The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

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missdupont

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostThu Apr 12, 2012 1:02 pm

Wonderful review, Donna, but from your rapturous descriptions, I would say you loved it. You perfectly captured how the film and the audience reaction wrap you in passion and excitement, something which cannot be experienced sitting at home alone watching a small screen. Thanks to Kevin for so passionately pursing the restoration of this over the years, maybe it's time for his knighthood!
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostThu Apr 12, 2012 1:05 pm

Well said, Donna. You captured the event beautifully.
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cjh5801

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostThu Apr 12, 2012 2:33 pm

Beautiful post, Donna. I wish I could have seen it.
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Marilyn Slater

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostThu Apr 12, 2012 4:15 pm

Donna,
Yes, the glow will last, I posted a link to your blog...(at the bottom of the Napoleon page at Looking for Mabel) you wrote a lovely review. You took me back to the glory...thank you
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Apr 13, 2012 4:39 pm

i do hope the film will be on dvd (or shown on the east coast) so i can see it.
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La Clé du Ciel

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSat Apr 14, 2012 3:12 pm

Well, this is my first post (I’ve posted a bit on criterionforum in the past, but not had the nerve to do so here). I have been eagerly following the reactions to the NAPOLEON screenings. I’m currently trying to get a book on the film published, but having a discussion about the film itself (rather than the legal battles or problems of its release) is always so difficult as screenings are so few and far between. I’m hugely excited that people can now have actual conversations about the film as a cinematic experience! I’m intrigued by many responses, so I thought I would respond to a few ideas…

I absolutely agree on the ahistorical accusation of “fascism” doing great injustice – not just to Gance’s film, but also to Napoleon himself. In the nineteenth-century, Napoleon and the Revolution were dangerously liberal – that’s the reason the rest of Europe fought so hard to defeat them. After all, Napoleon was the enemy of a Europe entirely dominated by absolute monarchies, autocratic dukedoms, and an empire that was still a feudal state based on serfdom (Russia). He was officially declared the Antichrist by the Orthodox Church in Russia, but later compared to Christ by many in the Polish independence movement (the Polish national anthem is still the only such hymn to mention Napoleon by name), as well as by French writers (from the lunatic fringe of mystic socialists to more established figures like de Nerval). Early 19th century nationalism was not associated with the right, but was the key characteristic of liberalism (it would later be hijacked by people like Bismarck in an effort to subsume its socialist roots). Hence, even in Britain people like Coleridge and Byron admired the French Revolution and Napoleon as beacons for social change. Napoleon was an enemy of the empires of Austria-Hungary (which dominated Italy and suppressed independence from its various national groups) and Russia (which dominated eastern Europe and brutally suppressed Polish resistance). The Napoleonic Code is still the basis of much civil law in Europe and present in other nations across the world (Napoleon said this would be his most important legacy). In the 20th century, right-wing groups/figures very rarely mentioned Napoleon as a point of positive reference and the extreme left were the same. In the 1920s, Gance got hostile reviews from both the extreme right- and left-wing press. NAPOLEON was accused by the left of being fascist and condemned by the right for being financed by foreign (German and Russian) money. The fact that many believed Gance to be Jewish (which he may well have been) meant he was the subject of some virulent anti-Semitic attacks by French fascists in the 1930s.

Elie Faure’s book on Napoleon (published in 1921) was a key influence on Gance’s film. Faure saw Napoleon as both Christ and Antichrist – source of darkness and light. This is an interpretation that permeates Gance’s film. As many people have already pointed out, NAPOLEON was meant to be the first of six films. Gance wrote that his first film showed only a partial portrait – the tragic destiny is clearly set up in NAPOLEON, but remains unfulfilled. Yet even within the film there is a far, far more complex treatment of Napoleon than many people give credit. Yes, Napoleon is given a halo and is associated with light (sunsets, fire/flame), but there are also numerous instances of his darkness (his silhouette cast on the snow in the snowfight, against the sunset on Corsica, over the “Rights of Man” tablet in the Convention, Violine marrying his shadow etc.). Gance’s portrait is far from simplistic or conventional – it’s deeply ambiguous. Just look at Napoleon’s romance with and marriage of Josephine. It is treated as comedy in many places, but there is also an unsettling ambivalence about Napoleon’s attitude to Josephine and the idea of power/desire/control itself (she looks positively frightened during some of the wedding scenes – and the superimposition of her face on the globe is wonderfully double-edged).

