Saturday, January 30, 2010

City Girl

City Girl, 1930
Dir: F.W. Murnau

Really, really good objectively speaking. I mean, Murnau, who would be dead a year from when this was made, with only 3 Hollywood films under his belt (Sunrise, the lost 4 Devils, and this), was clearly at the top of his game here. It's really hard to miss that Murnau is poetry and realism combined. Subjectively though, it's occasionally boring (Murnau had wanted to call it "Our Daily Bread" but was overruled by producers) and hard to plod through. But that there are things that catch your eye is what made Murnau a genius. He was one of the first directors who knew intrinsically what should be a given for cinema: it is not what is being filmed but how one films it that is all that matters.

The film pulls from Sunrise’s parable-simple use of country/city dichotomies and the na├»ve/savvy characters associated with them to tell a simple, starkly simple really, story of a young farmer (Charles Farrel) bringing home to his farm his new wife (Mary Duncan), a waitress from the city he met while on a trip to sell his father’s crop. At home, economic disappointment and bitterness in the family patriarch (David Torrence) turns him against his son but most especially against his son's “waitress” wife-of-the-city, and the boy simply isn’t strong enough to stand up to him. Ideals and poems dreamt, punctured, contested, and won: Sunrise all over again on a third the budget, right? Probably, but what City Girl lacks in scope and allegorical grandeur Murnau more than makes up for in focus and beauty. I mean seriously, the lantern light, the grain, the shadows. Amazing.

All that being said, if the film as a whole doesn't really work (for me), it has plenty of moments that are powerfully visual Murnau:

The loneliness of life in the city as you see the light of a passing elevated train sputter across Duncan’s face and her tiny potted plant in her cramped apartment.

The gleeful run of the young married couple across the family’s wheat field upon their arrival.

The evocative screendoors and angles of the small family house that seems to open up to the nighttime loneliness of the surrounding farmland. An appropriate shot for the master of light and mood.


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