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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The Polyvision ending – when two extra screens are revealed at the sides of the original, permitting a triumphant This-Is-Cinerama widescreen vista unknown and seemingly impossible in its day – rouses the audience to applause once again, ending in a heartfelt and lengthy standing ovation.

I was lucky enough to see the four-hour version of Abele Gance’s "Napoleon" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1981, with Carmine Coppola conducting his own score – its own once-in-a-lifetime event. This time I woke up the day after seeing the five-hour "Napoleon" feeling like seeing it again (or, even better, since it ends in 1797, with the triumphant Italian campaign, I would like to be able to see Gance’s proposed following five films, covering the remaining 24 years of Napoleon’s eventful life). It turns out that TCM had thoughtfully programmed Gance’s intimate but long "La Roue" that very night, in a four-and-a-half hour slot, but I need MORE.

I hope someday to see the next restoration of "Napoleon." (Three once-in-a-lifetime events.) But right now I’m considering seeing it again next weekend. Get it while it’s hot.

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  • 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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