This being the first of two new reviews of 1926 films for the National Cinemas month on German Cinema (replacing a much longer essay I had planned to finish the month off with, but since it has been many months since September now I decided to formally use that essay for another purpose and not align it with the National Cinemas project, which I can now put to rest).
Eighty-nine years later, I don’t suspect that anyone really needs to let you know how gorgeous Faust is – it’s a German fable-horror film from the 1920s directed by FW Murnau – it’s gorgeous because of course it is. Sometimes, however, a film reviewer likes to state the obvious. Faust didn’t revolutionize film like Murnau’s previous Nosferatu or The Last Laugh or his latter Sunrise (all released in a snugly period of seven years; am I the only one who misses when filmmakers actually did stuff like make films without taking five or six years off in between projects?). But “it didn’t revolutionize film” is not exactly a fair argument against a film, or else we’d pretty much just be talking about the 1920s and Citizen Kane from now on.
Edited and updated in mid 2015
Sunrise was one of “those” films. By those, I mean the films which changed cinema, which defined “before” and “after”. While the case is often made for Citizen Kane as the singular production which advanced what film could do the furthest for its time period, Sunrise is perhaps the only film to seriously challenge that claim. F. W. Murnau, the expressionist master behind classics such as Nosferatu, brought his talents to America here, and to tragic romance. In doing so he not only created an ethereal, transcendent romantic vision of the world, but he transformed what film meant for that world.
The narrative of Sunrise is simplicity itself. It’s a story of love and temptation, intentionally rendered universal through characters whose names are literally types. They are “The Man”, “The Wife”, and “The Woman from the City”. The first and the second are married, while the first and the last are having an affair. These two plot to end the marriage and run off together, having “The Man” take “The Wife” to the city on a vacation from their country abode and drown her there. When the time comes he finds he cannot continue with the plan; the trip to the magical chaos and clutter of the city only rekindles their love. Assumed tragedy later strikes and causes “The Man” to grow angry and even potentially murderous, but love looms large in Murnau’s vision and he isn’t about to give up his puppy-dog mythos of the world without a fight. Continue reading