Napoleon (1927) Poster


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Perhaps the greatest film ever made, but still being suppressed by legal battles...
Quibble9 January 2005
I was lucky enough to see the very latest restoration of Napoleon by silent film expert Kevin Brownlow at the Royal Festival Hall in London earlier this month (December 2004). Carl Davis was there in person to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a live performance of his own brilliant score. It was the most moving and overwhelming cinematic experience of my life and I doubt whether it can ever be bettered. The film is decades ahead of its time, the bravura editing and inspired direction reveal Gance as the true genius that he was.


The very performance I attended was under legal threats from Coppola, who wished to ban its screening. Back in 1980-81, he and his Zoetrope Studio helped fund a restoration and he got his father to compose a score. He helped get the US audiences to recognise what a remarkable work of genius Napoleon really is, and all credit to him for trying to do so. This would all seem very well and good, but even in 1981 Coppola wasn't showing the best version of the restored film that he could have. He had cut it down from Brownlow's (then) latest version to fit the score his father had written. He also showed it at 24 fps instead of the intended (and more realistic - the movements are at a normal rate, not unnaturally sped-up) 20 fps. Throughout the 1980s, Brownlow and others in Europe kept finding better elements and more footage. Yet, Coppola's version was still being called "THE restoration" and not altered at all. Brownlow also found prints with more authentic editing, giving a much better idea of the order and number of cuts in many sequences (so many versions/reels of Napoleon have had inferior takes/editing put in by people other than Gance that it took time to discover the best and most authentic). It was becoming increasingly clear that Coppola's version was very much flawed and out-of-date with the new discoveries. In 2000, the latest and most complete version available (including the authentic tints, near-definitive editing in line with Gance's intentions, and the best print so far etc.) was screened in London. Carl Davis had altered and lengthened his magnificent score to match the latest version. Even after this showing in 2000, elements were still being improved to make the film as close as possible to Gance's intentions. The 2004 screening which I attended had a print that ran for nearly 5 and a half hours. Coppola's version runs for less than 4 hours and it hasn't been touched to include any improvements in print quality or more authentic tinting or editing.

The Coppola version of Napoleon, with a run time of 223 minutes (3 hours and 43 minutes) is out on DVD in Australia. I do not know when or even if it will come out on DVD in the US. Rest assured, it will NOT be the best version of this great film, or anything close to it. Coppola and Zoetrope sold rights to their version of the film to Universal in the 1980s and so now the issue of rights has become entangled with a major studio (Universal Studios, incidentally, destroyed all their silent film negatives in 1947 - a very (in)appropriate choice of distributor for a film whose failure and subsequent neglect was mainly due to a horrendous re-editing by studios (MGM) in 1927).

The Australian DVD, released by Universal, is filled with faults. Apart from inferior image quality (unlike the 2004 print, which was superb and scarcely a speck of dirt was visible any time during the whole 5 and a half hours), the final triptych sequence is horrendously cropped from 3.99:1 to 2.55:1 and isn't even adjusted for widescreen televisions. It's also exactly the same version from 1981 which, even back then, wasn't the best there was available. The music, admirable though it is, cannot compare to Davis' score (he has worked on many other silent film scores with great acclaim) - especially now that Davis has reworked the score for the latest version.

Coppola's efforts to suppress the latest restoration are a dreadful example of precisely the kind of money-driven censorship and selfishness that Napoleon has been dogged by for eighty years. Not just the 90+ minutes of extra footage, but the score and print quality itself, makes the latest print by the BFI/BFA/Brownlow indispensable. Anyone who claims to have rescued this film (as Coppola did in 1981, even though Brownlow had been working for decades before then, alongside Gance himself, to remaster the film) and yet tries to ban a closer version to the original film is monstrously hypocritical. As much as I welcome any hope of seeing Napoleon on DVD, I recoil at the thought of thousands of people being forced to watch a terribly flawed and inferior version of this masterpiece. Even as I type, there are rumours of even more lost footage from Napoleon being found in Denmark - with any luck this will lead to an even better restoration than the 2004 one.

