Sunrise (F.W. Murnau), Blu-ray (1927/2014)Cast: Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien Studio: 20th-Century Fox [1/14/14] (2 discs) Director: F.W. Murnau Video: 4:3 B&W restored 1080p HD Audio: PCM mono Subtitles: Spanish, French Extras: Fox Movietone version with Olympia Ch. Orch. playing original score plus European version on disc 1; Disc 2 is DVD version; Commentary track by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, Theatrical trailer, Original scenario by Carl Mayer, Outtakes with commentary, “Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film” – 40 min. documentary, Original screenplay, Restoration notes. 68-p. illustrated booklet with numerous essays Region-free Length: 94 min.; European version: 79 min. Rating: ****
Some critics found this film among the finest ever made; I must disagree. It has even been referred to as the “Citizen Kane” of silent films. It won Oscars for Best Actress, Best Cinematography and most Unique and Artistic Picture at the first Academy Awards in 1929. The Fox Movietone soundtrack, which was on the actual film instead of on separate photographic records as was the Warner Bros. system, has been carefully restored, though it mostly quotes various corny classical selections, as did the majority of silent films at the time. There are original portions where a horn emulates the shouting of a character on the screen, though there is as yet no lip-sync sound.
The story is one of betrayal and redemption concerning the love and loyalty of a farmer and his wife, put to the test by a sexy vamp from the city. It is full of the usual silent film cliches, but does have some lovely cinematography, though it is very slow moving for today’s audiences. The visual quality is exceptional for the period. Murnau probably had a ball creating the juxtaposed images for the city scenes, but they look very dated today. Murnau even used the titles to add to the drama of the film: on one talking about the suggestion that the farmer drown his wife, the title letters slowly drown themselves on the screen. In addition to being cut back considerably, the European version has differently-framed shots and scenes. Before sound films, many silents were shot in simultaneous various versions for foreign audiences.
This is the type of restoration that The Criterion Collection usually does and Fox is to be congratulated for all the work that went into this release. I still think Murnau’s other classic, his earlier Nosferatu, is by far the better film.