In the Ghosts of the Convention sequence, Napoleon says his ideal is the “Universal Republic” – essentially a proto-European Union. Gance’s Napoleon is not nationalist, he is internationalist. Equally, the French Revolution is seen as a world movement, not a national one. Also, what about Saint-Just’s threat? He warns Napoleon that the Revolution “will turn ferociously against you” if he betrays them. Saint-Just asks Napoleon if he will keep his promise. After a series of close-ups of Napoleon saying “Yes!” to various other questions from Danton/Robespierre/Marat, the close-up after Saint-Just’s question elicits no answer – Napoleon just stands there. This is hugely significant. The scene is setting up Napoleon as a betrayer of the promise we have just witnessed him making. And the fact that the character who issues this threat is played by the film’s director in person makes its importance even more obvious. Here is the author threatening his own character! And, what’s more, we know what will happen. Our historical knowledge of Napoleon’s ultimate (political) compromise and (military) defeat forms the current of dramatic irony throughout the whole film.

From the very opening, we are shown the child’s destiny. In our first glimpse of the child, we only see his hat – we are teased with an already iconographic image that the character has yet to attain. In the screenplay, Gance describes the hat rising above the snow parapet as “a black sun” – a perfect encapsulation of the idea of Napoleon as an oxymoronic force of darkness and light. I think the geography lesson offer perhaps the most poignant moment in the whole film – when the child is shown his death, in the form of the drawing of Saint-Helena. The mournful revelation of his destiny, followed by that gorgeous slow dissolve to white, is an incredibly beautiful (and very haunting) moment. That Napoleon becomes less human as the film goes on is a common criticism – but this is very much the point. As he fulfils his historical destiny, he becomes more isolated from human contact.

Then there’s the Fleuri family. In the original synopsis of all six films (written in 1923), the Fleuris are of equal importance (in terms of narrative and presumed screen time) to Napoleon. Though many of their scenes in the single extant film remain lost, they are still a significant presence in NAPOLEON. Something no one seems to mention is how badly Napoleon treats the Fleuris – and what this says about the ironic undercurrent Gance creates during Napoleon’s rise to power. In all the tens of thousands of feet of celluloid across NAPOLEON’s many hours, Tristan makes physical contact with Napoleon in only two frames – a fraction of one second. This is when the young Napoleon thanks him during the snowfight – they briefly touch hands before Napoleon runs off, leaving Tristan staring off-screen for a couple of seconds before the sequence cuts back to the fight. At night, Tristan places a coat on the crying Napoleon, who is alone outside on the gun carriage – yet he is too shy even to make physical contact with the child himself (he places the coat on him and backs away). When Napoleon is an adult, Tristan spends numerous fruitless attempts to get Napoleon to acknowledge his existence – every time he is either unseen (outside Napoleon’s house in the cheering crowd) or brutally rebuffed (the inn at Toulon, as well as in an additional scene in the single-screen ending where his rejection is even more upsetting).

Whilst many might prefer shorter versions of NAPOLEON, cutting the film down eliminates the characters with whom we are meant to sympathise. I absolutely understand why people have problems with the Fleuris, but I think they are a really interesting example of Gance complicating the narrative of his “great man” by showing us the “little man” of history. Violine hurls her love at Napoleon, but is never noticed. Tristan endlessly tries to get the great man to speak to him, but he is never noticed. Most critics seem to ignore the fact that Gance deliberately creates a level of distance between the “ordinary people” and their leader. Napoleon becomes more isolated from human contact – this sets up his tragic fall and his failure in (unmade) later films.

