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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. He 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 70mm widescreen in 1929, widescreen didn't take off until CinemaScope was invented in 1953. See more »
Flags of the British troops at the battle of Toulon show either the Union Jack or a regimental colour with the Union jack in the upper left canton. However the Union Jack used is the one adopted in 1801 and incorporates the red cross of St Patrick, whereas the Battle of Toulon was in 1793. Similarly the ensign flown by the ship that sees Napoleon at sea after fleeing Corsica is the white ensign of the White Squadron of the Royal Navy, but it too uses the 1801 Union Jack pattern See more »
Gance needed a figure as powerful as "Napoleon" to fulfill his dream of super cinema
Abel Gance's 'Napoleon' was premiered on April 7, 1927, at the Paris Opera House, the first movie to be accorded such an honor It was been shown on a triple screen and to full orchestral accompaniment, running slightly under four hours
Impressive as it seems, it was conceived as the first of a six-part biography running many hours and tracing the life of Napoleon from childhood to the bitter end in St Helena Fortunately-for Abel Gance who directed and for us-the project was only completed to that moment where Napoleon enters Italy at the head of the French army, and the later and less pleasant aspects of his spectacular career were left unfilmed... The Little Corporal, after all, is a less controversial figure than the Emperor
Gance needed a figure as emblematic and powerful as 'Napoleon' to fulfill his dream of super cinema
'Napoleon' is a masterpiece of excess:
The child Bonaparte keeps a pet eagle and wins a snow fight while at
school in Brienne... In this sequence, the frame splits into nine subliminal images; as Napoleon watches his men entering Italy, the screen expands on each side to form a breathtaking panorama, then changes into three coordinated views of the scene
The National Convention seems to sway and rock as Napoleon makes his
escape from Corsica in a storm-tossed sailboat
The Gallic of cabaret singers, Damia, leads French troops into battle
personifying 'La Marseillaise'
'Napoleon' is like one grand musical composition. It throbs with life
That was Gance the great filmmaker who thought that film could do everything and who said to Kevin Brownlow: 'For me, the cinema is not just pictures. It is something great, mysterious and sublime.' Brownlow is known now not only as an English filmmaker and film historian but also as a great restorer of silent films, notably Abel Gance's 'Napoleon.'
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