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A massive six-hour biopic of Napoleon, tracing his career from his schooldays (where a snowball fight is staged like a military campaign), his flight from Corsica, through the French Revolution (where a real storm is intercut with a political storm) and the Terror, culminating in his triumphant invasion of Italy in 1797 (the film stops there because it was intended to be part one of six, but director Abel Gance never raised the money to make the other five). The film's legendary reputation is due to the astonishing range of techniques that Gance uses to tell his story, culminating in the final twenty-minute triptych sequence, which alternates widescreen panoramas with complex multiple- image montages projected simultaneously on three screens. Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Director Abel Gance was worried that the film's finale wouldn't have the proper impact by being confined to a small screen. Gance thought of expanding the frame by using three cameras next to each other. For the first time, cinema utilized a rectangular image (with an approximate 4.00 : 1 aspect ratio). This is probably the most famous of the film's several innovative techniques. Though American filmmakers began experimenting with 70 mm widescreen in 1929, widescreen didn't take off until CinemaScope was invented in 1953. See more »
When Napoleon is appointed commander in chief in the Convention, the position of his arms changes between shots. See more »
Different versions should be reviewed/scored separately
I was one of the thousands who were fortunate enough to see the fullest version of Napoleon at the Royal Festival Hall in early December 2004. As noted in 'alternate versions', this may prove to be the last showing until the second half of the Century (when copyright lapses) of what is so far the definitive version of the film.
It was a truly memorable experience. I had not seen 'Napoleon' for several decades, and that was a shorter version with piano accompaniment ~ though still played at the correct speed. This longer version at the correct speed with The London Philharmonic Orchestra and the RFH organ playing in full volume for the climax was a mind-blowing experience. I have not seen Coppola's 'keystone cops' version, but if the trailer on this website is any guide, with Napoleon strutting in Chaplinesque mode, it seems a travesty of what I saw; More 'Homage to Mack Sennett'.
It is clear that these two versions are radically different. It seems grossly unfair to score and review the two main versions in a single poll as if they were the same. The 95 minute difference in running time is longer than many complete films reviewed on this site ~ such as Bronenosets Potyomkin from the same era. There are clearly enough reports/votes to permit the two versions to be scored separately. I suspect the approval rating of the longer version would be significantly higher than for the Coppola version.
It there is ever another opportunity to see this latest version (or even better, an even fuller version) with the Carl Davis score, I shall do my utmost to seize the opportunity.
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