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Sunrise
(1927)
 

Considered by some to be the greatest film of the silent era, Sunrise (1927) is at very least a combination of artistic triumph and artistic enigma. Perhaps the finest example of the melding of German visual design with American studio production techniques, Sunrise is an oddly disconnected story that still manages to reach its audience with its tremendous emotional undercurrent.

Surviving prints of the original American Movietone sound version of Sunrise derive from two 35mm diacetate positives duplicated for the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film Archive in 1936. The original camera negative of Sunrise was lost in a nitrate vault fire at Fox’s storage facility in Little Ferry, New Jersey, on 9 July 1937.

The image area of the American Movietone version of Sunrise is slightly narrower, at 1.20:1 framing aspect, than most silent era films due to the slight cropping of the original camera framing to allow the placement of the analog Movietone soundtrack to the left of the picture in original sound prints. The shot selection represents the best footage taken from the “A” position camera — the preferred position, framing and take versions of the filmmakers — or the best takes from a single camera position, as in tracking shots.

Sunrise has also survived in an original 35mm nitrate print struck in 1927 from the European export negative, with Czech language intertitles, now held by the Národní Filmovy Archiv in Prague. The export versions of American films were commonly manufactured from the B-camera negative, which is composed of second-best shots taken concurrently with the A-camera, and of completely separate takes of certain shot setups utilizing a single camera, such as complex tracking shots. The result is a slightly different version of the film that is comprised of different shots and with slightly different editing. The Czech print includes all of the camera’s original 1.37:1 aperture framing of its shots.

Sunrise was preserved (not really restored) in three new 35mm preservation negatives prepared in 2003 by the Academy Film Archive, the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, and 20th Century-Fox from materials originating from the Museum of Modern Art’s surviving (but deteriorizing) diacetate positive of the Movietone sound version. — Carl Bennett

2009 Masters of Cinema Blu-ray Disc edition

Sunrise (1927) [USA silent version with Movietone soundtrack], black & white, 93 minutes, BBFC Classification U, and Sunrise (1927) [Czech silent version], black & white, 79 minutes, BBFC Classification U.

Eureka Entertainment, EKA70077 (MoC 1), UPC 5-060000-700077.
Pillarboxed 16:9 24fps MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, one single-sided Blu-ray Disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby TrueHD 2.0 stereo sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles (USA version) and Czech language intertitles (Czech version), no foreign language subtitles (USA version) and optional English language subtitles (Czech version), 24 chapter stops (USA and Czech versions), standard BD keepcase, £24.99.
BD release date: 21 September 2009.
Country of origin: England

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.
This high-definition Blu-ray Disc edition virtually duplicates the content of previous DVD editions from Eureka Entertainment (in the UK) and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (in the USA). The 1927 American release version of Sunrise is presented with the original 1927 monaural Movietone soundtrack composed by Hugo Riesenfeld, which has been digitally duplicated, restored and preserved at the closest approximation of an ideal sound-film presentation from 1927, and a digitally-recorded stereo music score composed and conducted by Timothy Brock and performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra in the 1990s.

This edition utilizes the high-definition video transfers prepared for the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 2008 DVD edition (see below) from a 2003 35mm preservation negative. This Eureka presentation of the 2008 Fox HD video master is presented without any additional digital restoration such as picture stabilization or automatic defect removal. The resulting picture is very good but, due to the quality of the surviving material of the original American version, is only a marginal image improvement over the 2008 Fox DVD edition.

The highlight of this Blu-ray Disc edition is the 2008 Fox HD video transfer of the silent Czech alternate version of Sunrise, presented with optional English language subtitles. The source materials having been struck from an original negative are very-good to excellent, far surpassing the surviving American version in picture quality. As with the Movietone version, there has been no digital defect removal or stabilization of the occasionally jittery picture.

The European version is presented here with an adaptation of the Movietone soundtrack, edited and sequenced to fit the tighter editing of the Czech print, with several shots of shorter duration than those in the American print.

The supplementary section includes audio commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtake footage with optional John Bailey commentary (presented in standard 480p resolution), an original theatrical trailer for Sunrise which itself contains alternate takes (480p), Janet Bergstrom’s 40-minute documentary Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film — an examination of Murnau’s lost film 4 Devils (1928) (in 480p), and a 20-page booklet (abbreviated from the booklet included with the 2005 Eureka DVD edition) that includes notes on the 2003 restoration of Sunrise by David Pierce, comparisons between the American Movietone and Czech versions of the film, and notes on the 2009 Eureka Blu-ray Disc edition.

This edition, licensed for sale in the United Kingdom and Ireland, will play on North American Blu-ray Disc players and is our recommended home video edition of Sunrise.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2008 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD edition

Murnau, Borzage and Fox (1925-1932), black & white and color, ? minutes total, not rated,
including Sunrise (1927) [USA silent version with Movietone soundtrack], black & white, 94 minutes, not rated, and Sunrise (1927) [Czech silent version], black & white, 79 minutes, not rated.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 35622, UPC 0-24543-56220-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, eight single-sided, single-layered DVD discs, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, and three dual-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, French, Spanish and English (sound films only) language subtitles, chapter stops, clothbound binder with disc pockets in clothbound box, $239.98.
DVD release date: 9 December 2008.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 7 / additional content: 8 / overall: 7.

