Archive for Sunrise

The Sunday Intertitle: Uncle Oscar

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 4, 2018 by dcairns


There was a vague plan to go round to our chum Nicola’s to watch the Oscars. Which could have worked, as the teacher’s strike means I don’t have to be at work Monday morning. But Nicola has moved to palatial new accommodations in Glasgow, and snow is still general over Scotland, and the idea of staying up all night, even in good company, to watch the self-congratulatory meat parade and then traveling back the next morning… too much ugh.


Intertitles are from WINGS, which won Best Picture before that category was invented, as most sources would have it. Clearly, Outstanding Picture means Best Picture, and this is why the Best Picture award goes to a film’s producer/s. Image is from SUNRISE, which won Best Unique and Artistic Picture… and the producer picked that one up too. My interp, arrived at this second, is that both those films should be listed as the first Best Pictures.

You can see why they combined the two awards: each winner might feel slighted. “You mean my picture is Unique and Artistic but not Outstanding?” “What, so my picture is Outstanding, but it’s not Unique and Artistic?”


The Sunday Intertitle: A Chance on the Hash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 17, 2016 by dcairns


When the Chicago waitresses in Murnau’s CITY GIRL spot Charles Farrell praying before his meal, the sassy friend character remarks ~


The top image sort-of illustrates part of what’s so great about the diner scenes in CITY GIRL — the intense feeling of heat and claustrophobia.

The former is established by intertitular references and sweat, and also behaviour — the waitresses cramming themselves into the line of fire of the few, inadequate fans, and later, Mary Duncan shooting one fan’s blast right at a relieved Farrell, as a favour.


The dialogue, which would qualify as snappy pre-code stuff if it didn’t have to linger onscreen long enough to be read, is presumably from Elliott Lester’s play, with adaptation by H.H. Caldwell and Katherine Hilliker (SUNRISE, SEVENTH HEAVEN), credited with titles. But I was excited to see Bertholdt Viertel credited with co-adaptation & scenario (with Marion Orth). His later films as director include two, THE PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK and LITTLE FRIEND, of which I am exceptionally fond.

To return to the scene’s effectiveness, Murnau also crams as many actors into shot as possible, and crowds the frames with moving parts, like those fans. Filming along the diner counter he creates serried rows of humanity, all stuffing their faces with the doubtful hash, and by setting the joint below street level, the view outside actually contributes to our feeling of suffocation, with a high window displaying only legs, legs, all of them going somewhere.


In theory there’s nothing wrong with a high window, but it does call to mind the arrangements in a dungeon.

I have a Murnau project on the go — expect more on this master!


The Sunday Intertitle: Two Moons

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 10, 2016 by dcairns


Drippy lettering from SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS.

It’s been pointed out before that the whole murder plot aspect of the film makes no sense — George O’Brien is invited to murder his wife and run away to the city. Neither he no his co-conspirator, the vampish City Girl, consider a modified alternative — how about he DOESN’T murder his wife and runs away to the city anyway? I’m not sure if anyone’s elaborated on this and pointed out that O’Brien has a child with his wife, and he’s planning on leaving that child motherless. Is the vamp looking to take over as step-mom? I wouldn’t think so. Of course, the film is more fable than song and character motivation isn’t high on its list of priorities. (Dumbest question in theatre studies: Why does Lear divide his kingdom?)

Been looking at Murnau again for an upcoming project. You’ll be excited! You’ll be jealous.

O’Brien’s walk through the swampy-looking countryside is one I often show students. An elaborate long take performed with, I believe, a ceiling track (allowing the camera to pass over fences and traverse bumpy ground without tracks being visible in its path). The shot becomes stranger and cleverer the more you break it down.


A famous start frame: note the full moon in front of O’Brien. We’re floating after him through the mist and long grass.


Soon, George turns 90° right, away from the moon, and now we’re traveling alongside him.


A 90° turn to the left results in us once more dogging George’s steps. These little moves complicated the journey and make it progressively harder for us to get our bearings. Seems to me that if you performed these moves in the real world, the two adjustments would result in you heading moonwards again, but because the studio isn’t built to the same strange proportions as the world and outer space, O’Brien has now lost sight of his moon.


The camera’s movement still APPEARS to be justified by George’s, but now we start to move a little faster, catching up with him to once along move in parallel. This again complicates the journey, since repositioning the camera makes it appear that George’s direction of travel has changed, even when it hasn’t.


Climbing a fence slows George down, whereas the camera simply floats over it, overtaking him so we can look back at him and see his face. So, George seems to have turned twice, but the camera has moved in various ways so it can see him from the back, from the right side, from the left side, and now the front. George has seemed to be moving away from us, to the left, to the right, and now towards us.


Unleash the madness! George is allowed to catch up with us a bit — as we move closer, we enter his subjective space, where the shot becomes about his lost, trance-like expression. Entering his state of mind, we abruptly pan 180° away from him, continuing the same camera movement so that a track back now becomes a track forward —


Any audience seeing this is likely to read it as a subjective shot — we have entered George’s brain and are looking out through his eyes, without a cut. Murnau’s camera truly IS intangible. Like an audience of John Cusack’s inhabiting our own private Malkovich, we trudge forward into an impenetrable mass of foliage —


— but Murnau has pulled yet another fast one. The foliage parts as if by Open Sesame magic, and we are faced with the City Girl (Margaret Livingston), awaiting her prey, whom she seems to expect will appear from screen left. He does — but not for a full thirty seconds (enough time for her to refresh her lipstick). He’s apparently taken the long route round. Well, it would hardly do to turn up for a date having thrashed your way through a set of bushes.

But the fact that the camera has assumed a kind of false George O’Brien disguise for part of its journey, and the POV shot turns out to be no such thing, is not as strange as the fact that Ms. Livingston now has the moon visible behind her. However, this is a different moon to the one visible at the start of the shot. Murnau needed it to be over a lake, which we haven’t seen before. He couldn’t use the moon established at the start of the shot. This new moon, for instance, has a strip of cloud cutting across it, in best UN CHIEN ANDALOU fashion.

I believe all this complicated movement and trompe l’oeil astrophysics was performed to get us as lost and confused as George O’Brien — to the point where a perfectly unmotivated uxoricide can seem sort of reasonable.