Sunrise (F.W. Murnau) - The Masters of Cinema Series
The only way to encapsulate the story of Sunrise is through the two title cards displayed at the start of the film:-
Eureka Entertainment, under their Masters of Cinema Series, are proud to present the re-release of the 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans on a two-disk special-edition DVD:-
MovieTone Version with original MovieTone score (mono) (94min)
The thing that hits us between the eyes, watching a silent film like Sunrise is the energy and expression contained within the soundtrack. Rather than using words to express feelings, we have the power of sound. The MovieTone score is a hurricane of jagged thoughts and emotions brought to life by an array of sound effects. The long drawn out violins screech with sombre misfortune. The eerie and suspenseful repetition of the instrument rises and falls, rises and falls. At its heart, the first half of Sunrise is a sinister horror movie. However, in the second half the music transforms into an idealised vision of love .With the strings of a harp sprinkling a sense of magic onto the frame. The score is classical and subdued in the second half, evoking the playful mood of the two country bumpkins walking around the immense urban city. Then again, an explosion of sound knocks us over when they visit the carnival and the sound effects of the drunken pig add a nice little touch.
The sound effects add immediacy to this array of musical ambience; you've got the exaggerated thuds of footsteps, the rapid hum from a train that generates a blast of energy, the car horns that toot towards strangers, church bells that echo throughout the streets, horses that leap out at you with sharp jagged sound effects. Crank up your sound system when watching Sunrise, and as Bob Dylan once said to his band, play it 'fcuking loud'.
Even though Sunrise is an 82-years-old movie it makes you realise the power of sound. Today, with the advent of all these flashy visuals the soundtrack becomes hidden behind the frame, it's an invisible tool to support the image. Sunrise is the place where music and sound effects made their mark...
If you view this film on a PC you can access the script to Sunrise by clicking 'Explore' on the disk and going to the 'Documents' folder. It's interesting that the couple are given names in the script (Ansass for the man and Indre for the wife). With this in mind, when you watch the scene below you can make out the name he is calling…
MovieTone Version with alternative Olympic Chamber Orchestra score (stereo) by Timothy Brock
Timothy Brock, who has composed new orchestral scores to three other Murnau films (Nosferatu, Faust, The Last Laugh), adds a new flavour to the soundscape of Sunrise. It's a more distinguished flavour that reflects on the tragic elements of the story. The sound of frightful angels seem to pop up throughout the film with a low sorrowful hum. It's also inspired more by the sound of trumpets that adds a bombastic edge. It's more immediate and in your face than the MovieTone score. Even though it doesn't evoke the same sort of emotions than the previous score, it's a beautiful addition to the visuals. Timothy Brock has done an excellent job! The second half sounds like something Phillip Glass would do. However, saying this, the score doesn't seem as locked into the visuals as the original MovieTone score, one feels a score like this could be placed on any silent film and it would still work.
Audio Commentary by John Bailey
The commentary track by John Bailey (who was the cinematographer on Groundhog Day, In the Line of Fire and As Good as It Gets) is filled with valuable behind-the-scenes information. Bailey focuses on the films technical achievements (montages, superimposed shots, set design and lighting), delving into the incredible cinematography of Charles Rosher and Karl Struss. What's more, he discusses Murnau's German expressionist roots and how the lighting evokes the mood of the character (he points out a prominent shadow above a bed that looks like a cross). However, Bailey does fall into the trap of describing what's happening on screen.
Original Sunrise Trailer (2min)
The quality of the trailer is so bad it makes you appreciate the clarity of the film and all the hard work that's been put into persevering this classic. However, if you're a Sunrise buff, there is a nice little title shot here that wasn't used for the opening or closing credits:-
Sunrise Outtakes (10min)
There are two options available; watch the outtakes with commentary by John Bailey or watch the outtakes with title cards. The title cards supply more behind-the-scenes information than the commentary. There are two interesting scenes here, a figure 8 shot that wasn't used in the finished version and an extended shot of the forced perspective city.
Murnau's 4 Devils (40min)
This documentary by Janet Bergstrom gives us a taste of what Murnau's film 4 Devils would have been like if it wasn't lost. The film was about a group of orphaned children in a circus who are fathered by a clown. They become acrobats (who are known as the 4 Devils) but one of the men from the troupe starts to date a dubious woman, it puts strain on their working relationship when he begins to drink and as a result puts everyone at risk with his selfish behaviour. Bergstrom goes through production notes, blueprints, publicity stills, sketches, script excerpts and samples of the dialogue. There is a great quote in the documentary by Murnau that summarises his integrity as a filmmaker, 'Everything is subordinated to my picture, and just as I do not permit myself to be influenced away from what I think is the right thing to do and the right person to use, I will not do a picture that is based on a theme not to my liking or conviction.' It's a great dishonour to cinema that we may never get to see 4 Devils. This fascinating documentary supplies us with hope that one day this ghost film will be unearthed:-
If you watch this film using a PC you can access a hidden feature that isn't documented on the sleeve, if you click 'Explore' on the disk and access the 'Documents' folder it contains the full shooting script of 4 Devils.
Czech Version with added MovieTone score (79min)
When you first watch this version of the film you can't help but become hesitant to its inclusion ('they have only slapped this on so they can pad it out over two disks'), however, when you compare the picture to the MovieTone version you understand why, the quality is worlds apart. The lighting makes objects more defined, characters more alive and the city more vibrant. There are a lot of minor changes to the pace in this version (most of the scenes are trimmed by a few seconds, which throughout the running-time adds up to around 15min) but nothing has changed except the title cards are in Czech (which can be remedied by watching the film with subtitles). Even though this version doesn't add anything to the experience of the plot (by trimming the scenes it messes with Murnau's delicate and lingering pace) the picture is flawless. One wonders what the Blu-ray 1080p version is going to be like. No other silent film has been released on this format as of Sept 2009 so it'll be interesting to see if it transfers well. If it does, Eureka can say they were the first to open a new door to the world of silent cinema.
Below are examples of the difference in quality, it seems from viewing the film in detail that the MovieTone version on Disk 1 (First Pictures) utilises different takes from the Czech version on Disk 2 (Second Pictures) as some scenes fluctuate (people, cars and objects appear in different places):-
Evaluation: Sunrise kicks the crap out of 90% of modern movies. It's a shame we don't have directors like Murnau working today, he laid the foundations for future filmmakers. The sensibilities of cinema have changed so much since the advent of sound that it's nice we can look back and see the seeds of film taking root. Cinema is an art form that needs to be unrefined; it needs to be raw so it can be kept alive. Instead of gazing into the future of filmmaking with technology on the tips of our tongues, we need to look back in time to discover what was happening at the beginning of film. Modern filmmakers could learn a lot from films like Sunrise. Without sounding like an aimless plug, this is an essential DVD for any self-respected fan of cinema. If it's the only film, you buy this side of Christmas, you won't be disappointed. Majestic simplicity