I've always felt a bit self-conscious about writing about silent cinema. In fact, this is only the second time that I've discussed any film from the era. I didn't even review The Artist. This is because when I studied film in university, I mostly ignored this area of film history, not for lack of interest, but merely as a consequence of the way my curriculum shaped up. I know all of you reading this are thinking “well, lack of academic knowledge doesn't stop you from rambling on about anything else” and you’re right, but hey, a man can try! The visual constructs and narrative conventions of silent filmmaking are completely different from modern cinema and I've felt unequipped to judge them before I delve into the academics. That being said, the core idea of the Blind Spot series is embarrassment – I mean, seriously, who else hasn't even seen Sunrise before? - and if I don’t take this opportunity to write about a silent film or two, when will I ever?
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is directed by F.W. Murnau, whose earlier German-produced films I’m quite familiar with. Sunrise, however, despite much acclaim, had always somehow slipped under my radar, but I'm glad I've rectified that error because, boy, is this film not fantastic. Recounting its plot is perhaps unnecessary but if, like me, you've been living under a rock, Sunrise is about a man and a woman who are unhappily married with one child. Their rural, ordinary life is disturbed with the introduction of a coquettish, urban woman who enters into an affair with the man and prolongs her vacation in their corner of the world in order to convince the man to rid himself of his wife and leave with her to the city. The plan is to kill the wife by throwing her off a boat and passing it off as an accident to the rest of the villagers. When the man can't bring himself to kill his wife on the boat, the two of them end up in the city on the other side of the lake, where their love for each other is rekindled and they return happily to their rural life.
All of this sounds incredibly simple. If you haven't seen the film, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about; but there's a reason Murnau doesn't give names to any of his characters because their lack of specificity gives their story a universality that makes the film relevant in this day and age. Murnau's portrayal of the woman's naivete, dainty demeanor and unvarnished credulity might rub the post-feminist modern day audience the wrong way but he shows a genuine sympathy for his characters that makes his decisions difficult to contest. His rural couple might seem like odd simpletons in their day-long venture into the cacophony of the city, but Murnau emphasizes that such sensibilities are only in their heads, not his.