Murnau, Borzage and Fox
By CAINE GARDNER
It could be argued that William Fox is the godfather of modern independent filmmaking. When patent company essentially owned and controlled the future of cinema it was Fox who decided to shake things up.
After starting a successful nickelodeon business on the East coast, Fox decided that the future of movies was in longer, more story-oriented stories. Taking on and ultimately defeating the Motion Picture Patent Company, or as it was also known 'The Edison Trust', he merged all his operations and began Fox Film Corporation in 1914, thus beginning an era in cinema that ushered in a new creative wave that would crest at the 1927 Academy Awards.
Sunrise and 7th Heaven, both products of Fox, won Best Picture and Best Director Oscar at the first Academy Award ceremony. These two films are the centerpieces of the new boxset Murnau, Borzage and Fox.
The set features 12 films, 10 from Frank Borzage and two from F.W. Murnau, as well as two exclusive coffee table books and a documentary about the trio.
The tale of Fox is tragic, but his vision and determination helped shape the way movies were made and the way they were enjoyed.
Winner of three Academy Awards, Sunrise could make its case for the best silent film of all time. Revolving around a married farmer (George O'Brien) who becomes involved with The Woman from the City (Margaret Livingston), Sunrise tells a story that is as poignant today as it was when the film debuted.
Murnau was a German expressionist director who caught the eye of Fox and produced two films for his studio. Murnau's Sunrise is a breath of fresh air even by today's standards. His blending miniatures with live action, superimposed special effects and sweeping camera shots will leave you amazed.
The documentary explains how a scaled set was used to give sense of depth to the film. They would use standard sized furniture in the foreground and have it become smaller and smaller as it grew further from the camera. They could use a room much smaller, but achieve the same element of depth as they would have with a large one, which resulted in a smaller hit to the budget of the film.
Along with Sunrise, 7th Heaven is another cinematic masterpiece. Where Murnau wows you with technical achievement, Borzage wows you with heart.
When Chico (Charles Farrell) helps the beautiful Diane (Janet Gaynor) hide from police after committing a petty crime, the two soon fall in love and begin their happily ever after. That is until Chico is called to fight in World War I and reportedly killed in action.
The film is a testament to the undying power of love. Injured in battle and blind, Chico struggles to find his way back to Diane and when to two are reunited, they melt together and bring a powerful film to an even more powerful ending.
Borzage is known as a romantic according to the documentary and you can see that in 7th Heaven as well as his other works. No matter what the subject matter and how the story would stray, there is always an underlying sense of the heart that permeates throughout his collection or work.
Gaynor is superb in both films and also earned an Academy Award for her performance. It is easy to see that she could have been a successful actress in today's cinema, with her entrancing presence and hypnotic eyes. The way she moves her body as she acts and what it conveys should be the measuring stick lifeless actresses use today.
One of the books focuses solely on Murnau's lost film 4 Devils. Lost in a vault fire, 4 Devils was considered by those who saw it as the greatest movie made up to that point. Murnau continued to push the boundaries of what cinema offered and the book offers a rare glimpse at the classic.
Other Borzage films included in the set are Lazybones, Street Angel, Lucky Star, They Had to See Paris, Liliom, After Tomorrow, Young America, Song O' My Heart and Bad Girl. In addition to Sunrise, City Girl is the only other Murnau offering.
Final Cut: Murnau, Borzage and Fox is a master study of an era of filmmaking that is slowly falling silent. A trio of true visionaries, Murnau, Borzage and Fox helped shape the foundation of what our current perception of cinema rests upon. Simply put -- this boxset is amazing.
4-out-of 4 Stars
Murnau, Borzage and Fox
12-disk boxset, including documentary and two coffee table books
Dir: Frank Borzage, F.W. Murnau
* Lazybones (1925)
* Street Angel (1928)
* Sunrise (1927)†
* Lucky Star (1929)
* They Had to See Paris (1929)
* City Girl (1930)†
* Liliom (1930)
* After Tomorrow
* Young America
* Song O' My Heart
* Bad Girl
* Murnau, Borzage and Fox documentary (2008)
* Two coffee table books
† Films directed by F.W. Murnau