Only one other screenplay for the series was completed in the 1920s – this was the final episode, SAINTE-HÉLÈNE (1927-8). It’s a wonderful script, very different in scale from NAPOLEON. Napoleon himself is alone and battles with the petty realities of daily life, tortured by the memory of his former power. His death at the film’s finale (which is a quite magnificently weird and beautiful sequence in the screenplay) shows Napoleon’s spiritual legacy reaching out to future ages. For Gance, Napoleon’s ultimate importance was the fact that he tried to overcome the social/political limitations of his age. The point and purpose of Gance’s film is enthusiasm. It’s not a nationalist/fascist monument to a dictator, it offers a celebration of potential for individual and collective change. The call for a united Europe in 1927 must be seen not anachronistically as some sort of prediction of WWII, but in context as a call for unity after the fratricide of WWI. After NAPOLEON, Gance’s next project (before he embarked on the disastrous LA FIN DU MONDE) was to be a cinematic wing of the League of Nations. This was to be an organization that helped research and promote films dedicated to creating “world cinema” and resolving international conflict through cinematic multiculturism. Gance was most certainly not a chauvinistic nationalist, nor a militarist. (In NAPOLEON, the Battle of Toulon is filled with remarkably savage imagery and clearly doesn’t hide from the realities of warfare.)

I think people’s reaction here is ample proof that NAPOLEON can evoke tremendous emotion from its audience. It makes you want to go out and change the world – I find it an immensely positive and profoundly uplifting work of art.
Last edited by La Clé du Ciel on Sat Apr 14, 2012 4:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSat Apr 14, 2012 3:34 pm

Thank you for the excellent post--I believe I've seen some of your posts on La Roue in the Criterion forum. You've provided the best explanation here for why Napoleon could have been looked on as an inspirational figure (I suspect American attitudes toward him were shaped by British ones). The Saint-Helena sequence is indeed powerful and interesting for Gance's recourse to a supernatural conception of destiny. I've read the scene of Tristan's rejection from the single-screen ending, and it does come across as callous, though the filmed scenes between the two tend to play toward comedy (and I was quite surprised by all the humor in the film--most of it succesful) . Gance's treatment of Napoleon's courtship of Josephine is surprisingly cynical, given Gance's presentation of the latter as completely shallow.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSat Apr 14, 2012 5:44 pm

Excellent post, La Clé du Ciel (the key of heaven?). I wish you success in getting your book published.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSun Apr 15, 2012 12:30 pm

Thank you both for your positive responses! It’s so nice to have a conversation about NAPOLEON now that people have seen the film :)

cjh5801, La Clé du Ciel is taken from a film Gance started in the early 1950s – CLARISSE, OU LA CLÉ DU CIEL. (Though I’ve also seen it described as CLEF DU CIEL, which refers more to a musical key rather than key/lock.) It was a short film that starred his adopted daughter, Clarisse, and it was based on a bedtime story he used to tell her (I came across a partial copy of the script in an archive, but I hope there is a complete script somewhere). I don’t believe the film was ever finished and it’s not known what happened to the footage (much of it taken from a light aircraft).

IA, I think the Josephine-Napoleon romance is fascinating material. It’s also very historically accurate (for all Gance’s metaphorical language, NAPOLEON is packed with precise historical details). I think Josephine’s involvement with figures of power and influence (we see her with Barras, then Hoche, then Napoleon, then Barras again, then she settles with Napoleon) is very interesting. Her backstage negotiations with Barras to promote Napoleon are a clear example of Napoleon’s fate and rise to power being out of his own control – Josephine enables him to take command of the Army of Italy. Her friends, both in reality and in the film, (Mme Tallien and Barras – in whose company Josephine appears the first time we see her in NAPOLEON) maintain dreadful reputations for financial/political/moral corruption. The Victims’ Ball is a fantastic glimpse of a world to which Napoleon is entirely alien – it’s a glorious sequence, but deliciously sadistic (it’s actually quite tame compared to some of the amazingly tasteless things done in 1794-5).

