Abel Gance's 'Napoleon' is Getting a Restored Theatrical Re-Release
Now this film is a true classic! The BFI (British Film Institute) has announced a digitally restored re-release of Abel Gance's 1920's epic Napoleon, about the French conqueror. This project has been in the works for 50 years, with Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow traveling the world collecting old prints of Gance's Napoleon in order to piece together this fully-restored version. The silent film runs a full 5 1/2 hours in total, and is accompanied by a live orchestra score. Ever since the previous restoration in 2000, the film version has only been screened 4 times in the UK. This announcement from the BFI is only for a UK re-release so far, but we also expect it to show up over here soon, too. It will premiere in November of 2016.
The full press release (via The Arts Shelf) mentions that this new digital restoration of Napoleon will have its premiere screening with a live performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra of Carl Davis' score (the longest ever composed for a silent film) in early November 2016 at the Royal Festival Hall. The film will also eventualy be released on DVD/Blu-ray and through the BFI Player. "This project has been achieved thanks to major work undertaken by the experts of the BFI National Archive and Photoplay Productions working with Dragon DI post-production in Wales, and to the generosity of Carl Davis and Jean Boht." More quotes:
Heather Stewart, Creative Director, BFI said, "Several generations of staff at the BFI have worked on this project. Napoleon is a landmark in the history of cinema and we are grateful to all of the great talents who have helped us along the way but especially, of course, Kevin Brownlow for his indefatigable championing of the film and Carl Davis for his amazing score."
Kevin Brownlow, Photoplay Productions said, "This is a tremendous step forward for film history."
This is a must-attend cinematic event for anyone who hasn't yet experienced Napoleon on a big screen. This ambitious silent film, renowned for its groundbreaking camerawork and editing, portrays the early life of French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte (Albert Dieudonne), beginning with his childhood and ending with a successful military campaign in Italy. It was first released in France in 1927, but didn't arrive in the US until 1929. Gance wanted to capture the scope of the final battle scenes in his film and invented a projection system (called "polyvision" at the time) that added two screens to each side of the footage. It was the very first version of "widescreen" cinema created by simply adding additional projectors that were lined up with the others. I reference the film in my article about the screen expansion moment in Xavier Dolan's Mommy.
It's always exciting to hear about events and restorations like this, especially for films that are considered truly iconic and influential in cinema history. It's actually quite rare to see Napoleon this way, as they say "the film demands a huge investment of resources, from projectionists, musicians, conductor and audiences; in a live performance with intervals the experience adds up to over 8 hours from start to finish." But it's certainly worth going to experience no matter if you've watched it before or not. We'll keep watch for any news about Napoleon showing theatrically in the US after it premieres in the UK. Stay tuned for updates.