Mike-76416 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
A man and woman live on a farm in the European countryside and live a happy life, until a woman from the city comes and destroys the paradise the married couple enjoy, which leads to financial stress for the farm and isolates the man and woman. During a romantic romp at night, the city woman suggests to the man that he sell his farm and come with her to the city. When he asks what would happen to his wife, the city woman suggests that she could die in an "unfortunate boating accident". The man has his doubts, but is so infatuated with the city woman, he reluctantly agrees. The next day, the man and woman go rowing across the lake to town, while the man plans the murder, but when it comes to the exact time to push her over the side, he loses his nerve, scaring the heck out of his wife, who runs as fast and far from the man she can when they anchor. When they reach the city, the man pleads with his wife to not be afraid of her, but breaks down and admits his stupidity while observing a wedding (symbolic for renewing their own vows). The couple enjoy the rest of the day in the city, ending it sailing back home. The couple however get caught in a terrible storm, and the couple becomes separated, leaving the man searching for his wife, hoping she's not lost at sea. Perhaps the city woman got her wish after all. There is not one excuse ever for someone not to watch this film, which contains some of the most brilliant directing and cinematography ever. O'Brien, Gaynor, and Livingston are so natural in their roles, you swear it wasn't acting. Murnau was an absolute genius creating a film which is touching, emotional, suspenseful, and humorous throughout, with such beautiful and memorable imagery. An absolute treat for every viewer. Rating, 10.
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A concluding page in Hollywood-history
Jonathan_Lehtonen7 September 2005
F.W. Murnau worked with this film for a several, or few years. Meanwhile the era of silent film ended, it was not as interesting as films with both picture and audio when finally finished.

Though there was at the same time some argues about how the sound in further films would sabotage the works of art. Sound had nothing to do with film in general.

As the viewer can see in this picture there aren't a lot of textual phrases between the silent clips - Murnau must have mostly relied on simple expressions and montage footage (as Sergei Eisenstein researched on a different continent at the same time). Also the director uses effects with pictures on pictures, what would be called special effects at the time.

For instance when George O Brien (playing the man) sits on the bed wondering about if he really should kill his wife and the other women suddenly appears as a ghost, holding him from behind.

Also animated texture makes this one of the last and remembered moving picture from the silent era.
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A gem of the silent era
jameskinsman15 December 2005
Just as the silent era was drawing to a close, F.W.Murnau made his American debut with Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Simple in plot, Sunrise speaks to all of us in a powerful way. Its deep and meaningful subject matter ponders the universal human emotions common to all mankind; the need for love, companionship and happiness. This gives Sunrise a timeless quality, as its message reflects a certain truth in every one of us, no matter how old or young. The dialogue in this film is scarce, but this makes the film all the more powerful, as its messages are delivered through images rather than words. Our deepest emotions are not ones we can voice or explain, they must be felt. Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien emulate this in a brilliant and believable way.

Sunrise is also a visually stunning film. Without the story behind it, the photography stands alone as a wonderful display full of beautiful scenes and images. Many of the camera techniques used in the film were avant garde for the time and set a new foundation of film-making for future directors to build on. The tracking camera movements that appear in many of the films sequences created new found levels of depth and vastness, setting a precedent for the future.

This film, probably the magnum opus of Murnau, underlines the great loss the world suffered when he died in a car crash when he was only 41. Like all the great minds who die young, there is no knowing what they would have gone on to achieve. However what we do know, is that this film will always be remembered as one of the greatest films of all time. (Sunrise was voted the 7th best film of all time by The BFI in 2002)
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One of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen - and it's 80+ years old!
PudgyPandaMan28 August 2008
I began watching this movie quite skeptically. I am not typically a big fan of the silent movie era. There are a few that break the mold and capture my fascination, and this is at the top of the list. And it's not because of the plot, or even the actors. It's solely because it is simply one of the most visually beautiful and artistic movies I have ever seen.

The director, Marnau, and the Cinematogrophers were pure geniuses. They accomplish what no other film or camera had been able to before - and that is to make the bulky camera seem to become weightless and no longer tethered to its immobile base. It actually appears that the camera takes flight - especially during the marsh scene. Also, the use of superimposed images is quite stunning and adds to the dreamlike atmosphere of the movie.

The plot is quite simple and one that has been done hundreds of times since then. But the plot is secondary compared to the visual art that seems to be the primary objective of their film. So many frames of this film could be frozen and become a framed painting, they are that beautiful and artistic. It's hard to believe that the city shots were on an elaborate set.

In terms of the actors, they do an adequate job - but again that is not what draws me to this film. Janet Gaynor plays "the Wife" and is so delicate, young and innocent looking - like a porcelain child doll. She has such large, saucer-like eyes and even her hair is doll-like. Margaret Livingston, as "the Woman from the city" does quite well in making herself contemptible and trashy. She is quite brash and arrogant - all the things the sweet wife is not. It makes you dislike the mistress that much more.

I was really surprised how much I liked this film and look forward to re-watching it again and again - as I believe the beauty captured here, and my appreciation for it, will grow with subsequent viewings!
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Good grief, this is an awful film
Juaqino16 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Now I know there are many classic Hollywood maniacs out there who would probably just assume that I'm just another modern idiot with an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish; too short to appreciate such a film. I've met too many people who would accuse me of such. But I have seen my fair share of silent film, and Metropolis is one of my favorites(and I know few who can make it through that one).

The cinematography of this film is truly outstanding when put next to other films from its time. But the story is incredibly basic and some of the things that the characters do don't even make sense. In terms of interest in the story, you can pretty much shut off the movie after the first hour. I can't imagine ever watching this again.

If you want an example of outstanding cinematography and early VFX, check definitely check it out. But if you're looking for something along the lines of City Lights(a FAR better film), best skip it all together.
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