Posts Tagged ‘murder’

Sunrise (1927)

November 27, 2011

“Sunrise” is one of the last silent films made by the great German Expressionist F.W. Murnau. It is a crowning achievement from the short silent era, a truly remarkable film that is so fluent in its story-telling technique that it stays effective even today. Having viewed it again with some younger audiences, I realized how effective this film connects the viewers emotionally still today. It truly moved my audiences who couldn’t have been older than 18.

The story is really simple. A down to earth farmer (George O’Brien) is having an affair with a city girl (Margaret Livingston), who persuades him to sell his farm, drown his wife (Janet Gaynor) and move to the city with her. He takes her advice and plots the murder of his innocent wife (not without some serious internalization). At the critical moment, the direction takes a U-turn and the rest is the most touching story I have ever watched on screen. It moves me without any spoken words can describe.

I don’t believe silent film is a better medium than talkie, the whole discussion is irrelevant anyway. With the lack of spoken dialogues, the director is forced to work out the impossible to tell a story, often involving a lot of plot details, solely by image composition, symbolism, editing, cue music. The last thing an esteemed silent film director would ever use to tell a story was the title card. F.W. Murnau was proud that he minimized the title cards whenever he could. In fact, he mastered his technique that in “The Last Laugh” he only used one title card. There are only a few short title cards in “Sunrise”, the story is told by a combination of techniques that title card is not neccessary.

Take for example during the scene by the lake, the city girl asks the farmer to move to the city, looking at the lake and with their backs facing us. Murnau double exposed a montage of the jazz-age urban life over the lake, and then fully fading in the cityscape before fading back to the lake scene.

Take for another example right after the lake scene, the farmer is back home, his wife is sweeping the floor as he struggles to make a decision on the bed. A ghostly image of the city girl is double exposed so that it appears as though she is leaning on him, hugging him, seducing him. All his internal struggle is told through images. In the modern days, we would hear voiceover of what the character should be thinking at that point.

There are also many subtle innovative techniques that would be too difficult to be accomplished at that time. A simple tracking shot would be very difficult with the bulky cameras available then. We found tracking shots in this film that would keep many film analysts busy for a while.

All these would not be relevant though without the actors. I still see overacting here and there common in the period, but I find the key performances more naturalistic, subtle and emotionally engaging than most of the performances coming from the silent era. The church scene where George O’Brien cries is melodramic, but it’s melodrama at its best.

I urge everyone who is interested in silent films to start with “Sunrise”. You will find a cinematic world where emotions are not spoken, but felt.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” is directed by F.W. Murnau, starring George O’Brien, Margaret Livingston, Janet Gaynor.

Dail M for Murder (1954)

September 10, 2011

“Dial M for Murder” adapted from a successful stage play tells a story of a man who plans a perfect murder of his wife . It was filmed in 3D, and screened briefly in 3D too. Odd fact. Anyway, much like “Rear Window” released in the same year, “Dial M for Murder” is set entirely in a claustrophobic apartment, a challenge that must have appealed to Hitchcock to create suspense with the minimum set pieces, perhaps explaining why Hitchcock was interested to film it in 3D at the first place – to create the maximum depth and interest in a small setting.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a retired professional tennis player married to his once fan Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly). His saving is running out. His wife, who once loves and admires him, is now having an affair with another man called Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Mr.Wendice has plotted for years a perfect plan to murder his wife with the reluctant help of his college friend Lesgate. When things go wrong, Wendice derives a plan B. Will he succeed? Will he not?

The suspense is classic Hitchcock. Although the movie lacks the splendid set piece from his later movies or the self-reflection in “Vertigo”, it gets one thing perfectly right – keeping us at the edge of the seat by making us identify with the murderer and take the risk as he does.

The murder is discussed and conducted in a civilized manner. We see two gentlemans catching up the old time back in college. Wendice talks Lesgate into the murder scheme, not with a pointed gun, but with perfect logic and reasoning, which makes perfect sense on paper. We are the insiders, we know perfectly well the next steps. We are told that a perfect murder only exists in a novel, that the real life probabilities are incalculable and hence one small unexpected incident leads to the collapse of a perfect scheme.

A crime is truly suspenseful only when conducted in a lawful society, by seemingly law-abiding gentlemans. The consequence of failure is clear. The line is only crossed when the line is there. We are the participants as much as Wendice or his helper. We are the invisible voyers and partners in crime. That’s class A entertainment – experiencing the psychology of a murderer in a safe black room behind the screen. After all, murder is only fun on paper.

Dial M fur Murder” is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings.