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Brownlow Restoration of Abel Gance’s 'Napoleon' Triumphs at Oakland’s Paramount Theater

by Meredith Brody
March 26, 2012 7:02 PM
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Not to bury the lead: if at all possible, you should get yourself over to the Paramount Theater in Oakland next weekend (March 31 and April 1) for the final two performances of Kevin Brownlow’s 5½ hour restoration of Abel Gance’s 1927 "Napoleon", accompanied by Carl Davis conducting the Oakland East Bay Symphony in the performance of his score.

Presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, it’s a cinephile’s dream: a rousing, technically innovative, dramatically engaging, beautifully made epic, accompanied by a touching, evocative, equally rousing score played by an excellent, nearly 50-piece orchestra, conducted by the score’s famed composer. And, for the icing on the cake, the film is unspooling in a fabled masterpiece of an Art Deco theater, itself restored and maintained to its period glory. And for once you’re surrounded by an audience of respectful fellow film buffs, attention trained on the screen, nerves alive to every nuance, breaking into spontaneous applause when moved by a scene, a performance, or sentiment. Bonus: no popcorn!

As you can tell, I had an amazing time. Even more amazing considering that I started the screening in a rage. Last July, when the "Napoleon" event was announced at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, two pals and I ordered three hundred-dollar tickets via iPhone to insure the best possible seats. After a happy half-hour spent ogling the dazzling lobbies, staircases, and lighting fixtures of the Paramount and hanging with Kenneth Turan of the LA Times, Laura Thielen of the Aspen Film Festival, Manohla Dargis of the NY Times, and Alice Maltin (spouse Leonard was elsewhere in the theater), only when we showed our tickets to the usher did we discover that my chums were seated together in the odd-numbered section of row N, and I was alone, way the hell over in the even-numbered section of the same row. Curses, foul Ticketmaster!


  • Vera in CA | April 11, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    Well, all I can say is, next time why not spend a non-pretentious, rage-free, no-iPhone-necessary *$40* like we did, and have an absolutely FABULOUS sightline in the 2nd row, center aisle. We both saw it in 1981, and sat next to a gentleman who had never seen it and barely even heard of it. When the curtains pulled back to for the finale, this total stranger literally grabbed my partners hand and held it. When it was over, we just looked at him expectantly. He declared it was the finest film he had ever seen. Ditto. Eschewing the dinner rush at the local restaurants, we tailgated in the parking lot across the street (like a few others did) and had a leisurely Champagne supper. As for the 'upper class' of the audience, well, I've seen better behavior at children's matinees. Five minutes before the start people were yelling and pushing in the lines to the various doors -- instead of actually listening to the announcements and simply walking in if one knew where one's seat was already.

  • Diane | March 27, 2012 7:09 PMReply

    Sorry - previous comment should say "Brownlow restoration" - too excited talking about it to type correctly, I guess.

  • Diane | March 27, 2012 7:07 PMReply

    My husband and I also saw the 1981 showing at the Shrine in Los Angeles and instantly fell in love with Gance's work. Have been enjoying the recent Gance TCM offerings, and will be attending the Saturday night performance (31st) in Oakland. Can't wait - more Brownlow restoration and the marvelous Carl Davis! It is a once (twice? thrice???) in a lifetime event. Superb!

  • Gary Meyer | March 27, 2012 6:25 PMReply

    It was everything Meredith says and much more. One could write or speak volumes about the wonders of the movie, the presentation and the Paramount.
    I urge people to get to thet bay area this weekend and see THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC with the Baltimore Symphony and full chorus on Saturday night at Berkeley's Zellerbach and spend all of Sunday seeing NAPOLEON. A weekend you will never forget.

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