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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: "Sunrise" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)



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#1 of 141 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted February 14 2003 - 09:08 PM

Posted Image

Sunrise






Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Year: 1927
Rated: NR
Film Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.20:1)
Subtitles: French & Spanish




In this day and age it's difficult enough to
convince people to watch a classic B&W movie, let
alone one that is silent. For me, I looked forward
to such an experience as I spent most of my teenage
years looking at Super 8mm silents from Charlie
Chaplin, Harold Lloyd
and Laurel & Hardy.
The opportunity to watch one of the greatest silents
ever made was one that I embraced.

Posted Image

The problem was, I knew very little about the 1927
film Sunrise other than the fact that it was
the film that was up for Best Picture alongside
Wings, and was responsible for putting
studio Twentieth-Century-Fox on the map. The film
won awards for Best Picture (Artistic and Unique
Production), Cinematography, and the Best Actress
Award went to Janet Gaynor.

Posted Image

My research into this film brought out some very
startling facts. In 1937 the original negative was
destroyed in a disastrous fire. An exhausting search
was done worldwide to find any surviving prints that
a restoration could be spawned from. This newly
restored version is based on a surviving 1936 print
held by the NFTVA and includes the first restoration
of the original soundtrack, supervised by the Academy
Film Archive.

Posted Image

The film was directed by German-born F.W. Murnau,
one of the most important filmmakers of the cinema's
first thirty-five years. He is perhaps best known
for one of the first classics of the horror film,
Nosferatu (1922). He was known as a a master
storyteller, a director who could inspire simple
stories with an immense range of emotion and meaning.
Watching Sunrise, I could see exactly how
this director took a simple story and through its
breathtaking and moving images, made this the most
beautiful silent film I have ever witnessed.

The story is simple: A country farmer (George O'Brien)
meets a seductress from the city (Margaret
Livingston) who convinces him to kill his wife (Janet
Gaynor). The farmer decides he will take his wife
out on a boat and drown her by throwing her overboard.
Along the way, he finds that he loves his wife and
can't go through with it, but fate intervenes in
their rediscovered bliss.

Posted Image

I must confess, I found Sunrise to be an
extraordinary viewing experience -- truly ahead of
its time with stunning camera work, superimposition
and lighting that makes the film almost seem entirely
dream-like. Filled with Rochus Gliese's gorgeous
sets and imagery that is sometimes beautiful and
sometimes haunting, it's a wondrous thing to behold
what obviously came out of one man's imagination.


How is the transfer?


I'll be honest with you, when I sat down to watch
this film I was quite disappointed. It looked like
any other silent movie I had seen from that era,
suffering from low contrast and film flicker -- not
to mention a wealth of scratches and various
blemishes. It was only a day later when I did
some background research on this film that I realized
that the original negative was destroyed in a fire.
I also read that absolute care was taken to retain
the flaws and limitations present in the original
Movietone process and to remove only those defects
caused by natural deterioration. In other words, the
film looks exactly the way it was intended
to be restored, "warts and all."

Posted Image

In addition, it was quite cool to learn that the
reason the film is presented in a 1.20:1 ratio is
due to the fact that a need to add a Movietone
soundtrack blocked a portion of the left side of
the image.

I have a few things to say about the two accompanying
soundtracks that are available on this DVD. There's
the inclusion of the original Hugo Riesenfeld composed
movietone score (in mono) and a alternate Carl Davis
Olympic Chamber Orchestra score. I spent the duration
of the film switching between both tracks to see
which one I preferred. Here is what I found....

Posted Image

Though the newly recorded Carl Davis orchestration
score adds significant fidelity to the presentation,
the mono soundtrack is absolutely the way to go.
The reason? This mono soundtrack has held up very
well. It comes through with fairly good dynamics
and not as much hiss as I expected there would be.
Most of all, this score preserves many sound effects
that are not included in the newly recorded score.
These sound effects include traffic in the big city,
splashing water beneath the boat, a horse's sneeze,
and church bells in the distant. The one thing I
did enjoy about the new orchestration was that
instruments were far more defined. There are some
great drum rolls, clashing cymbals, and even a grand
electric organ that blares out during the Amusement
Park sequence (note many of the crowd screams are
absent from the new recording but added to the old).


