Not many films command as much respect as FW Murnau's silent classic, Sunrise. Billed as a "Song Of Two Humans", it's a love story that's more than just a tale of broken hearts and damp hankies. It's also a landmark in the history of cinema that turns melodrama into high art with the story of a hard-up farmer (George O'Brien) whose affair with a city girl (Margaret Livingston) leads him to the brink of killing his doting wife (Janet Gaynor).
Released just two days before the advent of the talkie with a happy ending that had been imposed by the studio, Sunrise proved a critical and commercial flop. Yet time has redeemed it, earning it a place in the history books and a consistent high-ranking in critics' Top Ten film polls.
"BREAKS THE RULES OF EARLY CINEMA"
Separating himself from his contemporaries with his keen sense of the possibilities of camera movement, this generic picture gave Murnau the perfect opportunity to break the rules of early cinema. Using superimpositions and tracking shots (most famously in the tram scene) to great effect, the German émigré offered a sense of space and place that few other filmmakers had ever achieved.
Contrasting the rolling hills of the countryside with the hustle and bustle of the big city, Sunrise takes us on a journey between two worlds as George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor rediscover their love in the sprawling metropolis. Wandering through busy barbershops, funfairs and posh restaurants, these two country bumpkins confront the terrors and wonders of city life.
Full of humour (slapstick sequences with a drunken piglet and a lady's shoulder straps have stood the test of time), this proves a testament not just to the power of cinema to make us laugh, cry and gasp, but also to the compassionate gaze of the camera lens as Murnau follows two humans who discover that the ups and downs of everyday life can't tarnish the melodic perfection of true love.