Thoughts On: Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (1927)
This is the greatest film of all time. No question.
The film puts it best:
Of the Man and his Wife
Is of no place
And every place;
You might hear it anywhere,
For wherever the sun rises and sets
In the city’s turmoil
Under the open sky on the farm
Life is much the same;
Sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.
Before we start, this film is, dependant on the day you ask me, my favourite film ever. It fights with another I’m sure I’ll explore soon, and first place always goes to the film I’ve seen most recently. This is a silent picture from 1927 directed by F. W. Murnau. Now, of all the film buffs, geeks, fanatics I’ve known, the term ‘silent film’ doesn’t sit too well. A few may say they’ve seen one, but no one much cares for the silent movies. I don’t know, maybe it’s my fault, maybe I just make poor choices as to who I talk to. But, I think it’s obvious that to the average movie goer ‘black and white’ is a term synonymous with ‘death by boredom’. Say silent film to the same people and they might just throw up, ruining your shoes and not even be sorry. If you’re one of those people, firstly, hello. Secondly, DON’T LEAVE! Thirdly, sorry for shouting and thanks for staying. Fourthly, yeah, let’s give this up and just get on with it. Old films are, excuse my French, shat on, for the same reason that people buy toothpaste. Yeah, shat and toothpaste shouldn’t be in the same sentence together, but hear me out. We go to new movies and buy toothpaste because of this idea of fresh – fresh breath, fresh entertainment. No one likes to talk about the past much, have the fermented and aged come from their mouths. We talk about movies from the 70s, maybe 60s, but hardly ever do we discuss the first 50 odd years of cinema. This is, in part, a marketing ploy and links back to toothpaste. New is often seen as better, it’s a selling point of so many things. We don’t buy toothpaste to take care of our mouths–not of the most part. We do it so when we’re talking to friends and so on, they don’t turn away in disgust and formulate some juicy nicknames behind your back: tuna breath, face farter, paint peeler, teeth ducking yawner, halitosis-smelitosis (Harry Potter fans love that one), morning glory, foghorn–fuck me!, shit talker, just bad at polo (English joke), I could go on. When in truth, modern day toothpaste is only around 110 years old. Halitosis is an invention of the dental community, the term coined in the early 1900s. Why? To make people feel insecure about their breath and buy toothpaste.
The film community did the same in the 60s with the move away from black and white pictures, and in the late 20s with the move away from silent pictures. Though, the transition from silent to sound took less than a decade. Silent films were completely dead around 5 years after the Jazz Singer came out. Black and white hung on for around a quarter of a century, through the 40s, 50s and part of the 60s. It done this because colour projection was expensive and other more technical reasons I’ll leave out so we can focus on the film. My main point here is that the repulsion people feel toward old films is manufactured and irrational. What many people I know do is only watch the films of the last decade. We’re talking 2000 onward. That’s insane! Anyone with any knowledge of films will tell you that. By rejecting the films that are pre-70s because they’re old and new is better, you are only shutting yourself from thousands of films, hundreds of them being worth seeing. And guess what? All of these films will be new–to you. And that’s all that should matter: your exploration of cinema. A film’s worth is in no way bound to its colouration or the way it speaks. No one likes a racist. Don’t contribute to the problem! Jokes aside, I make the promise to talk about film without temporal prejudice on this blog. I’ll go from Batman V Superman to Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans without a blink of an eye. I’ll talk about the films I see that are worth talking about, despite when they were made. And all for you people. Any suggestions for me? Feel free to comment. But, time to get on and talk about Sunrise…
I’m not going to make a case for this picture being the best film of all time. I’m going to talk about why I love it so much – because of its ideas and message. This is a romance that explores the absolute depth of human bond, it explores the idea of need in juxtaposition to want. In short, this film is about why we need that… someone. Not anyone, someone. The one for us. No, this film isn’t The Notebook–I hate that film and one day when I finally manage to get through it I’ll tell you why. This film is not The Notebook because it doesn’t appeal to the ‘irrational feminist’ view of romance. This film takes a simple stance on why we fall in love and what a man and woman are to one another. In my perspective, this is the only way to analyse the incomprehensible. To grip ideas such as love and hate we need to look at ourselves as the animals we are. When we do this life becomes much simpler. Listen to a few too many Bob Marley tracks, watch a few too many romances, and, yeah, love becomes a mystical and magical thing. War and hate become alien ideas. This bias, common in society, isn’t too helpful in my opinion. Without a true picture of any situation, without accepting the opposites that make it up, we can’t understand much. The film shows that love and hate come from the same place – the selfish core within us all. I’m going to break down a statuette, a monument, a monolithic, archetypal, idol, of a lie, of absolute bullshit, right here, right now. Selflessness doesn’t exist. You are a liar and a complete idiot if you dare say it does. But, you know what? There’s a worse lie than that. Selfishness is not a bad thing, despite what so many will have you believe.
