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!