“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is a 1927 American silent romantic drama and suspense film directed by the German director F.W. Murnau and starring George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston. The story was adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story “The Excursion to Tilsit”, from the collection with the same title by Hermann Superman. Murnau used the then new Movietone sound-on-film system, making “Sunrise” one of the first feature films with a synchronized musical score and sound effects soundtrack. The film incorporated Charles Gounod’s 1872 composition Funeral March of a Marionette, which was later used as the theme for the television series Alfred Hitchcock “Presents” (1955–65).
“Sunrise” won the Academy Award for “unique and artistic picture”, best cinematography and best art direction at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929. This was another rare occasion that a great film was recognized by Hollywood, as time goes by such great films are ignored. Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for “Best actress in a leading role” for her performance in the film. The film’s legacy has endured, and it is now widely considered a masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made. In 1989, Sunrise was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States by Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The Academy Film Archive has preserved Sunrise in 2004. The 2007 update of the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films has ranked “Sunrise” at number 82, and the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll named it the fifth-best film in the history of motion pictures. Although the original 35mm negative of the original American version of Sunrise was destroyed in the 1937 Fox vault fire, a new negative was created from a surviving print.
Before exploring this great work, its creator, F. W. Murnau will be briefly introduced. Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau (December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was greatly influenced by the great German philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and the great playwrights, Shakespeare and Ibsen. During the World War I, Murnau served as a company commander at the eastern front and was in the German air force, surviving several crashes without any severe injuries. One of Murnau’s acclaimed works is the 1922 film “Nosferatu” , the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a masterpiece of Expressionist film. He later directed the 1924 film “The Last Laugh”, as well as a 1926 interpretation of Goethe’s “Faust”. He later emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox studio and made three films: “Sunrise” (1927), “4 Devils” (1928) and “City Girl” (1930). Murnau in “The last laugh”, introduced the subjective point of view camera, where the camera sees from the eyes of a character and uses visual style to convey a character’s psychological state. It also anticipated the cinema verite movement in its subject matter. The film also used the “unchained camera technique”, a mix of tracking shots, pans, tilts, and dolly moves. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and “Faust” were two of the first films to feature original film scores.
A prototype of suspense murder film:
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