Dreams of motion

George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor take in the Sunrise<i>.</i>

George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor take in the Sunrise.

Courtesy Of Photofest

If your resolution is to determine whether profound movie experiences still might be possible in 2006, the Kabinet film series, resuming Sunday, will gladly oblige. January, for starters, is a month of masterworks.

What better way to get a new year going than with a movie called Sunrise? Arguably, it’s the greatest film ever made by the great German expressionist F.W. Murnau (also of Nosferatu), whose American career began in 1927 with this gorgeous silent drama about the thoroughly tested romance between a restless farmer (George O’Brien) and his loyal wife (Janet Gaynor). Witness the vaulting early development of the screen-acting craft—and the already masterly eloquence of Murnau’s nimble camera. In its day, Sunrise flopped at the box office; the immediate (and everlasting) consensus declared it ahead of its time, and a special “Most Unique and Artistic Production” prize was among its three Oscars at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. Murnau still meets anyone’s definition of a visionary, and the film remains, as Kabinet impresario J. Greenberg describes it, “the crown jewel of the silent era.”

January 8 brings six wordless shorts by mid-’40s avant-garde queen Maya Deren, whose work took shape in luminously feminine, self-actualized dreamscapes, inverting identities and rearranging time and space. On the 22nd, Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962) posits a soiree from which the guests can’t seem to leave, savaging the absurd paralysis of bourgeois etiquette as only Buñuel could. Finally, on the 29th, French new-wave giant Jean-Luc Godard’s vibrant, very rarely screened Made in U.S.A. (1966), a political thriller of sorts, asks, “If you had to die, would you prefer to know beforehand, or would you rather it was sudden?” Brace yourself for the answer.