In AUSTERLITZ, Napoleon’s relationship with Josephine (played in 1959 by Martine Carol) has virtually collapsed. The first time we see Josephine, she is organizing an affair – and Napoleon is seen with his mistress in later scenes… Whilst we’re mentioning it, I should say that I think AUSTERLITZ is a dreadful film. It has one or two nice touches, but the rest is so appallingly dull and clunky it makes for embarrassing viewing (I was quite literally blushing when I saw it for the first, and only, time). Interestingly, one of its more witty moments again focuses on Napoleon’s silhouette. The opening scene shows us a shadow of the famous hat amid bathroom steam, but then Napoleon emerges from another door and it’s revealed the shadow belongs to his servant, who is merely wearing the hat to help shape it!

I actually think Violine makes an interesting parallel for Napoleon. Just as Napoleon keeps the roses Josephine throws in the street outside the palmist, so Violine keeps gloves/feathers that Napoleon loses throughout the film. In their idealized obsession, both Napoleon and Violine are unequal to the objects of their affection. Violine’s idealized love for Napoleon is rather disturbing – I know it isn’t always easy to understand or sympathize with her. In the 1923 outline, she goes unnoticed until she dies in the retreat from Russia in 1812. In NAPOLEON itself, she ends up worshipping iconography – a cheap statue, a shadow, an increasingly distant (geographically and emotionally) figurehead – rather than a man. Equally, when Napoleon escapes the admiring crowds by getting his friend to dress as him and distract the public, Tristan is left cheering the fake Napoleon – not his hero, but a substitute for him. It’s a really neat instance of demonstrating how the real Napoleon is being lost and replaced by a series of images and imitations.

I also wanted to respond to something Mike Gebert said much earlier in this thread about the issue of NAPOLEON’s (in)completion in 1927 and restoration in recent years.

Firstly, the film did reach a final form – or rather, final forms. The film had two premieres, after all. The first, shown at the Opera, was a version that ran to roughly 3h40m. This didn’t include the Prologue at all and cut out most of the Violine/Tristan scenes. It also included three triptychs (the Double Tempest, the Victims’ Ball, the Entry into Italy). The longer, “definitive version”, was shown at the Apollo. This was about 6h30m and was intended to be shown across multiple evenings (just as J’ACCUSE had been in its original form, as well as LA ROUE). This was the longest version publically seen, though it didn’t include the triptychs. Though Gance tweaked one or two elements after the first screenings, the “version definitive” was for all practical purposes complete in 1927. Beyond multiple trade screenings that year, NAPOLEON received only very limited exhibition within France in 1927-8, and only shorter versions were seen abroad (the most extreme being in the US, where MGM cut it down to 80 minutes). Gance’s distributors never generally released the film in anything like the form he wanted, but that doesn’t mean the film should be thought of as never having been completed or finalized. Even though it is extremely unlikely its length and montage can ever be found/ recreated, this “definitive version” is the ur-text from which others descend. (I am not counting the 9-10 hour rough-cut Gance assembled and showed to friends early in 1927.) As Brownlow’s version is a mix of footage from a variety of versions, it is true it won’t match the exact details of Gance’s “definitive version”. However, whilst Brownlow’s NAPOLEON might never be complete, Gance’s NAPOLEON (if not the series of which it was the first episode) should be considered so by any reasonable standard.

