Dallas VideoFest 29 Review — The “Unsilent” Film: F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, A Song of Two Humans

Original Composition by Joe Kraemer; Performance conducted by Richard McKay, Artistic Director of Dallas Symphony Orchestra

To experience the classic, silent film in a presentation more faithful to its original technological limitation, as opposed to faithfully and dutifully appreciating its intended soundtrack, is in some ways like watching a film once thought dead come to life.

Joe Kraemer’s recently composed score for the compelling tale of a married couple’s persistence against the temptations of of infidelity and modernity lends F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise an additional element of humanity through this process, which is quite welcome in a world as ubiquitously saturated with technology as our contemporary one. Tuesday’s performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall was a memorable, if not moving experience.

Kraemer’s prior work on the films Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (2015), Jack Reacher (2012) and The Way of the Gun (2000) is equally impressive.

This performance’s original score was delivered with near-flawless changeover between movements and impeccable timing thanks to a well-trained orchestra and the technologies used in McKay’s process of conducting in the reasonably-lit small concert hall.

The visual delivery was equally near-flawless. The only request a potential viewer of this film could have would be to desire a slightly larger screen, and perhaps for the trappings of modernity to not be painted in such an unflattering sense of symbolism by the original filmmaker. The jazz flavoring Kraemer uses to depict the film’s temptress, however, is spot-on for the film’s tone. A savvy classic film lover might have sworn, at moments, that they were sitting in the center of Yoshiwara, as Murnau’s temptress walked by.

This score’s thematic styling, which was abundant with many rich motifs, enchanted viewers as they experienced the timeless story Sunrise presents about a married couple’s love that survives being tainted and reborn.

The means in which Kraemer leverages Copeland for his suite of “Americana” performances are equally exquisite. Sensual, expressive, and musical planes are done justice.

I anticipate that February’s performance of a score to accompany Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid will be additionally moving, if the stirring performances by string sections and the melodic beauty of the wind section in this performance are any indication.