This ongoing saga of restoration (and much credit is due to the person who seems to have the least legal rights out of the whole cast of those involved in the restored film: Kevin Brownlow) means that a DVD release of the Coppola version, with its many flaws, seems absurd and remarkably selfish and damaging. This film desperately needs to be released on DVD, but only in as close a form as possible to Gance's original masterpiece of 1927, seen by far too few people. That US rights-holders are trying to ban better versions with over 90 minutes extra in them is just another sad chapter in the story of this much-abused wonder of cinema. This is a magnificent film and deserves better than the shoddy and selfish treatment it has been given in America.
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Vive Napoleon! Vive Abel Gance!
Kirasjeri27 July 1999
January 23, 1981. Radio City Music Hall. Nearly midnight. One of the most thrilling experiences of my life. "Napoleon", restored, and reconstructed, not seen for over fifty years, was debuting in front of 6,000 people packed into the great theater with Carmine Coppolla conducting a huge orchestra rising up on the lift as lighting cast fifty foot shadows of the conductor on the walls. The score was magnificent. By the end of the film when the tryptyches stretched the size of the screen to triple size filling the glorious famous sunburst proscenium, Radio City Music Hall erupted in a standing ovation - and Kevin Brownlow, who restored the film, at that very moment from the theater had Abel Gance (soon to die) live on the phone from France to hear the ovation! Just incredible. Glorious. The film is a masterpiece of the Twentieth Century. And a must see. The best scene was the battle in the Convention between the Girondists and Jacobins superimposed on Napoleon's escape from Corsica in a sea storm. Staggering editing and camera work. It is a tragedy for us all the the remaining chapters of Napoleon's life were never put on film as Gance planned.
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Excellent -- but where's the DVD?
Bryce Rumbles6 January 2003
I saw this back in '81 or '82, on the Big Screen at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with Carmine Coppola conducting a live orchestra -- there has never been anything like that in all my movie-going experience! The closest that's come since was _Intolerance_, restored, with another live orchestra performing under the baton of the composer, Gillian Anderson (no, not the one from the X-Files). That, too, was an occasion to remember ... but where is Napoleon on DVD?

As many other reviewers have said, Napoleon was a relevatory experience. Certainly, other films to that point had used most of the devices Gance employed so brilliantly (except, of course, his three-screen-wide "Polyvision"), but then sound came in and the requirements of the microphone killed the recently mobilized camera. The camera became very static for at least the next ten years of films -- dynamic camera movements only returned when sound mixing came in to being, and scenes could be shot MOS (mit out sound), with foley and overdubbing replacing the missed sounds.

For this reason, Napoleon is important to see -- as a technical achievement. But Gance's artistry wasn't limited to gimmicks. His pacing, editing, and direction of the actors (including Dieudonne as Nappy -- looking amazingly Rod-Stewart-like) is excellent as well.

Highly recommended -- and when the DVD comes out -- hopefully, with the fuller, five-hour restoration, and Coppola's music on one track, with a reconstruction of the original music on another (and perhaps Gillian Anderson has a score of her own to share?) -- you'll owe it to yourself, as a student of Film, to see it, over and over again.
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Amazing achievement, but beware of US release version
fiddybop4 November 2001
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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A hundred years ahead of its time
Tim Evanson1 September 2002
Modern film-goers are used to explication, to having everything explained for them. The art of visual story-telling -- where images and action indicate the emotional state of characters, rather than have the actor tell you how angry or sad or excited they are -- has almost been lost. But "Napoleon" is a masterpiece of visual art. (Writer-director Abel Gance was honored at the Telluride film festival a few years ago for this film. Far too late, in my opinion.)

The film tells the life of Napoleon Bonaparte -- the Corsican who adopts France as his homeland, rises to supreme general of the French armies during the Revolution and eventually seizes the seat of government itself (twice!). It starts out with a lengthy (if perhaps mythological) examination of Napoleon's childhood in a Catholic school. Snowball fights between Napoleon and two future foes portend the future. Napoleon's friendship with a pet eagle foreshadows his role as emperor of France. But even though these scenes represent more artistic license than history, they are tremendously well-acted by the young Vladimir Roudenko (as young Napoleon). Among the many innovations are some relatively naturalistic acting by the members of the cast and some jaw-dropping editing and montage sequences (especially during the brawl during the snowball fight and the fight in the sleeping quarters). Such innovative use of editing probably wouldn't be seen for another 30 or 40 years!

After almost an hour of this three-hour epic, we're transported to the period of the adult Napoleon -- acted with gravitas and iciness by Albert Dieudonne (who is among the cast's taller actors, just as Napoleon was in reality fairly tall, too). The film dwells extensively on the formative period when Napoleon first arrives in Paris during the late Revolution, focusing heavily on how the chaos in the city stamped into Napoleon the authoritarianism and dictatorial leadership traits that would emerge later in life. This is perhaps the highlight of the film. The editing and visual images create a swirling, spinning, mind-blowing effect that is extremely effective.

