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F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise”: Harbor Daze and Drunk on You

A lot of the pleasure of F.W. Murnau's seminal 1927 silent, Sunrise, stems from its fluidity, from Murnau's unfolding mise-en-scene, as if the world peels back with every curve of the camera. The static image-essay, as I am wont to practice, cannot quite do justice to such movement. But, as our Glenn Kenny highlighted, we do see its characters clinch each other, and cling to the world, and strike rawboned poses of expansion and contraction, expansion and contraction. Bodies really move in this movie. Indeed: this love triangle stirs mythic-conceptual within the cut-out world of forced perspectives that envelopes and constitutes their nature, their desires. No one would call Murnau theatrical—he's too much a convoluted and sensualist image-maker—but the lighting cues and the shadows lend the film's depth of field a cardboard-like 2-D staging. It's a puzzling effect, turning the world flat and scanning across its fugue-like patterns of light for its recesses (of emotion), but Murnau blends artifice and reality in layers so that its world's (these two humans') feelings shine through. After all, as the title says, this isn't representing life—this is a song. A song for your eyes.


The images that follow were grabbed from the new Masters of Cinema re-release of the Murnau picture; in particular, the first disc, the "Original Movietone" version, which I watched with the sound off.


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