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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 <email@example.com>
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 »
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 »
Amazing achievement, but beware of US release version
The (more or less) full length version of Gance's NAPOLEON assembled by Kevin Brownlow over many years is an absolutely astounding achievement, both for Gance's inspired execution of a vision nearly too big for the screen, and Brownlow's dedication and perseverance, not to mention his superb reconstruction skills in bringing such a masterpiece back for the enjoyment of the world.
Well, not the whole world... Despite all this effort, the full restoration cannot be seen in the United States, on video or theatrically. It's a long story, but I just wanted potential and past viewers of this film to be aware of a few things:
-First of all, though video may be the only way to see this film in the U.S., keep in mind that home video can not even come close to providing the proper setting for such a gorgeous and epic film. The word "epic" has in fact never been so appropriate. So while I don't discourage people from seeing the video for lack of theatrical viewing opportunities, remember that the film was made on and meant to be seen on a grand scale.
-Secondly, the version currently available in the U.S. is not shown at the correct speed (24fps instead of the necessary 18/20fps). Also, it is missing footage. It is my understanding that in order to provide wider release possibilities in the U.S. upon the completion of the first major restoration in the '70s, the U.S. prints were edited somewhat to cut down on the admittedly long running time. This is also why the film is shown faster in the U.S., at "sound speed" or 24 frames per second. The newest restoration runs at 333 minutes, while the U.S. version is only 235.
The primary reason why the latest, glorious 2000 restoration of the film cannot be seen in the U.S. lies mainly with Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola controls the U.S. distribution rights, and allows only the U.S. version - with a score written by his father - to be shown. This is unlikely to change in the near future, so until then, deal with the substandard videotapes or plan your next European trip around one of the periodic English screenings of the film version - believe me, it's worth it!!
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