"Sunrise" (1927), that high point of the German Expressionist influence in American films, is the appropriate opening for the County Museum of Art's tribute to F. W. Murnau, running Wednesdays at 8 p.m. through June 3 in the museum's Bing Theater. Designed by Rochus Gliese and luminously photographed by Karl Struss and Charles Rosher Sr., "Sunrise" is intensely stylized and was shot on an immense city set and in a vaguely European village constructed on Fox's back lot.
Adapted by Carl Mayer, Germany's leading screenwriter, it tells of a farmer (George O'Brien) torn between a brunet vamp (Margaret Livingston) and his demure blond wife (Janet Gaynor), with whom he becomes reconciled after an innocent spree in the big city.
Film becomes poetry in "Sunrise," which has one of the first synchronized Movietone scores, an evocative composition by Hugo Riesenfeld. Every frame of this timeless masterpiece is visually awesome, with its frenetic montages of urban life, a terrifying storm sequence and exquisite vistas of rural beauty, all expressed with the utmost rhythmic grace. "Sunrise" reminds us that the silent film was reaching its artistic heights just as sound was arriving. For full series information: (213) 857-6201.
The rarest offerings in the Vista's several ongoing series are those in the Pasolini retrospective, the Australian Film Festival and the Ozu-Mizoguchi series. This week the Pasolini is mentioned only by way of warning, for his "Medea" with Maria Callas is a grisly, pretentious bore, and so is "Pigpen," which features an Angst -ridden son (Jean-Pierre Leaud) of a German industrialist who lets his pigs eat Leaud up (offscreen, mercifully).
Adapted by "Gallipoli's" screenwriter David Williamson from his own play, Bruce Beresford's "Don's Party" (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. only at the Vista) is a gratifying combination of hilarity and nastiness. A group of friends, crude working-class blokes who made it to the university and into the professions, gather in North Sydney for an election-night celebration (Australia's 1969 federal elections) because the host (John Hargreaves) is sure that Labour will win for the first time in 20 years (although no one else is). Like "The Getting of Wisdom" and "Breaker Morant," "Don's Party" reflects Beresford's sensitivities to class differences and their significance. Playing with it (at 5:35 and 9:20 p.m.) is the similar, though broader "Barry McKenzie Holds His Own," which Beresford wrote with noted Australian satirist Barry Humphries, who plays three characters, including his famous frump, Edna Everage.
One of the finest films of all time, Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" (Thursday at 5 and 9:25 p.m. at the Vista) tells of an elderly couple's visit to their married children, who neither have as much time for them as they had hoped nor are as successful as they had imagined.
It is a masterpiece of subtlety and simplicity in which Ozu and his perennial collaborator Kogo Noda not only probe with compassion the generation gap, long before the term was coined, but also protest the deteriorating quality of overpopulated urban life--and this back in 1953. Above all, "Tokyo Story" evokes the transitoriness of life. Playing with it (at 7:35 p.m. only) is Kenji Mizoguchi's gorgeous costume spectacle, "Princess Yang Kwei Fei," in which Mizoguchi, with his infinite skill, transforms what could have been but a sad fairy tale into sublime romantic tragedy. Based on a classic of Chinese literature, this sumptuous film--Mizoguchi's first in color--is the story of the Cinderella-like rise of a scullery maid (Machiko Kyo, exquisite as a Kwan Yin) to the gilded court of a gentle emperor (Masayuki Mori). But, alas, she does not live happily ever after.
Note: The Fox International's ambitious Soviet Cinema series enters its final week with a clutch of classics, concluding Thursday with Andrei Tarkovsky's glorious epic, "Andrei Roublev." For full program information: (213) 396-4215.