July 21, 2015

Janet Gaynor, Sunrise

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress

By now I've watched Sunrise more than any other nominated film I've covered on this blog, and I had figured coming in that I wouldn't find anything new with this fifth viewing. In spite of this, the film still has the power to stun; and Gaynor, whose role here has faced divisive feelings from me in the past due to its over-simplicity, ended up being something a bit more than that this time around. I still take some issue to the way gender roles are interpreted here; why is Gaynor "The Wife" to George O'Brien's "The Man"? That in and of itself speaks to how from the get-go, Gaynor isn't going to be given much clout towards the narrative as a multi-dimensional human being--she isn't seen as her gender, but rather a role that her gender takes on. But, three of four years after my last viewing, I find that what Gaynor does within the limited confines of "The Wife" is so warm and rich. She has a beautifully profound way of conveying The Wife's anguish whenever the camera goes in to focus on her. The Wife's almost child-like naivety and playfulness is a great match with Gaynor, which in turn packs a punch when contrasted to the heartbreaking emotions on display from her as The Man puts her through the wringer in the first half of the film. From my end, I still find that this performance isn't so much a leading performance (a no-brainer, as this was one facet of triumvirate package nomination), and I'm not sure that it has enough goods to be standalone in a different year. But it's a performance that works--Gaynor brings on the warmth and is the wrenching figure to care about, even if there may not be much there to care for.

1 comment:

  1. You're more objective than I can be now (and that's good). I first saw it before I was 25 on a late night PBS showing and it fixed its spell once and for all. Richard Corliss, in his biography on Garbo, notes at one point, "To Al Jolson's prophetic 'You ain't heard nothin' yet,' film purists would mournfully reply, 'We ain't seen nothin' since.' And the stray silent film in the final days was showing up its child-master with the most luscious of tonal subtleties."

    Every text I could find addressing Sunrise back in those days told me to be prepared for a masterpiece and a wordless work of expression that would haunt. And it has. So many moments linger, particularly Gaynor's realization in the canoe that her husband means murder, and O'Brien's crippling, engulfing guilt after. Two 'little' people brought to the brink of disaster by one's weakness for an intruder. Who knew they were warming up Fatal Attraction all that long ago? I love it.