Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sunrise, finally?

With the exception of Jason and Karl, I've never met the contributing members of the discussion group. I'm not a film critic, student, or even a well-read ("seen" as it were) cinema goer. Frankly, I only picked "Sunset" because I saw it recently (in my pursuit to watch the AFI 100) and I wanted to appear somewhat sophisticated. How did I do?

I've been busy, but my delay in writing a comment about "Sunrise" was mostly due to failing to come up with something interesting to say. Obviously it's a brilliant film. I thought it was daring of the film team to write a story about a man wishing to kill his wife and get away with the murder so he could live with his paramour. It all seemed too 21st century to me, and my wife. Who hasn't thought about murdering their spouse for the insurance money? I mean, it would be so easy, right? Yeah, the cops always suspect the spouse, but if you just planned well enough...and got a little lucky....and were patient and appropriately bereaved...

The brilliance, for me, of "Sunrise," was that I started watching the film believing the wife would be killed and the story would be about whether husband got away with the crime, and I was pleasantly surprised the story went in the opposite direction. In its silent glory, the cast was able to convey a sense of innocent beauty on the initially unsuspecting wife, who, although sensed there was difficulty in her marriage, loved her husband and was almost immediately willing to forgive and trust her husband. I'm not sure that kind of relationship exists today, but it was heart warming, if not dangerously ridiculous.

So there you have it. My brilliant comment. I do enjoy silent films, and although I concede a silent film would never make it with today's viewership, I do think several silent films are among the best films I will ever see (if you have any doubt, watch some Charlie Chaplin and/or "The General").


Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...


I loved the humility and the honesty of your post. I think we film critics, filmmakers and film students sometimes forget that the “average” movie-lover’s insights are just as valid as ours, if not more so.

It was the late, great film criticism pioneer, James Agee, who said, “A professional’s preoccupation with technique, with the box office, with bad traditions or simply with work, can blur or alter the angle of his own judgment.”

That being said, I’ve got some friendly questions for you: What did you mean when you said the plot of “Sunrise” seemed too 21st century to you? As you know, this film was produced in 1927, the 20th century. I’m intrigued. Please explain further, if you get a chance.

I agree that the film’s direction is hard to anticipate. Back before many of today’s clichés existed, “Sunrise” was already refreshingly original and unpredictable. In fact, this made the film seem quite bizarre. This is what I meant when I was discussing the movie’s shifting tone.

Picture an ant traveling across the sand. That’s exactly what watching this movie was like for me: The turns come suddenly at times, and at other times, the ant (or the movie) proceeds in an unlikely direction for a surprisingly long time.

It’s neat, Andy, that you said silent films are among the best you’ll ever see. Many of the pioneers from Murnau’s era would agree with you, I think. I gathered from my reading of film history that many people thought sound ruined the cinema. I don’t know that I’d go that far — product-of-my-own-time that I am.

If you watch several films from the nineteen-teens and 1920s, you’ll see the progression of story-telling technique. Films like “The Last Laugh” (1924), for example, were told so well, visually, they didn’t even need title cards. Roger Ebert said the single title card used in “The Last Laugh” wasn’t necessary. I agree.

When sound came along, filmmakers had to learn to tell their stories all over again. And the cumbersome microphone problem didn’t help matters, either.

Yes, “The General” (1927) may be the best silent film ever made, but I’d call it a tie with “The Last Laugh.” Can anyone think of one better? Dr. Moody always said “The Wind” (1928) was his favorite. What do you all think?

Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...

When I wrote that the movie seemed too 21st century, I simply meant that the story seemed well beyond its time. Not having lived in the 1920s, but having seen in my relatively short lifetime the paring down of subjects that were once taboo makes me wonder if many moviegoers in 1927 were disgusted or offended by the subject matter. Its true that infidelity and murder have been topics of conversation and story-telling throughout the ages, but it seems that as each different type of media grows and struggles through infancy, the partaking public is very critical of its portrayal of any kind of misdeed.

And Jason, thanks for always being such a great champion of other people.