March 9, 2010

#82: Sunrise

This song of the Man and Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at anytime.

Ominous titles begin F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, the silent expressionist classic from 1927 that won Oscar's first and only Best Picture (Unique and Artistic Production). Silent film had reached its pinnacle around the mid- to late-1920s when The Jazz Singer hit the scene as the first talkie, only a month before Sunrise (subtitled A Song of Two Humans) had its US release.

Company: Katie, girl-on-the-go with a fancy new eco-partment

Cuisine: chocolate covered raisins leftover from Sunday's Oscars

I certainly haven't seen that many silent films, and this is not the only one on the AFI's list, but it stands out for its unorthodox and modern film techniques. It's hard to believe at times that these beautiful frames were shot before sound technology had progressed far enough to include it.

"Life is ... sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet."

It's hard to believe at times that these beautiful frames were shot before sound technology had progressed far enough to include it. The first is a split focus, showing us "summertime, vacationtime." I love that even though we're seeing frivolous fun on the beach we still get from that image an overwhelming sense of impending doom somehow when it's spliced with the ship, as though these swimmers are coming face to face with something much bigger than them. The second is of the Man and the Woman From The City, lying in a field, fantasizing about him leaving his wife to come with her to experience city life. These lyrical images are doing double-duty: without sound, we rely solely on the image (and the score) to tell the emotional story. I do pay attention much differently to a frame's composition, to all the elements that I might normally take for granted when verbal cues are abundant. Without them, we need more.

She haunts him still.

Stuck in a loveless marriage, the Man does not respond well when his mistress from the city suggests taking his wife on a boat ride and drowning her, making it seem like an accident, so that they can be together. His initial reaction is violence, but soon his mistress's charms overtake him and he's haunted by the idea until he finally succumbs and takes his wife out to the lake. We know from the two-note theme reminscent of Jaws that this watery tale isn't going to go well for anyone. She senses something is wrong (even a dog on shore breaks free of its chains and paddles to the boat, trying to stop what's coming) but goes along for the ride. He nearly does it but ... isn't man enough? Can't bring himself to actually kill someone?

Sorry I tried to kill you in a boat. Here's some flowers...?

We're not sure, but once they're back on shore, she mopes for a good long while (wouldn't you?) and finally he breaks down weeping and repents, and they're back together, this time joyfully and playfully. Huh? Has this botched murder attempt reinvigorated their marriage, or was his desperate attempt to change his life the straw that broke the camel's back? Does it work like this? Does any marriage rebound that fast? Maybe not, but we only have 94 minutes, so get over it.

They're back in the boat after a beautiful day spent together, and suddenly God opens the clouds and sends down storm-smite in a very real way, capsizing the boat in a flurry of wind and rain. The Man swims to shore and can't find his beloved, and the whole town gets involved in the search.

Karma's such a bitch.

Will he find his love? Will he regret it forever? Will he go to the city with that aptly-named Woman From The City? After this beautiful day, can he ever go back? It's these simultaneously complex and simple questions that color this ending. The film is so full of this lyrical ebb and flow of emotion that it's no wonder it's called A Song of Two Humans. Not Two People, mind you: humans. It's very specifically titled, I think, in that perhaps we are seeing the plight of the human race: we take the things we have for granted, and we don't realize how precious they are to us until they're ripped away suddenly. How can we delight in those glorious, sunny days at the fair if we don't know their opposite?

The sun rises (!) over the house in the final frame, suggesting that it's just another day, that the story is cyclical, that it's your story, too. This could be any house anywhere and the outcome might have been the same. After all, "life is ... sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet."

You know, I'm finding that nineteen films in and I'm really starting to piece together a timeline of American cinema. One film leads to, bleeds into, informs the next. Blog fusion. Awesome.

I'll be glad to have dialogue back for the next film: #81 is Stanley Kubrick's 1960 epic Spartacus, which I'm sure I'll end up comparing to Ben-Hur somewhere along the line. Is that premature? Maybe they're completely different and I'm just saying that because both involve tunics. Stop with the broad generalizations. Seriously.

No comments:

Post a Comment