Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Ok, this is my first post about a silent film. While it's only the second silent feature film I've seen (I watched a ton of shorts when I had a American Film History Class), I've noticed a trend. I've walked away from both with the impression "Well, they didn't really need sound", which is odd.

It makes more sense with the other silent film I've seen, The General which is a Buster Keaton comedy that relies on physicality, but I had the same impression with Sunrise. I don't know why I haven't noticed it before, but just the visual aspects of film are able to convey so much. It's a no brainer, but it didn't dawn on me until watching the adorable Janet Gaynor convey a myriad of emotions simply using her face.

Anyway, Sunrise is the story of Man and Wife (as far as I know, they don't really give their names). Man is having an affair with The Woman from the City, who begs him to leave her and come to the city. Unfortunately, Man has Wife as well as a child, so he is hesitant, so The Women From the City suggests that Man take his wife out on a boat, drown her and make it look like an accident so they can be together (why the baby is not considered in this plot, I have no clue). What follows is a renewal of their love and a day spent in the city enjoying eachother and having fun, but some events occur that could threaten the newfound love that the two have discovered.

The acting in the film is wonderful, especially Janet Gaynor who is so adorable (And the first ever Best Actress Winner), and is able to appear so sad and wounded and then wonderfully happy with so many naturalness that it is astounding. George O'Brian as The Man is just as good, realistically conveying a sense of overwhelming guilt as well as happiness as finding love with his wife again. The characters themselves are not particularly in-depth, but they don't really need to be, given the story this film hopes to tell.

While the rest of great, with some wonderful cinematography and some of the greatest atmospheres I've ever seen in a film, it falters a bit when it comes it's pacing. It's clearly a three act film, and the second act feels very bloated. Granted, this is the "newfound love" part of the film, but it kind of de-evolves into The Man and The Wife having adventures in the city, which is fun for a little bit, but it begins to grow a bit tired.

Besides the second act, there are some issues with the 1st and 3rd act, mainly that they feel a bit rushed. Within the first 10 minutes, it's established that The Man is having an affair and his mistress suggests he kill his wife. So it's somewhat jarring and begins to advance the plot before you're totally invested in these characters. The last 20 minutes of the film introduces a brand new conflict and resolves it fairly quickly. These are not as nearly a big an issue has the 2nd half being too long, but it's worth mentioning.

Still, regardless of these complaints, Sunrise is still a movie that should be seen, if anything for it's place in film history, but it's still an amazing movie taken on its own merits.

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