Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans [1927]

“This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time.”

Director : F.W. Murnau

Writer : Hermann Sudermann (original theme “Die Reise nach Tilsit”), Carl Mayer (scenario), Katherine Hiliker (titles by), H.H. Caldwell (titles by)

Cast : Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien, Margaret Livingston

Story :  The film starts as a luscious modern girl is getting ready for a date, she pounces around the room smoking a cigarette, then as the shadows fall she walks through the village to a lighted window and starts whistling. Yes, that is a signal to her lover. The Man is sitting at table waiting for his wife to bring out the food, his face shouts torment and pain, but he can’t resist his lover’s call, even less her wish of being together in the city. There is only one thing standing in the way, the Wife.

What I Liked :

– well we are talking about a movie made in 1927 so most people would ask what’s to like about it, but the right question is what’s not to like about it: this truly is a masterpiece

– the contrast of nightfall and sunrise

– expertly crafted shots, sets, scenes:  Murnau used studio lighting to create shadows even in the night scenes, also used the technique of animal and plant imagery as an important tool to indicate the mood,the tracking shots, forced perspective: a shot of the City where one can see normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and little people in the background along with much smaller sets; Many of the superimposition throughout the film were created “in the camera”. The camera would shoot one image at the side of the frame, blacking out the rest of the shot, then expose the film. They would put the exposed film back into the camera and shoot again, blocking out the area that already had an image on it (imdb)

– great acting

– for further explanation check the comment section where I wasn’t as lazy as here

What I Didn’t Like :

– the story is a wee bit poor, there are a few plot holes (for example: the Wife’s forgiveness), but still enjoyable and applicable to this day

Final Note :

4 out of 4

Interesting Facts :

– one of the first movies with a soundtrack of music and sound effects recorded

– Was the first and only film to win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) ‘Best Picture’ award in the category of “Artistic Quality of Production” (or “Unique and Artistic Picture”). This was the only year that this award was ever given out (imdb)

Online :

6 thoughts on “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans [1927]

  1. I’m interested in seeing this movie for a long time now. I’m not yet familiar with Murnau’s movies.
    But I would be interested to know why you consider it a masterpiece. “expertly crafted shots, sets, scenes” and “great acting” is a characteristic of many mediocre movies and as such doesn’t constitute a good enough argument for considering it a masterpiece.

    • well, we could argue about a mediocre movies characteristics, but that put aside. I knew when i was writing it that it was a too big fish for me yet, since I started this blog for teh reason to practice writing and composing in english (i’m hungarian). I was stuck on this for a week.
      So when I wrote about expertly crafted shots that is one reason, it was made in 1927 and it still managed to amaze me in different parts in the movie. Visually it was a groundbreaking movie in that era, I gave some in depth examples: the use of shadows gave a surreal feel to the night scenes, then the use of metaphors, when the man comes back from his date with the city girl there are the fishnets waving in the wind symbolizing his entrapment; the tracking scene where the camera follows the man through the swamp on his way to the city girl, it looks like a steadycam shot! Murnau explores every possibility of storytelling, as the film progresses he uses less and less story cards. He disliked talking pictures, stating that silent movies are the true art form of movies. Every frame in his movies are perfect, there is no flaw in camera work, the story isn’t carried by the actors but by the settings, the little things you see in scenes. His films stay true to the meaning of visual storytelling.
      Now about the acting. It is fairly easy to say great acting, but you have to take consideration that we are talking about a silent movie, they could only work with their face and body to tell us their story. It’s rather easy to have a good performance nowadays if say your line correctly and manage to convey the feelings behind it. But back then every expression you had told a word, a sentence. O’Brian even had to wear lead weights so that he steps reluctantly. He is filmed from high angel as to see he is under pressure.
      So in my eyes the combination of skillful direction and great performances make this one a masterpiece. It’s rare to see such an old movie and be amazed by it.

  2. Thank for you further explanation! I believe that if you review contained what you stated in the comment it would be a lot more rich!
    Btw, I also don’t write in my native language. I’m Portuguese. And strangely enough I’m in Hungary for three months now! Where are you from?

    • as I said I was stuck on this for a long time, and I simply wrapped it up and promised myself I would reedit it in a short time, just didn’t get to it yet. And you should definitely watch it.
      I’m romanian. Where I live, (Erdely) was a part of Hungary before war, but after loosing Romania got it, but it’s still half full of hungarians.
      I guess you are living in Budapest. How do you like it so far?

      • Yeah, I’ve met a lot of Romanians who consider themselves Hungarians.
        I’m actually in Veszprém in Erasmus, but I do love Budapest. I have one month more to stay here and I really hate that I’m leaving. I’m in love with the country and this city!

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