I’ve seen Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans twice in theaters. The first time must have been in France. But I can’t remember the exact year or theater. The second time was definitely in Los Angeles, probably in 2000, at the Silent Movie Theater.
It had two different musical scores the two times I saw it, which is not terribly uncommon for films of this period. But this tendency is something that can really alter the experience for me. In fact, I wasn’t too keen on the second score and remember having a less positive experience the night I saw it at the Silent Movie Theater.
But, all this to say, I am still fascinated by Sunrise. It’s one of these early movies where you really feel a director (in this case one who is often thought of as one of cinema’s giants) was dazzled by all the possibilities of this new medium. It’s been 10 years or so since I last saw it, but when I think of it, I remember Murnau’s amazing use of the dissolve, some incredible scenery and, of course, one of the greatest romantic stories the cinema’s ever produced. Another Murnau film I like quite a bit that didn’t make the list is Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. But of the Murnau films I’ve seen so far, Sunrise would have to be my favorite.
What moviemakers can learn: Movies are only 115 years old. Approach them like Murnau, dazzled by all the possibilities of a still very young medium.
Other contenders for 1927: There are some highly thought of films from this year that I still have never seen. These especially include Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven, Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld and Abel Gance’s Napoléon. [Update: I watched Frank Borzage’s 7th Heaven. It wouldn’t contend for my top pick. As much as I have a soft spot for romance and unrequited love, melodrama like this goes a little too far for me.] Other films from this year that I still need to track down are Jean Renoir’s Sur un air de Charleston, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Ring, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg and Howard Hawks’ Paid to Love. I have seen Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which I greatly admire. It pains me a little, to be honest, to put Murnau’s film ahead of it. But I guess I finally gave the edge to Sunrise because its story grabs me a little more. I also love the visuals of Buster Keaton’s The General. For me, it’s the most visually impressive of all of his films I’ve seen, and one of the greatest visual accomplishments of the period. I remember watching it and at times my jaw dropping at some of the set pieces and the sheer complexity of some of the things Keaton is does in the film. Another Keaton film from this year, College, is a fun romp, but I can’t remember it for much more than that. Sergei Eisenstein’s October, though interesting and somewhat instructive, leaves me a little indifferent.
After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.