Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Erika? Universal Hires Husband to Write 'Fifty Shades Darker' How Do You Solve a Problem Like Erika? Universal Hires Husband to Write 'Fifty Shades Darker' 'Age of Ultron' Director Joss Whedon on Self-Doubt and Why It's His 'Rio Bravo' 'Age of Ultron' Director Joss Whedon on Self-Doubt and Why It's His 'Rio Bravo' Watch: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Amy Schumer Hilariously Slam Hollywood Sexism (NSFW) Watch: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Amy Schumer Hilariously Slam Hollywood Sexism (NSFW) CinemaCon: How Tom Cruise Stole the Paramount Show CinemaCon: How Tom Cruise Stole the Paramount Show Meet the Director of 'Tangerines,' the 2015 Dark Horse Oscar Nominee You Missed (Exclusive Video) Meet the Director of 'Tangerines,' the 2015 Dark Horse Oscar Nominee You Missed (Exclusive Video) LA Film Fest Unveils Horror Slate, More World Premieres, Zoe Cassavetes Film LA Film Fest Unveils Horror Slate, More World Premieres, Zoe Cassavetes Film Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Lines Up Vet Auteurs and American Indies Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Lines Up Vet Auteurs and American Indies Joe Wright's 'Pan' Gets Fall Release Date: Good News or Bad News? Joe Wright's 'Pan' Gets Fall Release Date: Good News or Bad News? Seeing Ryan Gosling's 'Lost River' Through Composer Johnny Jewel's Eyes (STREAM SOUNDTRACK) Seeing Ryan Gosling's 'Lost River' Through Composer Johnny Jewel's Eyes (STREAM SOUNDTRACK) 3 Women Genre Directors Get SF Film Society Fellowships 3 Women Genre Directors Get SF Film Society Fellowships Here's Why Jon Stewart Quit 'The Daily Show' Here's Why Jon Stewart Quit 'The Daily Show' Watch: From Tarantino to Cronenberg, Great Directors Talk the Art and Anxiety of Filmmaking Watch: From Tarantino to Cronenberg, Great Directors Talk the Art and Anxiety of Filmmaking Specialty Box Office: 'True Story' and 'Child 44' Flop as 'Ex Machina' Lures Audiences Specialty Box Office: 'True Story' and 'Child 44' Flop as 'Ex Machina' Lures Audiences Tribeca Film Festival Matches George Lucas with Stephen Colbert: “I’m gonna tear you a new one, George" Tribeca Film Festival Matches George Lucas with Stephen Colbert: “I’m gonna tear you a new one, George" 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 10 Films Booed at Cannes That Every Cinephile Should See 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work 5 Things You Didn't Know About Lars von Trier, Who's Going Back to Work The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' The Eerie Connection Between 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and 'Tomorrowland' Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix Digging Into the Cannes Lineup: More Vet Auteurs and Women, No Netflix You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents You Can Now Read Over 200,000 Leaked Sony Emails and Documents 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO) 7 Things to Learn from 'Mad Men' Creator Matthew Weiner About Compelling Storytelling (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

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

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood March 26, 2012 at 7:02PM

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.
4

As soon as the movie started, however, all was forgotten and forgiven. The film began sans intros; perhaps the over-eight-hour schedule (incorporating several twenty-minute intermissions, even at that length inadequate for getting everybody in and out of the bathrooms, and an hour-and-three-quarter dinner break) precluded such niceties. Brownlow will lecture on the restoration on Friday, March 30, at the Pacific Film Archive, with clips from the film accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano.

I hastened toward Brownlow during the first intermission, but he broke free from his acolytes and scurried away. The last time I saw him in 2007, after a PFA lecture on silent films, the perpetually boyish Brownlow was downcast and glum when he spoke of his ongoing "Napoleon" restoration, prophesying that it would never be seen by the audiences he craved. I tried to cheer him up, Pollyanna that I am, by insisting that eventually it would be. And here we were!

The magic resumed as soon as the movie started again -- although section two, largely a rain-swept and somewhat confusing battle scene, is the only one that reminded me of my friend Jonathan Benair’s quip after we emerged from the gala screening of Ronald Haver’s restoration of George Cukor’s "A Star is Born": “Great movie. Could lose twenty minutes.”

Gance is the master of superimposition (sometimes seemingly five frames at once), and innovator of the moving camera (on swings, horses, pendulums). The tinted scenes are unexpectedly moving.  Albert Diedonne in the title role is indeed god-given. Annabella, given a generous amount of screen time as a young girl ensorcelled by Napoleon, surprises me because she seems to belong to another Technicolor filmmaking era. (It turns out Gance discovered her at the age of 16.) Antonin Artaud, star of another silent, Dreyer’s "Passion of Joan of Arc," doesn’t evoke the same surprise.

During the dinner break, we’re lucky in our choice: Xolo, a taqueria (and sister restaurant to famed Temescal restaurant Dona Tomas) that first colonized the Uptown neighborhood surrounding the restored Paramount and Fox theaters. In fact, because we’re early in the ordering line, which stretches out the door in quick order, we nab a table upstairs with a rainswept view that includes the colorful neon sign on the 1928-vintage Fox Theater, restored and re-opened in 2009. We share pork and chicken tacos, guacamole, and a big bowl of delicious birria (goat stew), washed down with Mexican beer and horchata, while we discuss the genius of what we’ve seen.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Executive Director Stacey Wisnia comes in to dine with her husband and NY Film Forum programmer Mike Maggiore; she stops to receive our fervent congrats and thanks. Perhaps I read too much into her reply – “Well, we’re making a lot of people happy” – because Dargis’s March 18 NY Times article reported the cost of these four performances as $720,000. How could ticket sales (from $40 -- $120) cover costs?

I keep hoping that other presenters would step up to the plate. (Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein told a friend that prices for a similar production in NYC would “multiply…by five or ten.) Alas, this is it.

Dargis reveals that yet another restoration is being worked on. (A friend who recently saw some of the newly-discovered footage in the seemingly endless and still-not-fully-catalogued warehouses of the Cinematheque Francaise said it was astonishing.)

This article is related to: Classics, Genres, Guest Blogger, Features, Reviews, Reviews, Festivals, Festivals, San Francisco


E-Mail Updates