#32. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Late this morning, before coming into work at the college, I stopped at a bookstore along the way because I wanted to get a look at Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem, but the cashier was really distractingly pretty, also very friendly and charming and familiar with which books were out and where to find em, as lotsa bookstore cashiers aren’t, and she was wearing a cardigan, which is great, and she had kind of a weirdly huge smile and she was maybe a couple inches over five feet. Anyway. She helped me find the book and then a few minutes later I was at the cafe with a cup of coffee, the book in my lap, but I couldn’t focus on either the book or the drink because the only thing on my mind was whether I should go say something to her, flirtatiouslike, and if so then what, and how? But I also know that it’s a dick move to ever try to flirt with somebody while they’re working and so I just kinda….

sunrise jerusalem.jpg
I couldn’t focus on the book too well so I just started writing this post.

At this moment, three days from my next paycheck, I have — and this is exact — a maxed-out credit card, $22 in my checking account, a dollar in my savings and, hovering scythe-like over everything, a leaking tire. I’m not saying any of this to complain about my circumstances (I erally am quite happy at the moment, probably cuz of how busy I am with the project) but rather just to illustrate how my circumstances at the moment aren’t exactly conducive to romance.

Nothing happened with the woman at the bookstore. I read a few pages of Jerusalem, shelved it, finished my coffee and left for work, where I watched the last forty minutes of Sunrise (I’d seen the first hour before heading to the Restaurant yesterday). It’s great. I think I like it more than The Last Laugh, F.W. Murnau’s previous movie on the List.

I’ve seen this pop up in so many places, I think it may hold the odd status of being the most famous intertitle in cinema.

Apart from the cool stylistic stuff Murnau pulls off with how he moves the camera, or with special effects and shadowplay, or manipulates the intertitles, I think the most interesting part of Sunrise is how it manages to be completely engrossing even though it’s mostly a movie about two people being happy together, which isn’t inherent;y dramatic.

I’m figuring that the way Murnau manages to make his characters interesting in this case, even though there doesn’t appear to be much at stake while they’re frolicking through the city, is by soaking them, first, in self-made misery. He shows them in the beginning as unhappy victims of their own impulses.

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If a storyteller can establish, with speed and clarity and power, the extent to which a person is destroying herself then, yes, you can show that person being happy later on, and totally at peace, without losing any intrigue — because the enemy is herself. The enemy is in frame whenever the hero is. The drama becomes inherent. I figure it’s the reason that stories about addiction and recovery are always so interesting — there’s this feeling that the enemy, the risk, cannot be seen but, at the same time, we know that we’re looking straight at it, and that everything, big and small, is forever at risk, in every frame, because the characters are people, weak, victims of themselves.

Does that make sense?

One comment

  • It does make sense, and I think you are right, this is what makes this movie special.
    I also like how expressive the movie is with, hardly, any use of sound. It is the pinnacle of silent movies.


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