Whilst expressionism was the dominant style of film making in Germany in the 1920’s, Murnau was always a maverick. He was interested in reality, and how to bring real lives and emotions onto the screen, and in City Girl he succeeded magnificently, even though it was to be the last film he made in Hollywood. The sound era was arriving, and Fox demanded that Murnau turn his silent into a sound film. More than anyone, Murnau understood that a silent film was not a sound film without sound, but an entirely different form of art. He wisely walked out rather than see his movie ruined. The sound version was an inevitable flop, but in the 1980’s the original silent masterpiece was rediscovered, and ever since has been drawing new audiences in.
The depiction of the romance between a waitress who fantasizes about a new life in the countryside away from the drudgery of the city, and a young and naive wheat farmer, is set against the backdrop of the great depression in rural Oregon. It is anything but typical Hollywood. Both the girl and the farmer are in love with a dream which the young man’s abusive father does his utmost to destroy, and the cold reality of the younger man’s inability to stand up to the old man hits the girl almost as soon as she arrives in her new home. The exquisitely beautiful camerwork and lighting effects coupled with the stunning Oregon scenery, contrast with the rough, raw and violent action.
The movie was never released in Europe, which makes it a rarity in European theaters even now. Like all of Murnau’s films, it’s the brilliantly drawn psychology of the characters that draws you in. Not a moment is wasted in the movie, which is filled with Murnau’s typical attention to subtle details. It’s a movie that can be watched time and time again, and indeed, Terence Malick was so impressed with City Girl that it became the inspiration for his film ‘Days of Heaven.’
The James Whale Orchestra soundtrack is a blend of cool American minimalism, and bluegrass music.
Ernst Paul Fuchs – Piano
Panyiotis Ioannou – Samples/Music Production
Martin de Ruiter – Organ (EYE Amsterdam only)