Special features

Posted ImagePosted Image
Posted Image

Most worthy of a listen is the audio commentary
by ASC Cinematographer John Bailey, who promises to
take you through a "personal odyssey" of this great
film -- which he does. He carefully takes us through
scene after scene pointing out how various shots and
superimpositions were done. Bailey is very keen on
lighting techniques and he shows us how the director
used the smallest objects to light his scenes. He
also points out many of the styles (slanted tables
and lights) that represent the set design of the
German expressionist era. Being a huge fan of
Cinematographer Karl Struess, Bailey does what he
does best by spending every moment of the film
pointing out every camera shot, as well as giving
us a bit of background on Streuss's early days as
a still photographer. Cinematographer Charles
Rosher had a lot of previous Hollywood experience,
mainly doing work on Mary Pickford films. Bailey so
much loves the photography of this film that his
descriptions are almost poetic. He points out
the clash of cultures with an American film that
looks mostly European (especially with its cast of
extras). It seems the reason why William Fox
brought Murnau to the states was because Fox did
not want to make an American looking film. This
could be the reason why the film received such
critical acclaim, but yet was not a commercial
success. Just an outstanding commentary!

There are 10 minutes of outtakes with commentary
by John Bailey. Most of it is just bits and pieces
of various shots, but the most notable ones include:

* Original full-length opening train station shot
where you can see that the train used was a miniature.

* A really odd camera shot that follows the farmer
through the marshes, loses him, then speeds up to
catch up with him.

* Extended shots of the big city where you can see
how the film was scaled with its buildings and
surrounding movement.

The condition of this footage is in pretty decent
shape considering it was not part of the restoration
process.

What is interesting is that all of the material
described above is once again repeated in outtakes
with text cards
. Taken from Harold Schuster's
35mm nitrate workprint, we see watch these outtakes
with the aid of text cards that describe the importance
of the particular scene.

Posted Image

The Original scenerio by Carl Mayer with
annotations by Murnau
is presented as a series
of still images that you can use your remote to
browse through. These are all reprints of what
appear to be a sort of storyboard typed on index
cards with added handwritten notes.

Surprisingly, Sunrise was a commercial failure
for the studio which led to led to a leaner budget on
Murnau's other Fox assignment, Four Devils.
Made in 1929, this film was thought forever lost.
Here, we see a retelling of the film via original
film stills, storyboards, lobby cards and programs,
art department photographs and narration by Janet
Bergrstom. Pretty interesting to watch.
(length: approx. 40 minutes)

If you want just the story of Four Devils,
you can use your remote to scan through the separate
Four Devils treatment and screenplay.

A Still Gallery offers nothing more than
4 photos that are publicity and behind-the-scenes
related.

Rounding out the extras is the film's original
theatrical trailer
that contains some alternate
shots not in the film, the Sunrise screenplay
that you can browse through using your remote, and
Restoration Notes that give you the entire
story on how this film was rescued and restored.


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

Sunrise is available through a special offer
from Fox Home Video. It can be had absolutely FREE
with the purchase of three Fox Studio Classic
titles. I can truly sympathize with film buffs
who are upset the film is not being offered outright.
It really is a shame that Fox is not offering this
great classic as a standalone purchase. In my
opinion, this wasn't a very reasonable decision.

Sunrise is a masterpiece that has stood
the test of time. It's as beautiful to watch now
as it must have been to movie audiences 76 years
ago. I am placing this on my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
list in hopes that more people will take the
opportunity to watch the most beautiful silent movie
ever made.

Release Date: NOW


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 141 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 14 2003 - 09:52 PM

Ron,
Excellent review and don't forget our friends outside of North America and those living in Quebec who are unable to get this dvd due to the restrictions placed on this dvd promotion.




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#3 of 141 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted February 14 2003 - 09:58 PM

Great review, Ron! Posted Image

I'm glad to see that the 1.20:1 OAR was kept and no zooming was done. That's great attention to detail, Fox. Posted Image

It's also great news that the original soundtrack ws preserved. It adds so much to the film that I can't imagine watching Sunrise without it.

As of now the only Studio Classic title I may pick up is All About Eve. Then it's a long wait until The Grapes of Wrath in June - and that's just 2/3rds of the dvd's I need to get Sunrise, which is the only Studio Classics film that I really want badly. Posted Image The truth is that I just haven't seen many of the Studio Classics films, and I don't blind buy because my DVD purchasing budget is so minimal.

Anyway, thanks again for the review. And thanks for a first look at the cover art. Posted Image


Now, if only Warner would release a nice SE of King Vidor's The Crowd - my favorite silent film - I'd be a tremendously happy camper. Posted Image

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#4 of 141 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted February 14 2003 - 10:13 PM

great review ron for Sunrise.

