Here Comes Napoleon!

Features
by Leonard Maltin
March 5, 2012 1:00 AM
12 Comments
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The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s landmark screening of Abel Gance’s epic Napoleon with Carl Davis conducting a live orchestra is less than three weeks away. You don’t want to kick yourself afterwards for missing out on this experience: Kevin Brownlow’s 5½ hour restoration, in 35mm, with its revolutionary three-screen tryptich finale, in the beautifully restored, 3,000-seat Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony. If you’re still on the fence about spending the money to travel there and purchase the not-inexpensive tickets, I would direct you to a list of Frequently Asked Questions about this two-weekend event.

In this informative rundown you will learn why this performance of Napoleon cannot be repeated in other cities (as the 1981 presentation was, following its debut at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan), why a DVD or Blu-ray release with Davis’ orchestral score is unlikely, and other vital facts.

My wife and I have purchased our tickets and can’t wait to revisit the film after a thirty-year hiatus. (We were at Radio City Music Hall on opening night, and were also present when Kevin Brownlow first presented his lovingly-assembled reconstruction of Napoleon at the Telluride Film Festival, with director Gance in attendance.)

If you can’t make the trip, you can at least enjoy the newly-commissioned poster by the celebrated Paul Davis, which can be purchased online.

For answers to all of your potential questions, click HERE and for general information about the San Francisco Silent Film Society and its activities, click www.silentfilm.org.

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12 Comments

  • Dennis James | March 14, 2012 6:53 PMReply

    You all do know NAPOLEON isn't the only orchestra plus organ with silent film show in upcoming weeks. For instance, I'm performing at the organ together with with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra for the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks silent film adventure THE MARK OF ZORRO on April 19 & 20 in Indianapolis at the local art museum, and then over to the grand Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ in Buffalo for accompanying Lon Chaney in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA playing the 1925 original score by G. Hinrichs and M. Winkler at Shea's Buffalo movie palace together with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday, April 22. The grand movie palace experience with silent films and live music is back . . . thank you, THE ARTIST, for winning the Oscar and reviving our specialist interest for the general public! Dennis James, SILENT FILM CONCERTS

  • Cecil Doyle | March 7, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    Counting the days.....will fly in from Louisiana to experience this momentous occasion.

  • Jim Reinecke | March 7, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    Okay, I clicked on the link to discover why I can't expect to see this restored treasure in my hometown (St. Louis, MO) and it's rather frustrating. The main auditorium of the Esquire Theatre (probably the largest screen in town) was able to accommodate the triptych finale when the film was presented here 30 years ago (wow, that long!) and I recall being dazzled by it. However, there would be no room to shoehorn in the necessary orchestral accompaniment. Conversely, Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (converted from the old movie palace, the St. Louis Theatre) has hosted screenings of Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS and even Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEVSKY with symphonic accompaniment of the original scores of these two films. . .but the triptych wouldn't fit on their screen! I guess my only hope to see this restoration would be if someone would be willing to foot the bill for a DVD release. I hope that this doesn't become another cinematic Holy Grail like Warner Brothers lost pre-code gem CONVENTION CITY has always been for me. So, Leonard, for you and all the other lucky cinephiles who have the good fortune to visit Oakland for this event, I congratulate you---and please excuse the withering glare that I'll be casting westward with my envious green eyes!

  • Thomas Gladysz | March 6, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    I have only seen this film via an old, worn-out VHS. I was mightily impressed. I think this time (with all the new material and with the Carl Davis' score), I will be spellbound in darkness. I can't wait!

  • Michael Chamberlin | March 5, 2012 11:39 PMReply

    I have seen the film twice on lousy Beta videotape in the 1980's. But it was still overwhelming. The risks Gance takes still astonish. And he does something pretty fabulous at the very, very end of the film after the final shot. It's a flourish and I have only seen one other director pull something similar off: Orson Welles. I won't spoil it but as an audience member it's something that has to be earned from the director- and it's more than justified here. You'll want to stand up and applaud.

  • Mark | March 5, 2012 8:18 PMReply

    If you haven't heard the Carl Davis score, you haven't seen the film. Period. It blows the Coppola score out of the water. Also, unlike the Coppola version, the Oakland screening will be projected at the correct speed, and will have a lot of extra footage (some of which Coppola left out to satisfy musicians' union time requirements, some of which is newly found since those screenings). Also this version is beautifully tinted. Prepare to be amazed.

  • Norm | March 5, 2012 7:06 PMReply

    Here's the deal , I can't go, so they will have to put it on Blu-ray or DVD with the Davis Score...
    I am too busy working on a screen play for the Lorax, I need to show these punks how to write...

  • Maggie Thompson | March 5, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    My husband and I were fortunate enough to see the film something like three decades ago at the Chicago Theater, with the orchestra conducted by Carmine Coppola. A wonderful friend treated us to this unforgettable experience: one that can only be imagined via the VHS and laserdisc versions! Carl Davis is a wonderful composer, and this new showing is guaranteed to be a rare treat.

  • mike schlesinger | March 5, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    I'm also going on the 31st. I'm one of the few Yanks who was fortunate enough to see this version at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004--in fact, it was the prime reason we made the trip--but I certainly harbor no doubts about seeing it again. (Afterwards, I told Kevin that "the rest of my life will now be downhill.") If you care anything about movies--not just silent ones--you owe it to yourself to make this journey.

  • Theo | March 5, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    Can't wait. We're going on the 24th. Saw it at Radio City Music Hall and in Boston back in 1981.

  • Carlos Sandoval | March 5, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    I have one question to anyone who might know about the 5 1/2 hours version of Napoleon. I have a digital copy of this version, and I noticed there is not a single scene in polyvision! I also have the one with Carmine Coppoal score, this one short in lenght, with polyvision scenes in it... Do you know if some of the Brownlow versions are showing the widescreen images separately in the editing? Thanx!

  • Patrick Picking | March 5, 2012 9:03 AMReply

    I'll be there on March 31st! My first time seeing this. Flying out from Detroit, Michigan.

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