82 – Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Opening title: For wherever the sun rises and sets, in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.


Seen before?

R: No. And this was my first time watching a silent movie from start to end.

F: Same. Except The Artist!

R: Oh yes, I forgot about The Artist. I’ve seen that one!



R: Probably worth saying first off that this film is so old it’s in the public domain now. We streamed this version on YouTube with the original soundtrack. Would you say to people that this movie is worth taking an hour and a half out to watch?

F: Definitely! I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this film, but I was surprised to find something this dark! The basis of the plot is a man who plans to drown his wife so he can run off with his mistress. A shocking premise for a film now, nevermind 90 years ago. 

R: Yeah I was taken by surprise at how gripping and tense the film is. The scene where the husband rows his wife out onto the lake is beautifully done, and a reminder if we ever needed it of how little of acting is in the dialogue. The wife’s gradual realisation that her husband’s motives are not romantic is just one example of the kind of perfectly measured performance that you see throughout.

F: Janet Gaynor as The Wife is the best thing about this film in my opinion. When we see her at the start alone in the house whilst her husband has run off to the other woman, you really sympathise with her. I was hoping from that moment she’d be in the film more! 

R: Yes the raw injustice of what’s happening to the wife makes her very easy to root for, particularly with all the servants weeping for her as well. The husband is a more… complicated character, but very well acted too. I don’t know if we need a spoiler warning to get into this?

F: I guess a small SPOILER WARNING for the next few paragraphs for those who want to know no specifics about the plot…

R: Yes better not to ruin the the tension of the first act I think. Would you agree modern audiences will be shocked at how little the wife makes the husband pay for all his sins?

F: I do love some of the comments below the YouTube video – they sum it up. I mean he does take her to the fairground so why would she be mad at him after he tried to kill her?! It’s a bit farfetched but I was happy to go along with it.

R: You’re clearly supposed to see the ending as “happy” but it’s easy to read it the opposite way. Did they do anything to address their underlying problems? At the start there’s talk of debts but all they’ve done to resolve that is go on a lavish second honeymoon! And should we be cheering a wife returning to an abusive husband, particular when he proves he is still very capable of violence against women seconds before the film ends?

F: No I don’t think so. I had a read of Roger Ebert‘s thoughts on the film and he talks about silent films being more dreamlike than talkies, that in fact the realism that dialogue brings to a movie would not have worked here. I have to agree in this case. The imagery is important and does make the film feel like a dream (or maybe a nightmare!) 

R: Yeah I can see that taking a non-literal, impressionistic view of the film is probably a sensible way to look at it. SPOILERS OVER.

F: Ebert also talks extensively in his article about the revolutionary camera techniques in this film. Although they were lost on me when we watched this, it’s interesting to realise that moving a camera in those days wasn’t easy but the techniques in this film make it look effortless.

R: Yes, some of the editing is really cleverly done and no doubt in 1927 a lot of the effects and filming techniques were pretty mind-blowing. What’s all the more impressive is that it all still holds up really well today, probably because every clever shot used is there to serve the story rather than to show off what was possible at the time. I doubt people will be saying the same thing about last week’s film on its 90th anniversary!

F: Yes exactly. And I did like some of the more experimental techniques, such as when a superimposed image of the Woman From The City appears when The Man is debating whether he should go ahead with murder. 

R: Yes, it all just works, doesn’t it?


Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Yes it’s really great! 

R: It’s certainly made me massively more interested in checking out other films from this era, so it’s got to be a yes I think.


Up next:
81 – Spartacus (1960)
83 – Titanic (1997)

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