Production Company: Fox
Top Billed Actors: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
IMDb Rating: 8.4
*Exclusive Award Winner*
Won 3 Oscars:
Best Unique and Artistic Production
Best Actress - Janet Gaynor
Best Cinematography - Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
Nominated for 1 more:
Best Art Direction - Rochus Gliese
Plot: A farmer attempts to drown his wife but instead they spend time in the city as he chases a drunk pig to save the fair.
Sunrise is a genuine masterpiece on many levels. Murneau's Expressionist style lends itself to some of the most visually appealing sequences in any film, silent or talkie. His creative use of the title cards, which are few and far between as the film progresses, is just one of many achievements in this movie. The cinematography, which won this film an Oscar, is top notch and clever in so many ways. Superimposing images, creative transitions, and the perfect timing of close-ups are just a few techniques that make this piece a truly visual gem. Janet Gaynor also earned her keep as she won Best Actress. For the first Awards, the acting categories were for the body of work, not specific movies. This is why 7th Heaven (1927), Sunrise (1927), and Street Angel (1928) all share the Best Actress award. Gaynor was more of a force in 7th Heaven but she does not disappoint here, showing a broad range of emotions from absolute fear to absolute joy and love. The advent of movietone is the icing on this beautiful cake. This is the first professionally produced feature that had an actual soundtrack, complete with select sound effects. The tolling of bells and the use of silence are a couple of ways the atmosphere is enhanced.
The few gripes I have for this film is the slow start and thin plot. If you are a fan of Expressionist art, you know the plot is not supposed to be elaborate. The characters don't even have names. Murneau wanted the story to be more generic and applicable to more than just these characters. However, for my personal taste, I would have liked a little more development and a little more going on in the city scenes. However, the cinematography and excellent acting overshadow this personal preference and the film succeeds where others would fail.
Overall, Sunrise is the most influential movie from this first batch of Oscar films. The groundbreaking use of sound (and silence!) along with a glutton of ingenious camera techniques makes this one of the best silent films of all time.
My Score: 8/10