The Brownlow/Coppola issue (which now, thankfully, seems to have been put aside), also needs a little clarification. After Brownlow’s 1980 restoration was seen in the UK, it was sent to Coppola/Zoetrope in the US. Coppola cut the film down to suit his 4-hour timeslot. Rather than produce something corresponding to Gance’s Opera version (i.e. the 3h40m-ish version, without the Prologue and other scenes), they decided to trim out a few scenes and show the film at a faster speed (24-fps, rather than 20-fps) to maximize the material they could present. Brownlow was not responsible for trimming the version of his restoration that Coppola showed in 1981. I have nothing but praise for Coppola for showing NAPOLEON in the US in the 1980s – it was a fabulous thing to do, born out of the same enthusiasm that has inspired so many people to promote this film. I’m equally fine with Coppola wanting to preserve his own version within the US and to use his father’s music. However, the reason why people got angry is the legal action Coppola’s estate took when Brownlow screened his latest restoration of NAPOLEON within the UK in 2004. I really can’t understand why this happened – it was a maddeningly expensive and frustrating thing to do. This lawsuit is the reason why the BFI has struggled to do anything with the film for so long. This is the reason Coppola has received bad press from many people – not for his earlier (perfectly understandable) abridgement of Gance’s/Brownlow’s work.

Mike also made an interesting comment about how NAPOLEON might actually be one of the most widely seen silent films in recent times. This may well be true – certainly in terms of being seen live. However, I think there is a distinction to be made between a film being seen in cinemas once every few years and a film having continual commercial availability. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, for example, has existed on innumerable 16mm, vhs, laserdisc, dvd, and blu-ray editions across multiple decades. (And far less material has been chopped and changed and added in POTEMKIN – it has been a comparatively stable text.) It is taught in schools and universities, it is shown on tv, it and its maker have had vast amounts of critical time and print-space devoted to them. NAPOLEON has never had this ease of accessibility. It hasn’t been commercially available in anything like so many editions and as a result it isn’t taught, and nothing like the amount of critical time has been given to it or its maker. It’s a well-known film, but that doesn’t mean to say it possesses the cultural space and reputation other silent films have had the chance to accrue. If a film is on a home-viewing format, it can be seen again and again – shown to friends/audiences again and again, shown and studied in institutions again and again. One live screening of NAPOLEON on 35mm may be seen by hundreds or thousands, but that’s it – its exhibition life stops there. It isn’t the same as a film being widely released and available for in-depth study. (No doubt the reason why many reviews don’t have the chance to do Gance’s film justice.)

I raise this issue because I think NAPOLEON is a film that needs to be looked at in detail to fully appreciate the subtlety and richness of its imagery and message. It’s simply too vast a film with which to get to grips in one viewing – and that’s all the majority of people get. So many reviews are based on a single screening of the film and many negative ones churn out the same set of assumptions (fascism, incoherence, a divide between form and content). These are assumptions which don’t stand up to a close reading of the film. As I said earlier, I think NAPOLEON is far more complex and coherent than sometimes assumed and it offers a tremendously rewarding cinematic experience.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSun Apr 15, 2012 1:19 pm

Firstly, the film did reach a final form – or rather, final forms.


Well, that's kind of the point. Like Intolerance, it had a different form almost every time the director came near it. Which was as late as Bonaparte and the Revolution in 1971... indeed, as late as 1981 considering his input into the Coppola version.

To me it's a tautology. Gance's "definitive version" is definitive because we choose to call it definitive... because it was when Gance stopped at a moment we like-- full-length, fairly coherent, within the silent era. (The only thing missing is that hardly anyone actually saw that version. It is certainly not definitive in the everyday sense of "that's how it was released and seen by most people.") It is not unlike Russell Merritt's choice of the 1926 reissue of Intolerance as representing the peak of Griffith's involvement with the film.

In any case that version doesn't exist now-- what exists is Brownlow's approximation of it, still missing, apparently, a good hour or so. What we have is less like the average finished film, I think, than like the reconstruction Walter Murch did of Welles' intentions for Touch of Evil based on his notes-- a sincere attempt at historical reconstruction but not, exactly, a finished work of 1927.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSun Apr 15, 2012 2:57 pm

Ha, yes, it is rather tautological. I just think it’s too often been used as an excuse to fiddle/cut/rearrange/dismiss the film by saying “well, Gance never finished it anyway”. In order to even start talking about the film, it’s necessary to define what “film” we’re talking about – but that’s no reason to avoid talking about it as a work of art. The term “definitive” was seemingly how Gance described the Apollo version in 1927. (Though, as you say, it’s not reflected in his subsequent actions.) The Apollo version was certainly the full length of the film he wanted to be shown, it's just unfortunate events conspired to frustrate every attempt to show it properly – the sheer length of the film was its most obvious flaw, in terms of exhibition. Each subsequent version was mounted for a specific screening or particular occasion. The 1934 version is a complete wreck, but he didn’t stop there... both it and the 1971 versions were more like a desperate attempt to get the film seen in any way possible. They are so different from any silent version that they should be considered entirely separate works.