The film then focuses on Napoleon's return to Corisca -- whose people held allegiances to Spain and Italy as well as France, and where Napoleon faced imprisonment due to his French leanings. For anyone interested in learning more about the life of Napoleon, this segment is pretty eye-opening. It's followed by a sequence at sea that's amazingly effective in conveying the power and terror of a storm at sea. For its time, this film contained some powerful ocean footage (watch for those amazing low-angle shots, and the ingenious intercutting of the "angry storm" of the French assembly and Napoleon's tiny skiff tossed about on the stormy seas).

The final hour and a half of the film depicts Napoleon's rise in the army and his tenure as emperor of France. This is perhaps the portion of the film that most viewers would think of as "the story of Napoleon." But perhaps one of the reasons why this film is so fascinating is that it delves deeply into the formative episodes in Napoleon's early life and gives as much importance to them as to his later actions on the battlefield in Italy, his tenure as emperor, and his subsequent exile, return, and exile. And the film does so without being heavy-handed, un-subtle or overly expositive.

A restored version of "Napoleon" is making the rounds in the US in cinemas and on television. It contains a new musical soundtrack by Carmine Coppola, which is fairly good (although at times repetitive and too loud). The film was restored and re-edited by Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studio. Zoetrope added some tinting (the ocean scenes are all blue, the "angry mob" scenes are all red) that is interesting but perhaps not quite the "restoration" some viewers might have had in mind.

Watch "Napoleon." You'll be very surprised at how modern the film is. Compared to other silent films of the 1920s, with the undercranked action, overly emotive acting, fantastic plots and theatrical make-up and costumes, "Napoleon" is years ahead of its time. Silent films require concentration to watch. "Napoleon" will keep your interest.
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Gance needed a figure as powerful as "Napoleon" to fulfill his dream of super cinema…
Nazi_Fighter_David11 April 2004
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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Different versions should be reviewed/scored separately
LFTSmith25 December 2004
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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Abel Gance was a Visionist
director161621 February 2001
"Napoleon" is an absolute masterpiece in the world's history of filmmaking. In 1927, it was completely overshadowed by the technology of "The Jazz Singer". And that was a real tragedy for decades. Abel Gance is a director I will always admire for his innovation in filmmaking that still is impressive in the 21st Century. He mounted cameras on skis and swings to give the audience the effects that he wanted to convey, and it works perfectly. I was impressed by two great scenes - the 'ocean storm' scene and the final battlefield scene, which was done in the tints of the three colors of the French flag. Any aspiring director should study the techniques of Abel Gance, because the brilliance of this great director would be inspiring! Gance was also instrumental in perfect casting. Though Albert Dieudonne was older, as actors go, he was perfectly cast as Napoleon. If this was an American film and not a French film, I'm sure it would be considered as one of the greatest films ever made by AFI and other organizations.

I was glad that Abel Gance was able to see the affection that audiences had for this film in the late 1980's and early 1990's when the film went on a world tour with a world class orchestra. It would have been sad if Gance had passed on without knowing that his film was considered a masterpiece. If their was ever a silent film that 'pulls out all of the stops', this film is it. Viva Le Gance - the Visionist!
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an emotional extravaganza that reaches across time
blanche-23 September 2001
I had the privilege of seeing the restored version of this film, to the accompaniment of a live orchestra under the baton of Carmine Coppola, in Los Angeles' un-air-conditioned war memorial. Despite uncomfortable seating and terrible heat, the experience of this four hour movie remains a watershed for anyone who attended. To think that because of the invention of sound, this masterpiece was partially destroyed by Abel Gance in a fit of depression, is heartbreaking. More shocking is that Gance's invention of Cinemascope - of which today only the end of the film retains in its triptych screen effect - was lost to filmgoers until its reinvention years later.

Obviously true art can't be hidden forever, and Gance did live to see Napoleon take its rightful place in cinematic history. Though it is many years later, I can still remember the tears and the ovation when the black screen with the white signature, "Abel Gance", signified the end of the film. A compelling and great work of art.
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Fantastic performance in London with Carl Davies
bowden-56 December 2004
At the weekend i went to see Napoleon at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I am a relative newcomer to silent moves but too see a 5 and a half hour performance with the London Philarmonic Orchestra was incredible. Loved it, there seems to be some dispute with Coppola about the rights to this production, but if it is ever done again, it is something that any serious movie goer should make an attempt to see. And to prevent others from seeing this with an orchestra would be a travesty. The music by Carl Davies added another dimension to what was a fantastic film. It would appear that the work is a lifes work for Kevin Brownlow, he should be very proud of this acheivements.
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Abel Gance's Napoleon in Triptych-vision
binaryg1 April 2012
I feel fortunate that tickets were available at the last minute and I was able to see the Kevin Brownlaw 5 1/2 hr restoration of Abel Gance's "Napoleon". The hype after the first weekend's performances made it irresistible. The film was accompanied by the Carl Davis score, conducted live by Mr. Davis, and played flawlessly, by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland, California. (Eat your hearts out Manhattan and Hollywood.) It felt a special occasion and the audience was primed for the event.

