A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston in Sunrise
The Man: George O'Brien
The Wife: Janet Gaynor
The Woman From the City: Margaret Livingston
The Maid: Bodil Rosing
The Photographer: J. Farrell MacDonald
The Barber: Ralph Sipperly
The Manicure Girl: Jane Winton
The Obtrusive Gentleman: Arthur Housman
The Obliging Gentleman: Eddie Boland

Director: F.W. Murnau
Screenplay: Carl Mayer
Based on a story by Hermann Sudermann
Cinematography: Charles Rosher, Carl Struss
Art direction: Rochus Gliese
Film editing: Harold D. Schuster

Sunrise has always seemed to me a triumph of style and technique over substance, which is why I'm not over-eager to join in the chorus hailing it as a masterpiece. Extraordinary, ingenious things are brought to bear on material that seems to me tired and derivative: the town-country divide, the good wife vs. the scheming vixen, the rescues and revelations, the sentimentalizing of the simple folk. All of these were clichés in 1827, let alone 1927. The pretentious subtitle, "A Song of Two Humans," and the labels pasted onto the characters instead of names seem to me laborious attempts to heighten the material into a significance it doesn't really have. That F.W. Murnau, with the considerable help of cast and cinematographers and designers, was able to overcome these flaws and give us something of lasting distinction is undeniable. But a masterpiece would have given us something new, the way, for example, Fritz Lang was able to do the same year in Metropolis, a film that rises above its banalities in visionary ways. There are great moments in Sunrise, but too much of it is horseplay like the pig chase sequence and condescending hokum like the "peasant dance" performed by the Man and the Wife for the amusement of the city slickers. That said, it's possible to be moved by Sunrise without being completely snookered by it.

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