Like you, I find the longer version more compelling - it is, as you say, more coherent. It’s still a weird, outlandish film whichever way you cut it – that's its very nature. Making it longer/shorter isn’t going to solve the problems many have with the film. Yet it’s this very weirdness that makes it so original and so interesting!

What we have is less like the average finished film, I think, than like the reconstruction Walter Murch did of Welles' intentions for Touch of Evil based on his notes-- a sincere attempt at historical reconstruction but not, exactly, a finished work of 1927.


Indeed – but it’s as close as we’re likely to get. It’s a miracle we have this much…
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostTue Apr 24, 2012 8:18 am

La Marsaillaise was composed today in 1792 by Captain de Lisle.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostTue Apr 24, 2012 10:17 am

i hope to see the full napoleon one day.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostTue Apr 24, 2012 10:25 am

goalieboy82 wrote:i hope to see the full napoleon one day.


No kidding?
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostTue Apr 24, 2012 11:59 am

Here are the actual words to the anthem, violent and grisly like the revolution:
http://www.marseillaise.org/english/english.html
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostTue Apr 24, 2012 12:40 pm

goalieboy82 wrote:i hope to see the full napoleon one day.


I saw the Full Monty. It was pretty good.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Apr 27, 2012 6:25 am

Hi All, Here's some video from the final Napoleon showing in Oakland...

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Apr 27, 2012 9:22 am

Thanks Toni & Nick!
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Marilyn Slater

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Apr 27, 2012 12:05 pm

Toni
This video is fantastic, I was there the first night ...you made me feel the excitement all over again…what an astonishing experience; we shared. It was a magnificent event now you shared it with those that weren’t able to come…thank you so much for this…
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSat Apr 28, 2012 3:50 pm

with the new hologram thing going around, maybe they can do the other 5 movies that gance wanted to do. did they have the story for each one written. *
they can also do it for the last road to... movie they were going to make but bing died before they started.
*or somekind of GCI they did in sky captain with Laurence Olivier. the film the movies would need to be silent.
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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostSat May 12, 2012 3:39 pm

Hi Marilyn and Bruce (and all you awesome NitrateVill-ians!)

Thanks for the kind words! I realize this is waaaay after the fact but we had some serious family issues that delayed me from putting up my take on the Napoleon experience. I put it on our webblog but seriously, even I don't look at it so I hope you don't mind my posting the text part here, FYI. My post is really all about Kevin Brownlow (who we are so crazy about -- like you won't be able to tell from the post.) Anyway, here it is. (without photos because I don't know how to upload them here yet -- sorry) Photos are at

http://www.tonickproductions.com/Site/T ... Carey.html" target="_blank

Thanks!
---

In 1979, this was us ...

Just trying to survive the slings and arrows of senior year of high school. Little did we know that cinematic history was being made around the country with limited screenings of the epic – semi-restored (cut down version) of Napoleon.

It would be another 6 years before I met my husband, Nick Palazzo, (pictured above) and, coincidentally experienced the magnificence possible in silent film thanks to a local public television screening of the Kevin Brownlow/David Gill restoration (with music by Carl Davis) of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s classic fantasy epic, The Thief of Baghdad. As we cowered on a rainy Chicago Saturday afternoon in my sad little basement apartment, a random flick of channels brought us face to face with a kind of heart-stopping beauty in film we had never experienced before. We were immediately mesmerized by Doug’s romantic bravado as he fought for the princess he loved aided by amazing special effects and gorgeous sets until eventually, overcoming all odds, became the Prince.

