Sunrise Blu-ray Review
The man sits inside of his small farmhouse and watches his wife feed the chickens. He is overcome by a vision of himself tossing her overboard on his boat. And then another image comes to him of a stunning woman in lipstick clutching his body and kissing his cheek.
The aptly-named Man (George O’Brien, who turns up in a number of John Ford’s silent films) has been lured by the aptly-named Woman from the City (Margaret Livingston, who managed to make the transition to sound following its arrival) to sell his farm and leave and murder his aptly-named Wife (Janet Gaynor, who simultaneously won the first Best Actress Oscar for SEVENTH HEAVEN, STREET ANGEL and, of course, SUNRISE). He is a man certainly in love, but it is lust and promise of a different life that makes him consider the deed.
But SUNRISE (also known as SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS) isn’t about murder or even, really, temptation. It is about the love between the Man and his Wife and how, no matter where they are or what obstacles are introduced, they are one. Just how hard the Man smiles when he’s told by a city photographer how pretty his Wife is is enough to convey that.
In addition to being a deeply emotional film, SUNRISE is also a technical marvel, with especially stellar special effects and editing, as displayed in the montage following the Woman from the City’s bargain to her love. The most remarkable technical aspect, though, is the cinematography by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss (Rosher would go on to direct musicals such as ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and SHOW BOAT; Struss would work with Charles Chaplin on THE GREAT DICTATOR and LIMELIGHT). The men do wonderful things with the camera and lighting, and move through city streets and ominous fields as well as any director of photography after them.
SUNRISE is directed by German master F.W. Murnau, whose most famous works up to that point include 1922’s NOSFERATU, 1924’s THE LAST LAUGH and 1926’s FAUST. That Murnau could direct both one of most frightening horror films ever and one of the most human romances ever shows just how diverse and skilled he was and why he’s considered one of the greatest filmmakers.
SUNRISE won Academy Awards for Best Unique and Artistic Production, Best Actress and Best Cinematography, with another nomination for Best Art Direction (which it lost to both THE DOVE and THE TEMPEST). (At the time, the Unique and Artistic Production Oscar was seen as something of an equal to the Outstanding Picture prize; the following year, the former was dropped and the latter was deemed the true top honor, thus making WINGS the first Best Picture winner, despite what promotional materials for SUNRISE may argue.) Decades later, SUNRISE also ranked fifth on the British Film Institute’s Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time (between THE RULES OF THE GAME and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) and the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list (between GIANT and PLATOON).
SUNRISE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.20 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec (Movietone); 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec (European). Considering the original negative was destroyed not long after the film’s release and that it’s nearly 90 years old, SUNRISE looks incredible in high-definition. While there are the expected scratches, clarity, detail and contrast in both versions are strong, and the grain remains intact, which will please film purists.
Audio: Original Fox Movietone Score DTS-HD Mater Audio 1.0; Olympia Chamber Orchestra Score Composed and Conducted by Timothy Brock, Dolby Digital 2.0 (Movietone); Original Fox Movietone Score DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 (European). Subtitles in Spanish and French. While different, both tracks sound very good and enhance the film and its feel overall.
Fox Movietone Version
European Silent Version
Commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey: Bailey (who lensed films such as CAT PEOPLE, GROUNDHOG DAY and MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS) offers an absolutely stellar commentary that is both educational and entertaining. For the duration, Bailey discusses in detail the photography, effects, lighting, cast, editing, sets, and much, much more.
Outtakes with Commentary by Cinematographer John Bailey (10:01): Bailey serves up more background info on a series of deleted scenes.
Outtakes with Text Cards (9:20): Here, deleted scenes are prefaced in text form.
Original Scenario by Carl Mayer with Annotations by F.W. Murnau: Collected here are images of screenwriter Mayer’s scenario.
SUNRISE Screenplay allows viewers to scan through the pages of the film’s script.
Restoration Notes offers a textual history of SUNRISE’s restoration.