Here are the two truths I want to make clear: selflessness doesn’t exist and selfishness isn’t a bad thing. I say this all the time, but, everything we do is to survive. Every action you take is a product of your mind assessing a situation and deciding the best input, or lack thereof, to preserve the body. Yes, people commit suicide and harm themselves, but this is because of mental disorders or because it’s the only way they believe they can stop the pain. If everything we do is for the purpose of survival, then everything we do is selfish, for the purpose of ourselves–self-preservation. All actions help us survive in two contexts, as a single unit or as part of a group. All actions contribute to our survival as a person or as community or society. The film follows a man who has fallen for another woman from the city and is on the precipice of abandoning his wife, of killing her, and selling his farm for the purpose of staying with the city woman. Now, what the film has set up is the singular unit of the man and faced him a decision of us or them. In short, the film is about where you belong. His wife represents this idea of home, of what you have now. The city woman is an idea of more, of being apart of something bigger than you. The film makes an argument toward the smaller unit (man and wife) being imperative to human existence. The bigger group is a lie, a fabrication, a trap too easily fallen for.
This is where need and want come back in. People need the basic things in life, the fundamentals. People want excess, they want more. I’m not talking about material possession here. The film explores the social needs and wants of people. The man needs his wife, he wants the city life with a new and younger woman. Again, we also cycle back to people assuming new is better. The exact same mentality of people refusing to watch the film because it’s a silent picture, is what it discusses. That’s why the opening text (at the top of the page) tells us the film is about anywhere, any place, every place and so no place in particular. The exploration of need and want, of the wife and city girl, is archetypal, is relative to so much about people. By the film following a man who discovers that smaller circles are more important than the bigger ones, that need is more central than want, it talks about the whole concept of ambition. This film isn’t about people losing what they want only to realise that they wanted it all along, but abandoning need and then realising they’re screwed without it. This film talks to our deepest fears, the ones we are blind to. Here, we can come back to the depressing little game I like to play, called, what if you were alone? Your parents abandon you. Your family disappears. You find yourself alone. What do you do? There’s more to this idea though, the film makes a point of asking, what if you lost all you need? What if your home, food, water were just taken away? We all forget how much we take for granted. We all know this, but, we do. With pure cinema this film demonstrates the problems we may face with that kind of mind-set.
I’d like to talk about silent cinema again here. Silent cinema is the most powerful kind, bar none. Pure cinema is telling a story with nothing more than moving pictures. This is a filmmaker’s challenge. It’s also what makes cinema the best art form out there (I’ve discussed this in previous posts though). Silent films, specifically, are so powerful because of the idea of selfishness. Books are so easily immersed in because they are so undefined. I have made the point that cinema is better than books because they portray a story with visuals, but ambiguity is imperative. By not defining exactly what a character looks like, by leaving them a silhouette an audience can paint themself in their position. People have made this point with Keanu Reeves and Kristen Stewart. They are so unemotional and bland because they allow us to fill their gaps. Now, be too bland, too much of a void, and you fail to characterise–that’s why both actors receive criticism. Taking the concept of ambiguity and applying it to cinema we find that silent pictures nestle into a perfect niche of ambiguity and visualisation. We see characters, but we do not hear them, the actors are usually of the same breed–blonde woman, brown haired man–Hitchcock made a point of this in his films. With figures on screen that don’t speak, we attribute our own voice, or the voice we most like to hear, to them. This makes the film all the better and why I fall so, so, hard in love with good silent pictures. The woman in this film?… oh my goodness.. I just want to sweep her off her feet and hug her. When a creep tries to move in on her I’m swearing at the screen, I want to slice this guys throat open. Near the end… the end.. I won’t spoil it, but the first time I saw the end I was punching walls, I had to stop the film and fume before finishing. Luckily I was at home and, well, watch the film to see what happens and why I was so mad.