Shortly thereafter we became aware of Kevin Brownlow thru his work with David Gill on the incredible “Hollywood” series, and fell in love with early silent film.
We bought the laserdisc version of Napoleon when it was available and watched it with reverence that such amazing technology was in use at much earlier than anyone had originally thought possible.

Over the years of our growing into full fledged film geeks, Kevin Browlow, became our hero. He was the exemplar to whom all classic film fans owe an unpayable debt of gratitude. As a child, he was one of “us” begging for his first projector at the age of 9 or 10, … showing 9.5 films in his bedroom to family friends (after handing out elaborately hand-written program notes), …reluctantly discovering the 9.5 reel of Napoleon fragments only after exhausting every other film in the library’s catalog. His work restoring this film and the lengths he went to are awe-inspiring (and covered his fantastic book, Napoleon).

In 2000 we learned that the Carl Davis scored, Brownlow/Gill full 5 ½ hour restoration would only be shown one more time. Alas, it was in London and our pocketbooks could not survive such a trip. It was one of the great disappointments of our lives that we would never get the chance to experience the film, due to a Gordian Knot of ridiculous and incomprehensible copyright claims. We gave up hope of ever getting to see Kevin Brownlow’s restored version.

In 2002, Nick and I had the incredible good luck of running into Kevin Brownlow for the first time on main street at the Telluride Film Festival. We had to compose ourselves not to run the poor man over as we approached him, excitedly and introduced ourselves. Much to his credit, Kevin, kindly remembered us from a fan letter we had written him along with a screenplay we had written based loosely on Abel Gance’s “J’Accuse” (in our screenplay it is the dead of Hollywood who come back to wreak their revenge on the corporations who have co-opted our beloved film industry) in which we named our film collector character and mentor to the protagonist Brownie Lowe in honor of Kevin. He was so genuine and kind to us, we just floated on air the rest of the trip.

It would be another year or so before we came up with the idea of putting together a documentary of our own based on some of our amazing, knowledgeable, and unselfish film collector friends, currently in post-production.

In 2008, after getting some great interviews under our belt, we screwed up our courage and asked Kevin if he would allow us to interview him. Much to our surprise, he agreed and we flew to the UK where we spent a magical afternoon with him. It was a dream come true for us. He was so candid, so knowledgeable, so FUN! It is a day, the memory of which Nick and I will treasure forever.

In 2010 we watched Kevin receive the FIRST EVER Oscar given for Film Preservation by the Academy on the biggest screen tv I’ve ever seen in a private home as we spent Oscar night with Academy Member, (Producer, Director, Editor, of “Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies”) Nicholas Eliopolous (pictured above) after having met up with him at the Kansas Silent Film Festival. The three of us stood and screamed and applauded as Kevin walked the stage with Francis Ford Coppola and Eli Wallach. I remember pissing about Coppola not allowing Kevin’s Napoleon to be shown here and Nicholas E. saying he predicted the way they both happened to receive Oscars at the same time, might allow the discussion of a Napoleon showing to be revisited. (Yeah, maybe but I wasn’t holding my breath.)

The eloquence of Kevin’s Oscar speech cannot be underestimated and if you haven’t seen it yet, please go to the Academy site and watch it online. One thing he said that I thought was so perfect had to do (and I’m paraphrasing here) with the fact that silent film requires participation by the audience member. The viewer brings something of themselves to the experience. In other words, it’s a lot like love, you have to have something inside you that recognizes that something special in the other person (or in this case, film). It was a lovely way to express that all of us film fans, are romantics at heart.

In November, 2011, I was online looking up antique mutoscope equipment (like any normal person would be, right?) and stumbled upon the announcement that the impossible was actually happening: WE WOULD GET THE CHANCE TO SEE BROWNLOW’S NAPOLEON!!!!!

