Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans


Next up for my GFOAT project was Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (which ranks #5 on the BFI List). As with Battleship Potemkin and The General, I was totally amazed by this film, but I would rank it higher than either of the former. The cinematography was equally impressive but Sunrise takes a step forward in narrative complexity and it is, by far, more emotionally engaging.

Sunrise tells the story of a young country couple whose not so long ago happy relationship has turned sour because the husband (no names are given to any of the characters) is having an affair with a city woman. The story takes a dark turn when the city woman convinces the husband to kill his wife so that they can be together. The murder attempt fails and the husband’s guilt eventually leads to reconciliation. This turn of events seems far-fetched, but it is conveyed so well that it is entirely convincing. The acting, especially that of Janet Gaynor as the wife, is exceptional, keeping the film from teetering onto the wrong side of melodrama.

Director F.W. Murnau brings his background in German Expressionism to his first U.S. production. The film is full of shocking and amazing images and uses camera movement quite unlike most films of the time. Sunrise was the first film to have a soundtrack and the occasional use of sound effects is stunning in such an early film.

After 3 films, my personal rankings look like this:

  1. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans(1927)
  2. The General (1926)
  3. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Next Up: The Passion of Joan of Arc