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Soundtrack review: Sunrise (Joe Kraemer – 2016)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Sunrise (Joe Kraemer – 2016)

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“Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (also known as Sunrise) is a 1927 American silent romantic drama film directed by German director F. W. Murnau and starring George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston. The story was adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story “The Excursion to Tilsit”, from the collection with the same title by Hermann Sudermann. Featuring enormous stylized sets in order to create an idealized view of the world, “Sunrise” tells the story of three characters with no real names given. The Man and The Wife had been living happily on their farm until the appearance of The Woman From The City, who seduced the husband prior to the beginning of the story. In order to get rid of the farm that is tying The Man to country life, The Woman From The City convinces him to get rid of The Wife by staging a boating accident. When The Man realizes he is unable to commit the deed, The Wife flees to the City. He follows her and they rediscover their love for each other in the exotic world of the City. Joe Kraemer was commissioned in 2016 to write a new score for this movie which is considered one of the best of all times and Caldera Records is releasing it now in 2018.

Since releasing regular scores for current movies is boring and everybody else does it, after presenting the score of a movie that never got released, Caldera now gifts us a new score for a movie that was released 90 years ago. For a 1927 romantic drama, I guess orchestral greatness for the score was a given; it’s actually one of the very first Joe Kraemer scores not to feature a single touch of electronics as it was all written for live performers. I guess I could end the review right here and already the hoards of film music fans and journalists who are clamoring the end of film music because of Hans Zimmer’s evil empire of RCP and its huge influence on today’s film music would be happy. But I digress and also I forget all about the current landscape of film music as the opening cue “Sunrise” gently takes me on a trip back in time with that unique, sweet Golden age of film music string sound. I have always had a soft spot for “ready to be played live” film music because as a fan of classical music from an early age I’ve seen a lot of symphonic concerts live. I just revel in the alert movements of “The train sequence” trying to isolate in my mind each separate instrument and the point where it connects to the next one; we are then introduced to the other woman via a clarinet that blends orchestral joy with the jazzy tones of that age. The connection with jazz is also made though clever and subtle improvisation like motifs.

I like how the music follows the plot and the action in the movie, instead of just evoking a general atmosphere; when there’s sneaking around, the strings are plucked and the sound tip toes,when there’s romance and sparks the motifs are sweeping, sometimes in the same cue and I will always applaud the use of the flute in film music. The music is rich and has a narrative thread and I enjoy discovering all its nuances; there’s drama, there’s suspense, there is seriousness and playfulness and I am getting the right emotional release from the score without even seeing the movie.

As most of the film music world discovered as late as his score for “Mission: Impossible Rogue nation”, Joe Kraemer is a composer who will always favor depth over cheap thrills; he attracts and holds on to the listener by crafting a complex web of carefully weaved motifs instead of writing superficial or flashy and rushed film music. This means he might not always be on the top of the call list for producers and directors these days but it also means than his compositions will satisfy even the most demanding pallets. “Sunrise” is a clever blend of orchestral and jazzy, a delightful assortment of symphonic dialogues and surprises and, if you want, a composer out-desplating Alexandre Desplat on his own often quirky orchestral turf. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Highlights:
Sunrise
The Other Woman
Gathering Reeds
A Man Posessed
City Arrival
Buying Flowers
Traffic Jam
Antics in the Studio
Night in the City
Pig on the Loose
The Dance
Storm at Seam
Salvation
Finale

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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