My credit card was steaming from the speed with which I pulled it out and bought those tickets. My heart was pounding as I excitedly left Nick 6 phone messages at work (that will teach him to be in a meeting ☺). Eventually, he called back and I told him WE WERE GOING TO SEE NAPOLEON!!!! He was screaming and laughing on the other end of the phone. It was an early Christmas and a welcome change of fortune as 2011 had been the worst year of our lives as we lost both of our mothers to mortality.

So, now, after roughly 30 years of waiting, a six hour plane ride and a half hour drive to Oakland, we arrived to find swarms of people – OUR people, classic and silent film loving people, people who weren’t afraid to bring part of themselves to this meeting of the minds within the elegant confines of the Paramount theatre.

And as the lights dimmed, the electricity of anticipation was palpable throughout the audience as we settled. The music of Carl Davis and the amazing Oakland Bay Symphony Orchestra slowly built to the first magnificent crescendo of the score, the curtains parted and the audience erupted in applause at the start of our joint adventure. We all settled back to experience a once in a lifetime moment. Outsiders, all (as , let’s face it, we film collectors, historians and silent film geeks are) we could relate to the struggles of Napoleon as a youth, derided and bullied by less sensitive, less intelligent students; his overly-romanticized notions of the all-too-human Josephine, his devotion to his mother and his struggles to make his dreams come true in the face of armies of opposition.

This was the Napoleon, not so much of history, but of Abel Gance’s romantic imagination. A tall, thin, handsome, idealistic outsider with a unique vision, an indomitable drive to succeed and an enormous heart.

He reminded me an awful lot of Kevin Brownlow.
"Those who abandon their dreams will discourage yours." - anonymous
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LongRider

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Jul 06, 2012 12:31 pm

Frederica wrote:
gentlemanfarmer wrote:Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama
and
The French Revolution 1788-1792 by Geatano Salvemini.

As far as the political climate in 1927 when the film premiered, I think that is a separate and interesting discussion.

However, I think that we can see, enjoy, hate, and discuss the film both with or without reference(s) to the actual Revolution, Napoleon, or the politics of Europe circa 1927.


Thank you, Eric, for the book recommendations and thanks to Ann Harding for the French perspective. I realized last night (to my great embarrassment) that I've never read a biography of Napoleon, or a history of the Revolution; what I've read about the period and the events has always come from the English or American perspective. I'm now on a quest. Have you read Steven Englund's Napoleon: A Political Life? I downloaded a kindle sample last night and have been very impressed with it so far, not the least for its elegant writing, always a plus.


I have just finished reading the books mentioned here and am glad I did since I knew practically nothing of the French Revolution or Napolen. While I was unable to see the film, I must say, for me at least, I think knowing some of the history of revolutionary France and Napolen would have enhanced the film experience for me. Ah well, thanks to this thread and N-Villians I've been able to read some facinating history.

You know, I kinda of miss this thread, it's so interesting to me, I think it needs to be read again.
Cheers,
Maureen
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Frederica

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Jul 06, 2012 1:20 pm

LongRider wrote:I have just finished reading the books mentioned here and am glad I did since I knew practically nothing of the French Revolution or Napolen. While I was unable to see the film, I must say, for me at least, I think knowing some of the history of revolutionary France and Napolen would have enhanced the film experience for me. Ah well, thanks to this thread and N-Villians I've been able to read some facinating history.


Me too. While I was reading I was thinking "oh, so that's why Gance did (insert scene here)." But I'm now very whiny about not having read this stuff before I saw the film and I'm searching desperately for someone to blame for it.
Fred
"Screw the men. I've got the horse."
Helen B. (Penny) Chenery
http://www.nitanaldi.com"
http://www.facebook.com/NitaNaldiSilentVamp"
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LongRider

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Re: The full Napoleon to be screened in the US at last.....

PostFri Jul 06, 2012 1:55 pm

Steven Englund did mention Abel Gance's film in his book. I wonder if he knew about the screenings in Oakland? Apparently, he lives in Paris, so perhaps he'll have a chance to view the film if it does go to London. Would be interesting to hear his thoughts if he did have a chance to see it.
Cheers,
Maureen
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