I recently wrote up The Essentials webpage on Sunrise, which airs on March 31st on Turner Classic Movies at 8 p.m. as a part of the new season of The Essentials hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. Writing up an Essentials post is an opportunity to get to know a movie inside and out, given the voluminous amounts of research to be done and information to impart. I was thankful to be assigned Sunrise as I have always found it a beautiful and poetic film. Included in my piece is the passage below, reprinted from the TCM page. Writing this passage that details the opening four minutes gave me the chance to look at the opening moment by moment if not frame by frame. It gave me a real appreciation for the genius and artistry of F.W.Murnau and I encourage anyone who hasn't seen it to tune in on the 31st to experience this masterwork of cinema.
From TCM's The Essentials:
From the first frames, Murnau begins his work. A poster of a train station advertising “Summertime” as “vacation time” dissolves into the train station itself, only this is no ordinary station. The trains in the foreground are miniatures, overlaying a station platform below, bustling with passengers, which looks out via a glass wall to the world outside, also alive and moving, as far the eye can see. Suddenly, we see a train race across the countryside, to the right, while another shoots up from a tunnel as if rocketing towards the sky, to the left. Murnau then contrasts this with a second shot of the vacationers themselves, at the crowded public beaches on the right with a shot of a ship, presumably a luxury cruise liner, to the left, overlayed upon a cityscape. Next, the screen fades to black and opens to a point-of-view shot from the stern of a ferry leisurely making its way across a scenic lake, filled with sailboats and dinghies. Aboard the ferry are urban dwellers, signaled by their tweed vests, walking sticks and boaters, heading for the shoreline where greeters await amongst the farms and cottages. Importantly, there are no optical overlays here. The countryside is presented as is. Murnau has taken the viewer on a journey from one place to another but also from one state of mind to another, all in less than two minutes of screen time.
After that extraordinary setup, the movie informs the viewer by way of inter-title that a woman from the city has lingered long after all the other vacationers have retreated to their urban lives. When we fade in on her rented room in a cottage, her clothes are strewn about, a pair of high-heeled shoes rest atop a trunk and she bounces into the room sporting a bob and lighting a cigarette from the candle on a desk. From this slovenly room we cut to the owners of the cottage, downstairs in the simple, clean and bare dining room, eating their soup until the woman comes in, stares at the lady of the house, then at her shoe until the lady of the house leaves her dinner to polish the city woman’s shoes. Finally, we cut to the outside as Murnau now takes the final step in this masterpiece of exposition. From the frenetic, multi-cut, multi-layered shots of the city, to the un-layered yet still multi-cut scenes of the lake, we now follow the woman walking from the cottage down the road, past some villagers to a small farmhouse, all in one, steady, uncut tracking shot. Murnau has wound everything down to this moment, both literally and figuratively, when the woman calls on the attentions of the man with whom she is having an affair and sets everything the story will reveal in motion. In all, from train station to farmhouse, about four minutes of screen time have been used and yet, in that four minutes, Murnau has accomplished more than most film makers do in their entire careers.