I am really surprised by all the supplements that come along with this so called SE, including a commentary and the 10 minutes of outtakes. Fox has done an outstanding job on this DVD.

Having said that, I also would like to let FOX know that I am unhappy that we HTF'ers that reside outside the US & Canada cannot get this splendid dvd.

here is a link http://www.hometheat....hreadid=125163 that I have done to let Fox know that I am disappointed that we are unable to get such a marvellous film on dvd. Please sign if you would like to get your hands on the Sunrise DVD.

Kind regards

Oscar
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#5 of 141 OFFLINE   Rain

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Posted February 14 2003 - 10:50 PM

Nice. Posted Image

I was worried this disc, being a "freebie," would receive sub par treatment. Evidently not so.

And though I live in North America and will be snagging this DVD as soon as possible, I frown upon Fox's decision to not make this disc available to fans in other parts of the world. Posted Image

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#6 of 141 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted February 14 2003 - 11:07 PM

Hey Ron - what's the spine # on Sunrise?

Thanks in advance Posted Image

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#7 of 141 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted February 15 2003 - 12:47 AM

The clips in "Hollywood" from Sunrise are washed out. The laserdisc by David Shepard was washed out. Finally, we can see true greyscale and inky blacks in the image. The score has been a blarry mess, too.

I'm extremely happy that Fox had the film given this much care.

Best of all, they had the film restored ON FILM. I think it was mentioned that there is now a new restoration negative, several fine-grains and preservation masters, and of course, the restored Movietone score and Carl Davis' re-recording.

Oddly enough...the cover photo is the same one I have in my signature photo, except it's mirror reversed.

#8 of 141 OFFLINE   Matthew Furtek

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Posted February 15 2003 - 04:18 AM

Let's say I was someone who just got interested in purchasing "Sunrise" on reading Ron's review. What other Studio Classics Titles come highly recommended? I'm a college student who has never had the oppurtunity to watch a silent film, but after seeing "Citizen Kane", I am not going to discount a film's merits based on the fact that it is a silent production.

Any suggestions?

Matthew Furtek

#9 of 141 OFFLINE   Malcolm R

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Posted February 15 2003 - 04:31 AM

It is mystifying that Fox would put such love and care into the restoration of this film, and include so many features and extras on the DVD, then not sell it at retail. All that effort just to give away for free a few copies to those who fill out the correct forms and paperwork?

Oh, well. I expect to send in my forms this week so I can add this to my collection. Posted Image
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#10 of 141 OFFLINE   Bob Pierce

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Posted February 15 2003 - 05:26 AM

Sorry, did I miss something above? What's the procedure for getting this title? Do I have to buy the three titles directly from Fox, is there a coupon I need to download, etc.? Please post any helpful URLs. I'm very interested in seeing this disc.

Thanks,

- Bob P.

P.S. Great review, Ron, and thanks once again to clueing me in to a film I otherwise would have missed!

#11 of 141 OFFLINE   Malcolm R

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Posted February 15 2003 - 06:18 AM

Bob,

You need to purchase three Fox Studio Classics in 2003 to get "Sunrise" by mail. You can buy from any retailer. The certificates for "Sunrise" are enclosed in each title. Eligible titles are:
  • All About Eve (out now)
  • Gentleman's Agreement (out now)
  • How Green Was My Valley (out now)
  • An Affair to Remember (out now)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (out 3/4/03)
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (out 4/1/03)
  • Love is a Many Splendored Thing (out 5/6/03)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (out 6/6/03)
  • Anastasia (out 7/1/03)
  • The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (out 8/5/03)
  • Titanic (out 9/2/03)
  • The Mark of Zorro (out 10/7/03)
  • Laura (out 11/4/03)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (out 12/2/03)
You need to mail in the original mail-in certificate (in the cases of the above titles), the proof of purchase tabs from the three titles, and the original store receipt(s) showing date of purchase of the three titles.

Best Buy seems to be selling the titles for $14.99 each. I got mine at Costco for $12.99 each.

Offer expires January 31, 2004.
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#12 of 141 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted February 15 2003 - 08:29 AM

Matthew Furtek

I would highly recommend The Iron Horse, although it is r2 and a silent western directed by John Ford. It is my opinion that Sergio Leone based his Once Upon A Time in the West on.

for more info

http://www.bfi.org.u....rict=&exclude=

Posted Image
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#13 of 141 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted February 15 2003 - 09:09 AM

I am the fartherst thing away from a silent film fan, and I have been watching news and any tidbits regarding Sunrise with a keen eye.

