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Treadmill Theater: Trudging Through the Classics #9 - Sunrise (part 1) - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
May 5th, 2010
09:10 am

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Treadmill Theater: Trudging Through the Classics #9 - Sunrise (part 1)
I've mentioned that I've been trying to see the best movies of all time. That's a squishy notion, so I started off with the American Film Institute's 100 years... 100 movies list, and I added in the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 back shortly after Pirates of the Caribbean had come out - I think it might have still been in the theaters when I took my snapshot from it.

Merge those two lists together, strike out the duplicates, and anything I had seen, and as a movie guy, you'd think there wouldn't be much left. I'm ashamed to admit how many there were, including some landmarks like Jaws and Gone with the Wind. The shame.

So, I picked at this list over time, and eventually, I got a NetFlix subscription, and the AFI put out a new list, which I dutifully merged in, and struck out ones I had seen.

Also somewhere along the way, my quaint old 27" Sony TV started to die, so I replaced it with a refurbished business projector. I didn't (and to date, don't) have a screen, but I have a whitish wall, with only some distracting texturing. The first movie to go up on that wall was Lawrence of Arabia. Big sprawling epic, spilling all over the wall. Good stuff.

Fast forward to much more recently - The Great Dictator, City Lights, Swing Time. Getting down towards the end. High Noon - Gary Cooper has to defeat the terrorists in 90 minutes. These events play out in real time. Seems awfully familiar. And then I managed to put together the PS3 -> HDMI -> Onkyo Receiver -> HDMI -> Panasonic 1080p Projector pipeline, and I watched High Noon. Similar story, but swap John Wayne in for Gary Cooper.

Also, 1080p Blu-Ray, wow! I was amazed at how much richer, more vivid, more better the movie looked. Pop!

But you know, not all movies are available in well-mastered high-def, so it's back to DVDs to wrap this list up.

Stalag 17. Reminds me of Hogan's Heroes, which reminds me of the Auto Focus movie, which a friend of mine had a bit part in.

Also, I ended up putting a PS2 [sic] next to my treadmill, so I could watch movies AND not be a complete slug.

Today's film, "Sunrise", directed by F.W. Murnau, which you might better know from Nosferatu, or from Malkovich's portrayal in Shadow of the Vampire. Sunrise came out in 1927, which means we're in for a black and white silent film. Running time 173 minutes. Good grief.

One little thing I do to try to keep myself semi-engaged with old movies is try to recast the parts with somewhat more current actors. The main character might be well portrayed by Alan Cumming, but I have a second choice. The main character is a farmer, I guess, and his wife (or wife) live on, let's say an island. Like maybe Martha's Vineyard. And the farmer is having an affair with a woman from The City. (Now, you might be thinking of this The City or maybe this is the city, but probably not.) And 20 minutes into the film, the WftC suggests that the farmer kill his wife and come to the city. That's surprisingly fast plot development for one of these old movies.

So, the farmer takes the wife out on the lake, no, the ocean, in a sailboat, but he insists on rowing for some reason. And he looks menacingly at his wife, or maybe he begins to attack her, but then regrets it. His wife discerns his plan, somehow. He brings the boat back to shore and she runs off. I'm not sure what shore this is, but the wife runs into the forest, and hops on a streetcar. This is sounding an awful lot like a dream sequence, isn't it? That's quality film, though. The streetcar goes through the forest and ends up downtown in The City. Or A City. Some City.

The farmer chases his wife, and tells her not to be afraid of him. He tells her this on several title cards, and by reusing the same cards several times must have saved them enough money to buy all the film necessary to stretch this out to 173 minutes. That's practically three hours. Do we really need three hours? I'm on the ride, I can't stop now, though.

He buys her flowers, and things are OK again. They stumble into the back of a church during a wedding, and the farmer decides that he really loves his wife. We're 50 minutes in, maybe we can be dismissed early. They stop by a photographer's studio, and decide to have a picture taken, which requires that the farmer get a shave. The farmer cleans up nice, and the happy couple go to the photographer's studio. Husband and wife kiss (which back then had to take several minutes so that the candid photograph could expose properly), and everyone is smiling and laughter.

End scene.

Tune in next time for part two, in which, I don't know. I haven't seen it. Maybe the farmer decides to invest his savings on Wall Street, and delivers a speech about greed being good, but this being a silent movie, will scroll up the screen on a fancy title card, with INEXPLICABLE CAPITAL LETTERS. Or maybe the dog we met in Act I will come back. Come to think of it, the family dog could add some warmth to this thing.

Or maybe the WftC will sneak through lasers to get the diamond. We'll never know until next time.

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From:johncomic
Date:May 5th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)

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I gather that Sunrise is Important -- as opposed to Good.
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From:tsmaster
Date:May 5th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
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I expect this is the case for most of the films I've seen in this project. I've been dragging my feet about seeing Birth of a Nation - I anticipate hating it.

Every now and then, I find myself enjoying one of these films, and I'm surprised. Both High Noon and Rio Bravo came in more enjoyable than I was ready for.

I expect that part of my difficulty in enjoying Sunrise is that it's been part of a foundation for later innovations that I've grown used to. I have a hard time watching Hitchcock, and I know that his movies are super influential and important, but I just don't enjoy them. Murnau has to be pushing against very similar factors, stacked three times as deep.

Another factor that I'm probably struggling with is that the story itself is dated. I've read a few reviews saying that this is a universal story, free of time or place, and I guess you could stretch to say that the themes are universal, and the elements of the plot could be transplanted anywhere, but a modern viewer is going to find some things baffling. As the farmer is getting his shave, a stranger steals a flower from the farmer's wife, and it's the farmer who comes to stand up for his wife. Or his wife's flower. That scene felt like it might have been more appropriate for moviegoers of 80 years ago.


In any case, only a small stack of movies to get through and I'll be able to check this project off my list of stuff to do.
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From:johncomic
Date:May 5th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC)
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I haven't seen BoaN yet, but I have seen Intolerance a couple of times. Griffith is interesting...

I dunno... I suspect that part of what I love about silents is what bothers you about them. What strikes you as dated, strikes me as so far removed from our present-day experience that it becomes downright alien and fascinatingly strange. These films are nothing like the films we know, and I'm intrigued by their wonderful weirdness.
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From:tsmaster
Date:May 5th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, they're definitely time capsules, and while I cringe at Al Jolson in blackface (and Fred Astaire, as well, but you always hear about Jolson), I find bits of interest in those early films.

Part of what I find interesting (in "Intolerance", "Jazz Singer", "Nosferatu", and so on...) is seeing these creative folks wrestling with a new medium and seeing what works and what doesn't. I'm sure I'm not recognizing some pretty groundbreaking techniques simply because they were absorbed, refined, and improved over the past several generations.
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