These famed and influential films would be of merely academic interest if not for their lively cinematic beauty, more evident than ever by contrast to today's garish color and detail. The beauties of Faust and Sunrise rely as much on suggestion as show-and-tell: Murnau's work, more than anyone's, introduced Hollywood and the rest of the world to mobile camera work and gently graded shifts in light. The forced perspectives of Murnau's fantasy landscapes liberate the imagination rather than twisting it out of shape for immediate effect. Solemn though they may be, Murnau's films also avoid heaviness, thanks to the fluidity of his prowling camera and sporadically effective comic relief, most notably Emil Jannings' lascivious mugging as Faust's satanic aide-de-camp. By contrast, the drunken pig in Sunrise seems a concession to Hollywood, where that film was made in 1927, a year after the German superproduction Faust. In both movies, though, Murnau creates legends with light and as such earns his rank as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
-- Gregg Rickman
Faust screens Friday, Jan. 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Tickets are $5.50; call (510) 642-1124. Sunrise screens Thursday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.