Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sunrise (1927) and how my taste has changed

A few years ago Murnau's "Sunrise" got an extended run in one of Lisbon's arty cinemas and I got a chance to see it. To say that it bored the hell out of me is an understatement. I found the story uninteresting and other than the technical side of it I could not understand why people were raving so much about it.

The film is a parable and that's part of the reason I didn't like it. The characters have no name, they are generic, a Man and his Wife and the Woman from the City that tempts him off the path of virtue (he didn't seem to mind that much).

Tonight I saw it again at the BFI. I was pleasantly surprised. Ok, it's unevenly paced, with the beginning and the ending moving much faster that the longer city section that at times seems to take forever. But I quite like the German Expressionism feel of it and the trick shots, especially one where George O'Brien is thinking of his seductress and superimposed images of her seem to kiss him and hug him. Janet Gaynor provoked mixed feelings, but I quite liked how she mimicked a wounded animal after her husband's attempt to kill her. George O'Brien too was great as the big beast that indulges in lustful and murderous thoughts, but the moment he shaves and becomes tamed he looses part of his appeal. Best of all is Margaret Livingston as the Woman from the city. She's so sexy and deadly, and I love her face in the end.

I still don't agree with all the superlatives people use to classify it, but I have mellowed substantially my dislike of the film. Moreover, I quite liked it at times. According to some quick online search, I must have seen the film around 4 years ago. So, have my tastes changed that much? Possibly - In those 4 years I got to see many more silents, including some of the most acclaimed such as "The Crowd", "Greed", "Birth of a Nation", "Intolerance" and "The Wind" among many others - and looking forward to "Show People" in December. So am I now fluent enough in a language I hated (a bit like English, but that's another story) and therefore can appreciate it better? Unlike English, I still don't like it a lot, but I am getting there. But tonight's screening had a side effect: I am now quite keen to watch the Borzage BFI DVDs that I got from Amazon not long ago and that are full of Janet Gaynor. As for "Sunrise" maybe there's hope - maybe third time's lucky.

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