Working in Germany in the 1920s, Murnau helmed some of the greatest silent features ever made. His roll of honour includes: Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1924) and Faust (1926). Taking up an offer of work with American producer William Fox, he left behind Germany for good. It would provide a legacy entitled Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), and his death.
It is worth remembering, too, Sunrise’s original negative was lost in a fire. A vast majority of films made before 1950 are gone. The lack of care attended to the highly flammable material and brittle celluloid; along with lack of foresight into film preservation, ensured their demise. There will always be an audience for this picture for as long as people and the medium exists. It still resonates as more than a curious piece of art from an even more curious period. One cannot say “they don’t make them like that now.” Nobody made them like that then. It is peerless filmmaking. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is one of the key texts in cinema history.
The fable-like, poignant story, subtitled A Song of Two Humans, is a silent-era melodramatic masterpiece - a beautiful, atmospheric, lyrical and poetic work of art with roots in the German Expressionist movement (from 1914 to 1924). The story of corruption and redemption involves a rustic farmer in a romanticized rural town who falls prey to the seductive wiles of a city vamp in an illicit affair. He plots to murder his loving wife during a boat trip to the temptation-ridden city. His conscience is awakened during the attempted killing and he relents, and in the city the couple fall in love again. On their return trip, a tempestuous storm appears to drown the wife, but she is eventually found and the family is reunited and reconciled.
Eureka Entertainment’s newly distributed 2-DVD set of F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is a magnificent treat for first time Murnau-viewers and seasoned cineastes. DVD-1 contains the groundbreaking American version with a synchronized original score and gorgeous in-camera effects. It also includes commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes, the first trailer and a documentary about Murnau’s lost film, Four Devils (1928). This unique archive by Janet Bergstrom pieces together publicity stills, two motion picture ghost images, charcoal sketches and the 1927 screenplay. From these traces, Murnau’s missing film emerges.