I had no desire whatsoever to go out of my way to get this title nor make any efforts to rent it either through local stores (they don't have it) or getting it through NetFlix.

And considering the Fox Studio Classics line, I might've gotten this through the free mail offer when I was going to buy three titles. That's only if I made the effort.

Then two things happened.

1. I saw Nosferatu.
- Like I said, if there's one thing of film I don't make an effort to see, it's a silent film. But then I saw this horror classic on TCM, and I couldn't resist passing it up. In short, I was truly amazed by the film. After having seen Shadow of the Vampire, I was very eager to seeing my first F.W. Murnau film. I'm glad I did. Sure I could throw out some half-baked analysis of German Expressionism and early film art, but I'll just leave it at "I liked it!" Posted Image

2. Ronald Epstein's reviews
- This isn't meant to offend anybody, but I have a hard time listening to "extreme film afficionados" that praise films that aren't exactly my cup of tea (eg. extreme art-house). But as far as reviewers are concerned, the type of films I like are close to those of Ronald Epstein's. So when I see that he highly recommends Sunrise, I can't help but think this might be worth my effort.

So there you have it. I've reconsidered my decision, and have decided to purchase three discs and try Sunrise.

#14 of 141 OFFLINE   TimSniffin

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Posted February 15 2003 - 10:52 AM

Once the offer expires January 31, 2003, does this mean the Sunrise DVD will become available retail?

#15 of 141 OFFLINE   Evan Case

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Posted February 15 2003 - 02:46 PM

This is, in my mind, one of the ten greatest films ever made.

But there is only one other Fox Classic I'd have bought anyway (Grapes of Wrath) and of the two others I'd most feel like purchasing to complete the "deal", one isn't even available until December.

I'm extremely pleased Fox has made this DVD. I'm considerably less so that I'll have to purchase some titles I'm not interested in to have the film in a reasonable timeframe. This is compounded by my income-less college student status, but even if I had a job I'd still be miffed by the principle.

Oh well, I'll scrounge up the extra $45-$60 somewhere. Sunrise is too tempting a title for me to pass up.

(BTW, thanks for the fine review, Ron. I had no idea Fox was going to put so much extra effort into this title!)

Evan
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#16 of 141 OFFLINE   Jefferson

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Posted February 15 2003 - 03:10 PM

I'm very vocal about loving the "silents", so this is wonderful news.
Gorgeous film.Posted Image

#17 of 141 OFFLINE   Brandon Conway

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Posted February 15 2003 - 04:49 PM

Quote:
Once the offer expires January 31, 2003, does this mean the Sunrise DVD will become available retail?


Well, first of all it expires 1/31/04, but I realize you probably meant that. Posted Image

As to the title being available on it's own after that - it's been mentioned as a very shaky maybe, so I wouldn't want to rely on that.

"And now the reprimand, from an American critic. He reproaches me for using film as a sacred & lasting medium, like a painting or a book. He does not believe that filmmaking is an inferior art, but he believes, and quite rightly, that a reel goes quickly, that the public are looking above all for relaxation, that film is fragile and that it is pretentious to express the power of one's soul by such ephemeral and delicate means, that Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's first films can only be seen on very rare and badly spoiled prints. I add that the cinema is making daily progress and that eventually films that we consider marvelous today will soon be forgotten because of new dimensions & colour. This is true. But for 4 weeks this film [The Blood of a Poet] has been shown to audiences that have been so attentive, so eager & so warm, that I wonder after all there is not an anonymous public who are looking for more than relaxation in the cinema." - Jean Cocteau, 1932


#18 of 141 OFFLINE   BrianP

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Posted February 15 2003 - 05:35 PM

I already purchased the first three Fox classics and sent in for the Sunrise DVD offer a few weeks ago. Can't wait until it arrives.

#19 of 141 OFFLINE   SteveP

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Posted February 16 2003 - 12:34 AM

SUNRISE predates the forming of Twentieth Century-Fox by about eight years, being produced by William Fox's production company, which merged with Twentieth Century Pictures in 1934 or '35 to create the new company.

#20 of 141 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted February 16 2003 - 03:19 AM

SUNRISE predates the forming of Twentieth Century-Fox by about eight years, being produced by William Fox's production company, which merged with Twentieth Century Pictures in 1934 or '35 to create the new company.

Ron already knows that fact which is why he mentioned William Fox as being the one that brought Murnau to the States which was before the Twentieth Century merger with Schenck and Zanuck. Ronbo put today's studio name in his review so that people can connect how the studio has evolved from it's beginnings.





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