1927: Sunrise (FW Murnau)
I've seen Sunrise twice in theaters. The first time must have been in France. But I can't remember the exact year or theater. The second time was definitely in Los Angeles, probably in 2000, at the Silent Movie Theater.
It had two different musical scores the two times I saw it, which is not terribly uncommon for films of this period. But, this tendency is something that can really alter the experience for me. In fact, I wasn't too keen on the second score and remember having a less positive experience the night I saw it at the SMT.
But, all this to say, I am still fascinated by Sunrise. It's one of these early movies where you really feel a director, dazzled by all the possibilities of this new medium. It's been ten years or so since I last saw it, but when I think of it, I remember Murnau's amazing use of the dissolve, some incredible scenery, and of course, one of the greatest "romantic" stories the cinema's ever produced.
Another Murnau film I like quite a bit that didn't make the list is Tabu. But of the Murnau (often thought of as one of cinema's giants) films I've seen so far, Sunrise would have to be my favorite.
Other contenders for 1927: There are some highly thought of films from this year that I still have never seen. These especially include Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven, Josef von Sternberg's Underworld, and Abel Gance's Napoleon. Other films from this year that I still need to track down are Jean Renoir's Charleston, Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring, Rene Clair's The Italian Straw Hat, Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, and Howard Hawks' Paid to Love. I have seen Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which I greatly admire. It pains me a little, to be honest, to put Murnau's film ahead of it. But, I guess I finally gave the edge to Sunrise because its story grabs me a little more. I also love the visuals of Buster Keaton's The General. For me, it's the most visually impressive of all of his films I've seen, and one of the greatest visual accomplishments of the period. I remember watching it and at times my jaw dropping at some of the set pieces and the sheer complexity of some of the things Keaton is doing in the film. Sergei Eisenstein's October, though interesting and somewhat instructive, leaves me a little indifferent. And, another Keaton film from this year, College, is a fun romp, but I can't remember it for much more than that.
2/13/10 I watched Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven. It wouldn't contend for my top pick. As much as I have a soft spot for romance and unrequited love, melodrama like this goes a little too far for me.
4/16/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Ring. It definitely shows how dark Hitch could be at times and how much he liked to push the boundaries of form. But it seemed a little flat to me for most of the film.
3/28/11 I watched Josef von Sternberg's Underworld. An amazingly important early American crime film as you can almost feel it saying, "Okay, now here will be the shape of the next fifty years of crime films, here are how the characters will act, and here's what they'll look like. " I'm no fan of Bancroft, and he hurt my ability to fully connect. But von Sternberg's ability to tell a story, create a world, and tell a plot-driven crime film in the silent era are all truly impressive. And he even finds the time for some great cinematic style and more subtle character moments.