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F.W. Murnau's visionary tale of love imperilled and rekindled is considered the pinnacle of silent film art.
Considered the pinnacle of silent film art, Sunrise landed at the #5 position in Sight & Sound's recent poll. (Going its British counterpart several steps better, Cahiers du cinéma once pronounced Sunrise the greatest film ever made.) Subtitled A Song of Two Humans, Sunrise is indeed musical in its orchestration of light and shadow, night and fog, movement and stillness. A triumphant wedding of naturalism and abstraction, of European style with American narrative, Sunrise lavishes visual invention on a simple plot: a temptress from the city enters the rural Eden of a young couple and convinces the husband (George O'Brien) to drown his wife (the luminous Janet Gaynor, who won the very first Academy Award® for Best Actress). Murnau and his team drew on the influences of German Expressionism and French Impressionism for the film's stylized sets, balletic camera work, and shimmering mise en scène; among the many famous sequences are O'Brien's trek through a swamp to rendezvous with the city woman, a restaurant dinner that is a study in silhouettes, and two trolley rides that, as so many things in the film do, mirror each other. "Sunrise is a great film; a landmark in the use of a moving camera; and of crucial importance in showing how genre cinema may be complemented by the gravity of a true artist's feelings. Sunrise is a world of art made out of a novelette" (David Thomson).