Sunday, 13 November 2016

Napoleon, by Abel Gance

New release of the 1927 epic, digitally restored


What an amazing film it was!

Today I watched the silent movie Napoleon, made by Abel Gance in 1927, and now digitally restored by Kevin Brownlow, an extraordinary project that has taken 50 years of hard work. The film is about 5 1/2 hours long, and it was shown today at the Barbican with two intervals plus a lunch break, so it was a whole day watching one great, epic movie.

The film is immensely sophisticated, both in the way the story is told, and in its cinematography. The range of techniques is extraordinary, and despite having been made in 1927, it feels very modern. It was shot in monochrome, but the film was tinted red, yellow, blue and orange in different scenes. In the final act, the film has a triptych format, with three contiguous screens.

It tells the story of Napoleon's early life and his rise to power, and deals with issues of personality, childhood influences, love, and the nature of leadership. It addresses things like the consequences of revolutions, autocracy, demagoguery. I don't want to give any spoilers at all, except to say that there are things in it which are pertinent to recent events in Britain, the United States, and Europe.

The term silent film is misleading, because although there is no spoken dialogue, there was a marvellous soundtrack, an original work by Carl Davis, based largely on works by Beethoven (I recognised his 3rd, 6th and 7th symphonies, and the Egmont overture), as well as other tunes, some of which that were familiar to me. It does have something of the music video about it. It's certainly a treat for Beethoven enthusiasts (and a good introduction to Beethoven for someone who does not know his work). It's like a grand, magnificent operatic epic without spoken dialogue.


The film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray, and available on the BFI website. However this is one for the big screen, preferably the biggest screen you can find. I'm looking out for an IMAX screening, or any other screening, because I'd certainly go to see it again.

More reading:
Wikipedia
The story from the BFI
More about the film (i.e. spoilers) from the BFI
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