Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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....
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).
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
The condition of this footage is in pretty decent
shape considering it was not part of the restoration
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.
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
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.
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
Release Date: NOW
All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality