Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Videophiled Classic: The ‘Sunrise’ on ‘Cat People’

SunriseSunrise (Fox, Blu-ray) – A deliriously romantic fable on a magnificent scale, F.W. Murnau’s 1927 Sunrise is a story of reconciliation and renewal and a Utopian vision of paradise lost and regained. A strapping young farmer (George O’Brien) under the spell of a sexy vamp from the city plots to kill his innocent Madonna of a wife (Janet Gaynor), but just when it seems to be playing out An American Tragedy, fate sends them on a second courtship through the bright lights and busy culture of the big city. It’s subtitled “a song of two humans” and it plays as much like verse as it does a story.

German master Murnau was lured to America by William Fox to give his studio class (Fox had money but he wanted was a masterpiece) and the director let his imagination loose upon the machinery of Hollywood to create the most beautiful piece of cinematic poetry to come out of America. There may be no more beautiful shot in all of cinema than the creeping prowl through the swamp, the camera pushing through leaves and branches and breaking through the mist, subtly shifting perspective without ever breaking it’s measured pace or floating gaze. His big city is like Metropolis for the jazz age, but invested with a benevolence that American filmmakers save for their small town portraits, and his storytelling is as unabashedly romantic as it is sophisticated. Sunrise reminds us of the silent cinema dream worlds lost in the new realism and visual literalness of the sound revolution. Almost a century of sound filmmaking has never equaled its emotional power or the cinematic purity. If there is a single essential silent classic, this is it.


Though produced as a silent film, it was released at the dawn of the sound era with a synchronized score by Hugo Reisenfeld in the U.S. and the disc features the original Reisenfeld soundtrack (with sound effects but no dialogue) and a subsequent score composed and conducted by Timothy Brock for the home video release. The disc presents two editions of the film, the original American release and a European silent version discovered a decade ago, created from alternate takes and sometimes different shots (a common practice in the silent era). The European print has a stronger image while the American version, mastered from an archival print (the negative was lost in a studio fire decades ago), is as close to the director’s definitive version we’ll find. Both are mastered in HD and debut on Blu-ray in the U.S. (many American collectors picked a British Blu-ray release few years ago; this is produced from the same digital masters).

Also features commentary by respected ASC cinematographer and cinematography historian John Bailey, outtakes with commentary by Bailey, the original scenario by Carl Mayer with annotations by F.W. Murnau, the original screenplay, and note on the restoration.

CatPeopleBRCover72dpiCat People: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is not the 1942 classic of shadow and suggestion and Freudian sexuality clawing its way out of a virginal young woman but the 1982 remake directed by Paul Schrader. Nastassja Kinski, in her second American film, is entrancing as Irena, who arrives in New Orleans to be reunited with her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) only to discover that she belongs to a race of shapeshifters who turn into leopards when they have sex. Unless, of course, they keep it in the family.

Calling this a remake isn’t really accurate, I confess, even with the homages to the original film. Alan Ormsby’s screenplay doesn’t just update the story, it reimagines it with a backstory mythology that is both more literal and more dreamlike than the original and Schrader paints it with a palette of old world atmosphere and modern, unreal colors.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Silent Cinema

‘Sunrise,’ sunset

'Sunrise': George O'Brien, Margaret Livingston

F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise is many people’s idea of the greatest film ever made, but set that aside for the moment.

The movie was produced toward the end of the silent era, when films hadn’t yet begun to talk, but after synchronized soundtracks had arrived and major productions were being released with recorded musical scores and sometimes incidental sound effects. Such is the case with Sunrise. It’s a silent movie – no spoken dialogue (apart from a few seconds of raw urban clamor) – but it’s also a movie with an integrated soundtrack. That’s how it was in 1927 and that’s how it should be forevermore.

Tonight and Friday, Jan. 13-14, Sunrise will be shown at Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., at 8 p.m. There will be live musical accompaniment by Lori Goldston on cello and Greg Campbell on percussion and French horn. Goldston and Campbell may be swell musicians and they may revere Sunrise. Still, such a presentation shouldn’t happen, because it compromises the integrity of the film Murnau made.

Sunrise isn’t uniquely vulnerable to interference by latterday presenters. Music has been slapped on a lot of silent films with scant regard for anything beyond providing some noise for audiences to listen to. It’s even been done to some sound movies, especially early talkies, which often had no music score beyond what played behind the opening and closing credits. The assumption seems to be that modern audiences will become restive without more or less nonstop audio palpation.

Sometimes the gall of latterday presenters presuming to “update” films in accord with contemporary tastes is astounding. When Ted Turner was adding film to his media empire in the 1980s, he anointed Gone With the Wind the flagship movie of his enterprise and even adopted the architecture of the Tara plantation for his headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. So GWTW was something Turner apparently revered. And he spent a lot of money restoring it to its 1939 grandeur. However, in the course of that restoration, he eyed the orange sunsets that are among the hallmarks of the David O. Selznick production. Ted Turner decided that present-day audiences would find them garish. So he instructed the lab to tone them down to a decorous rosiness.

But hey, he loves that movie. -RTJ