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

Photo of Meredith Brody 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.

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.

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

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.