Great Movies III

film 1 of 8

City Girl

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 2, 2015

Better than Sunrise! It’s every bit as artful and adventurous, and it’s certainly similarly Romantic. But the emotion is less synthesized, the psychology a little more careful and nuanced, and the conclusion more organic (as opposed to mythic, or musical). City Girl is also so much less familiar, obscured as it has been by its inexplicable bad reputation. (Are they talking about the sound version?) Thus the shock. Ranking is pointless with this kind of work. It’s good as anything could possibly be, and it demonstrates that Rudolf Arnheim was right: the coming of sound really was an aesthetic catastrophe.

The couple’s arrival at the gates of the farm—wonderfully abetted by this score—registers as the very aesthetic/emotional high point of silent cinema. Inexpressible. The welcome that Kate subsequently receives from her new mother and sister-in-law is just as powerful, demonstrating that Murnau can have it either way—stops pulled, modest as a maiden. (Makes me think of China’s Zhang Yimou.)

The Dad is rather over-emphatic! I wish that they’d lingered on the land a little more. This is a classical film, which is to say that it’s an industrial film, so the point is to tell that story. Still, what if Murnau had been able to elaborate earth before moving to water (Tabu)? What if he’d been spared to do air and fire and snow? In the same way, this film’s glimpses of agricultural processes are so pleasing that we’re left craving more. What if he’d gotten around to documentary?

Well—at least we’re blessed to have had him with us for a while. Some ending!