This edition of F.W. Murnau’s first Hollywood film is virtually identical in presentation to the 2003 Fox edition noted below. For information about this boxset’s presentation of the domestic 1.20:1 frame aspect Movietone version (frame enlargement above), see our review of the Fox edition below.

However, in a big change up, this edition also contains the silent European version of Sunrise as it has survived in a Czech language print. The export versions of American films were commonly manufactured from the B-camera negative, which is composed of second-best shots taken concurrently with the A-camera and of separate takes of certain shot setups. The result is a slightly different version of the film that is here presented with the surviving Czech intertitles, with optional Spanish and French subtitles (oops! English subtitles listed in the Languages menu under the None selection). The Czech version looks as good but not necessarily better than the surviving American print, but, as the source print was not prepared for a Movietone soundtrack and therefore is not cropped on the left side of the picture, the Czech print shows all of the original 1.37:1 frame aspect framing of the B-camera’s shot (see the difference in the full-frame European version still frame above, and the pillarboxed Movietone version still frame below). There has been no digital stabilization of the occasionally jittery picture.

The European version (frame enlargement below) is presented with an adaptation of the Movietone soundtrack, edited and sequenced to fit the tighter editing of the Czech print, with several shots of shorter duration than those in the American print.

The supplemental material on the disc includes the same commentary on the feature film and its outtakes by John Bailey as in other editions noted below, an option to view outtakes with text, a theatrical trailer, the original Carl Mayer scenario with Murnau annotations (images) with a clearer reset version (type), restoration notes, and a still gallery of advertising (3 images), production (29 images) and behind-the-scenes photographs (13 images). The previously available material on 4 Devils (1928) has been placed on the City Girl disc in this boxset.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2003 Fox Home Entertainment DVD edition

Sunrise (1927), black & white, 95 minutes, not rated.

Fox Home Entertainment, no catalog number, UPC 0-24543-06858-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 24 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, not for retail sale.
DVD release date: 14 January 2003.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 7 / additional content: 8 / overall: 7.

We suspect that this DVD has been prepared from the video masters created for the 1997 laserdisc edition, as prepared for home video by David Shepard from the 35mm preservation negative of the Museum of Modern Art’s surviving diacetate positive of the 1.20:1 Movietone sound version that was created in 1936.

While the original camera negative of Sunrise has not survived, and even the best of video transfers will be from duplicate preservation prints, Sunrise is well represented in those materials yet still renders a picture of slightly soft detail. This edition benefits from the greater image detail that the DVD format is capable of, over earlier editions on laserdisc and VHS, as this disc renders image quality of very-good to excellent, limited only by the detail present in the source print. In reevaluating the video transfer on high-definition equipment capable of upscaling the DVD’s standard-definition NTSC signal to a high-definition 1080p signal, we find that the older video transfer does only a moderately-good job of rendering a picture that looks filmlike in image detail and tonal ranges. The film on home video could benefit greatly from a new high-definition video transfer of the preservation negative — the practical best-available option.

The DVD offers both music soundtracks that were available on the laserdisc release: the original 1927 mono Movietone soundtrack composed by Hugo Riesenfeld, and a stereo music score composed by Timothy Brock and performed by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra in the 1990s.

The supplementary section includes audio commentary by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtake footage with optional John Bailey commentary, the original scenario by Carl Mayer with annotations by F.W. Murnau, an original trailer, a section on Murnau’s lost film 4 Devils (1928), and the original 4 Devils scenario.

This increasingly difficult-to-find edition is the best available to collectors with NTSC equipment, but has been superceded by the Sunrise disc in the Murnau-Borzage boxset noted above. If you have PAL capabilities you want to consider the Eureka edition noted below.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Masters of Cinema DVD edition

Sunrise (1927), black & white, 91 minutes, BBFC Classification U.

Eureka Entertainment, EKA40109 (MoC 1), unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £22.99 (reduced to £19.99).
DVD release date: 24 October 2005.
Country of origin: England
This remastered edition, from a high-definition video transfer that has been progressive-scan encoded, should be a visual improvement over Eureka’s 2004 edition (noted below).

The supplemental section also contains the original Sunrise scenario by Carl Mayer with Murnau’s handwritten annotations (PDF in CD-ROM section), the original English-language intertitles, a commentary track by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes with optional commentary, Janet Bergstrom’s 40-minute documentary Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film — an examination of Murnau’s lost 4 Devils (1928), stills gallery, original theatrical trailer, restoration notes and a 40-page booklet that includes Sunrise writings by R. Dixon Smith, Robin Wood, Lotte Eisner, Lucy Fischer and David Pierce.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark at right to purchase
a Region 0 PAL DVD of this edition from Amazon.co.uk.
2004 Eureka Entertainment DVD edition

Sunrise (1927), black & white, 91 minutes, BBFC Classification U.

Eureka Entertainment, EKA40066, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, two single-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundand Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, two-disc standard DVD keepcase, £22.99.
DVD release date: 26 January 2004.
Country of origin: England
This edition has been mastered from 35mm print materials.

The supplemental section contains the original Sunrise scenario by Carl Mayer with Murnau’s handwritten annotations, original English intertitles, commentary track by ASC cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes with optional commentary, documentary by film historian R. Dixon Smith, 4 Devils (1928) reconstruction treatment and scenario, stills gallery, original theatrical trailer, and restoration notes.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other F.W. MURNAU films available on home video.
F.W. Murnau filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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