Sunrise (1927)

by guest writer

Sunrise (1927) caught F.W. Murnau travelling from Germany to the US to make the first film for Fox Film Corporation. Murnau was hailed in America as a genius and presented a high interest for William Fox, who was seeking to lend art-house prestige to his studio in the mid 20’s. The director was given almost unprecedented freedom and control over his first project for Fox. Sunrise was to be based on a story by the German dramatist, Hermann Sudermann. Adding to his drawing on a German literary source other elements like European staff members (especially scenarist Carl Mayer and set designer Rochus Gliese), Murnau came closer to his vision for the film. Other two important members of  this wonderful team included cameramen Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, who also received Academy Award for Cinematography that year in honor of their work.

If we leave aside the transcontinental team and the European visual tropes, we obtain a movie narrative that bears traces of German Expressionism. On the other side, Sunrise seems consonant with American traditions of melodrama: story focused on domestic life, prurient concern with adultery, quasi-Manichaen structure of good vs. evil, assignment of value to female innocence. Nevertheless, the film transcends its standard melodrama roots and turns towards a more eccentric style. One thing is for certain: Murnau directed his first product in the US blending continental and Amercian sensibilities.


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