Silent cinema is so powerful because it embodies our prejudices and adheres to them at the same time. Ask yourself this: what do your favourite characters from novels look like? The answer: like you, or a perfect embodiment of your idea of beauty. This is the reason Chaplin and Keaton were so loveable and their films so poignant. This is the reason people are taking issue with the Oscars being so ‘white’. Hollywood makes movies from the western world, for the western world, from America, for Americans. The western world and America are predominantly white. Movies are so ‘white’ because they are trying to appeal to their audience. At the same time, black people and those who don’t fit the Keanu Reeve or Kristen Stewart cut-out revolt for the very reason same reason the majority love films. We all want our cut-out figurines. I extend this idea to the many cultural movements surrounding transgenders, homosexuals, feminists, minorities in general. We are all selfish and want our voice heard. We all want to be recognised by the bigger picture, we all want to run away with the city girl. Ahhh… maybe you’re starting to get my point. This film embodies so much about how humans like to act and how we should act. This brings me to the crux of my point…
‘Us’ is always going to be you and one or two other people. Yes, we live in communities, countries, societies and all for good reasons. But don’t let the illusion shatter you. You amongst the crowd are alone. Focus on those who chose to stand with you, don’t try and keep with those who bustle by. This links to another one of my favourite films of all time, The Crowd. It’s similar to Sunrise and maybe I’ll talk about it another time, but definitely watch it. That aside, this film argues that ‘Us vs. Them’ is the most important battle you will be fighting throughout your life. And guess what? You’re the only person fighting the battle. It’s you against you. Don’t fool yourself and believe that a crowd matters, that you’re lucky enough to have more than a handful of people truly care about you. We are alone in this world, in our lives. An ultimate truth. But, we can stand alone with a few others and not feel so bad about it. I absolutely love this film because it embraces this idea that selflessness doesn’t exist, that, for selfish reasons, we need each other. That we are hunter gatherers and love is the glue that keeps the caveman and cavewoman together. The film demonstrates how small, how dependent, we are on a few others. It’s a lesson to all aiming to provide a moment of clarity. It asks you to step back and look at what you’ve got. With perspective, a new day, a sunrise, may come the enlightening truth that the world around us, that we’re so desperate to be of significance in, doesn’t matter. We do not need to be apart of it. A song can be heard by anyone, a film can be seen by anyone. Yes, they may seem to be about other people, yes, they may also be about you, yes, we may make them so, but the fact that everyone can see or hear is not what we should be worried about. The song of two humans is about is all, but make no mistake, you, I, am the only person who hears it as I know it sounds. I am the only person it matters in the song with those few who stand with me. It is about me and my little ‘us’ in the end, just as it is about you and yours. But that does not connect us. We shouldn’t want it to. Forget the world and love what you’ve got.
All in all, this film is amazing, both in concept and emotionally. It is its emotions, the way it makes you feel, that make it so great–which is the ultimate reason why I love it so much. But, in truth, the emotions feed the concept. The way the film makes you feel is what it’s trying to talk about. I love the film because of my connection to the characters and situation, because of my connection to myself. Weird, but true in all cases of favourite films, books, art forms. Never have I seen a film that works on such a cohesive and broad level. In the end, having said my piece, all I can leave you with is the film itself. You can find it on YouTube, right here…
Watch it and tell me what you think.
Batman V Superman – Human Cinema
Silent Running – Perspective
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