Tuesday, 2 February 2010

So, Murnau's Death Huh... Cheeky.

Truth be told, I hadn't even heard of last week's Friday Film, despite much praise heaped upon it by Andy- in fact, apparently the directing tutor dude even made a comment about how 'lucky' we were to be seeing it for the first time. I felt a wee bit ashamed, what with me fancying myself as a bit of a film buff an' that. I really liked FW Murnau's Nosferatu the week before- the highly stylised lunacy of the German Expressionist style is perfectly suited to the horror genre, although this one was definitely an exception to the 'vampires are sexy' rule. Max Shreck was thoroughly creepy and grotesque as the eponymous vamp, looking like a cross between a gargoyle and a buck-toothed egg. Not quite R-Patz then...

We were promised the next screening would be even more of a treat- 1927's Sunrise, Murnau's first feature after emigrating to Hollywood. We were also sent away to "FOFO", as Andy put it, the details of Murnau's untimely death since he wouldn't tell us himself. I looked it up when I got home, and looked him up again as reference two minutes ago- in the space of a fortnight the specifics of his death have been changed to simply "automobile accident" on Wikipedia... hmm! Controversial??

I wasn't really looking forward to Sunrise, despite the hype about it being "the greatest film ever made"... I didn't know anything of the plot but usually when I hear something described as such it makes me cringe. I guess I'm strangely predisposed to hating whatever I'm told is good, because I don't like being told what to like... Or maybe I'm just being petulant. Either way, I totally found myself being very pleasantly surprised- not only that I liked it, but that I liked it for reasons that'd make me boak in other films. It was sweet, tender and delicately shot, with only the briefest insertion of intertitles (Murnau wasn't a fan, apparently). I felt such sympathy for 'The Wife' character- her brutish husband leaves her on her own to look after their baby and farm, while he's off dallying with some scarlet woman from The City. THEN he has the gall to try and drown her, so he and his mistress can run off together! His poor wife was so tiny and doll-like that I felt sort of protective towards her and got a horrible feeling of dread when her husband suggests they take a boat trip. She got so visibly excited that he wanted to spend time together, and not knowing the story I had no idea whether or not she'd be OK.

I breathed a sigh of relief as The Husband couldn't go through with it and, after chasing her from the boat through the City, apologises to his wife for his philandering ways. They then spend the day together, having their picture taken, going to a funfair and going dancing- my absolute favourite scene featuring a drunk piglet is the cutest thing ever (although I am aware of how cruel/inhumane/PETA-baiting that actually sounds). One thing I did find rather hard to swallow was how easily The Wife accepted The Husband's apology; coupled with a scene in a barbers where he gets jealous over a strange man sitting next to his wife. It really irritated me- what right did he have to be angry when he's the one having an affair? What is it about his boorish demeanour that his wife seemed to find so appealing? Maybe it was the done thing back in 1927, I s'pose, that misdemeanours were swept under the rug for the sake of propriety.
On their return journey, the Wife's life is in peril when she is swept overboard by a storm, leaving her husband alone and desolate. Eventually, she is returned alive and well, and the slatternly city woman sent back to where she came from.

The morals of the film are quite heavy-handed, but at the same time there's no real repercussion for anyone's actions or indiscretions. It's a happy ending in a sense; the sparse peasant farmhouse imbued with a sense of love and familial affection when the Wife wakes up from her ordeal. The sets were astonishing considering they were exactly that- sets. The vast amounts of money thrown at the film are on the screen for all to see- although I guess they didn't have expensive CGI or exorbitant actors' fees to pay back then, and the money could be proportioned into making the film look as good as it possibly could. Visually, it's fascinating, and even the soundtrack was fitting to the tone of the film- silent movie soundtracks are usually horrific and make me want to rip off my own ears but thankfully this one was as sweet as its content.

I don't think I'd agree with the plaudits of Best Film Ever Made but I can certainly see why it's considered to be. If I didn't know it was directed by Murnau, I'd never have guessed- it's so far removed visually and stylistically from Nosferatu, one of the most renowned German Expressionist films. Sunrise on the other hand is old-fashioned Americana, although the impeccable cinematography lifts it way above similar films of its time. The scene in which The Hisband and Wife walk through busy traffic is amazingly accomplished and confident, and it's obvious that alot of love has gone into making this film. The tension in the first and final acts is offset perfectly by the lightheated vignettes in the middle (see, I do pay attention to structure!) and after a while you don't even notice the lack of intertitles- the story plays itself out in the faces of its stars. Overall, perhaps not a film I'd have chosen to watch myself, but one that I'm definitely glad to have seen. Does anyone know where I can get a piglet?


  1. I hear Christopher Robin is selling his for crack money.

  2. That's a wee sin. Hang around with cartoon bears after school, end up on crack. And possibly see more cartoon bears. It's like Charlie Brown too; hanging about with a cartoon dog and then ending up a crazed junkie with rubbish tattoos (according to Seth McFarlane).