I've wanted to see "Napoleon" for a very long time and somehow as I've gravitated toward DVD I hoped that I could watch it at home. Wait, wait, wait and nothing. Luckily, the DVD option never happened.

When I heard that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival intended to show the Brownlaw restoration over two weekends in Oakland. I never thought that a regular film buff, like myself, would be able to get tickets. Fortunately I was able to do so.

I traveled to Oakland, arrived an hour early for what was, in itself, with intermissions and a dinner break, an eight hour commitment. I've attended films with similar demands ("Our Hitler" comes to mind) and I only hoped it would be worth the commitment.

At the dinner break, about half way through the film, while I was impressed with the production values and the seemingly modern shooting style what most impressed me was the live symphonic accompaniment. But, based on my own expectations, I was a bit disappointed in the film itself. But that feeling was soon dissipated by the beauty and the power of the last half of the film. The cinematography seemed even more modern (lots of hand-held shots and special effects), plus the frankness of the sexuality, the humor, the romanticism, and beautifully paced scenes of great sensitivity.

By the time of the "Three Screens," wonderment, (Gance called it "Polyvision") I'd been won over, completely by this Masterpiece. There is no way to describe what Gance was able to produce. It must be witnessed first hand. One can only hope that somehow it will receive further exposure to those who love the greatest art form, Cinema. I'd see it again in a heartbeat.
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Brownlaw's 5.5 hr restoration with Carl Davis score ENTHRALLING
Four showings at the art deco palace Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 will be a landmark for cinemaphiles. From the opening snowball fight to the closing triptych of the eagle's shadow leading the Grande Armee, there was so much to love. Abel Gance takes you on a journey that your mind gets to ride with distinct pleasures. Robespierre in the John Lennonesque sunglasses, the teaching of the Marsailles, the dinghy with an escaping Napoleon and the General Assembly simultaneously in stormy seas, are but a few. I can't imagine I'll ever watch this on DVD after seeing it like I did. I certainly could never consider a sped up 24pp version. I watched Metropolis once like that and it just wasn't the same film. In fact criminal. So weirdly, I recommend the film but can't recommend seeing it unless a better format is available. I'm going to buy Carl Davis' score and play the film in my head from memory, which includes the crowd at the Paramount rising to their feet at the close shouting Vive La France! Vive La Gance!
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An epic
brpri3574 March 2009
I saw this film in Los Angeles sometime in the 80's. I remember not being that thrilled to go see such a long "silent" film, but agreed to go because a friend of mine was playing in the live orchestra accompaniment and I wanted to be supportive. I was, to say the least, completely blown away. To this day, it remains the best film I have ever seen. Nothing compares with it. There were 3 screens with a mixture of film action, photographs and, of course, the live orchestra and, despite the length, it was utterly phenomenal. Until reading some of the comments here, I was unaware there was a controversy about the length, quality and musical score. In fact, in the years since I've seen this film, when discussions about movie favorites come up, I've always said this was my favorite film. Not once have I ever come across another person who's even heard of it, let alone seen it. Perhaps I need a higher brow version of friends and On reflection, I would assume the version I saw must have been Coppola's. If this lesser restoration could blow me away, it would be a privilege and honor to see the more complete restoration. If it ever comes my way, believe me, I'll be first in line to see it. Should this epic travel in your direction, don't miss it. It is truly one of the finest films ever.
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Napoleon Par Excellance -- Oui
guidon726 May 2007
Firstly, let me say that I believe Abel Gance's Napoleon to be without question the greatest film of all time. Unfortunately I have not seen the longer version but it is my earnest wish that it become available in the future on DVD. However, to echo the general acclaim previously noted in these user comments on the merits of this unique film is not my purpose today.

Instead, I would like to comment specifically regarding remarks above by *HARRY-76* regarding Napoleon Bonaparte: "barbarian....sick and warped mind in need of therapy while being institutionalized" and also the comment of *JAYBABB*: "Napoleon was a madman". I really wonder how deeply both of these film reviewers have actually delved into the persona of Napoleon the man and his life -- if at all -- or perhaps they have made their referenced opinions based on the film alone? Or maybe they are erroneously relying on the long standing joke about insane people believing they were Napoleon Bonaparte? That is a popular one, but an unfortunate one. The very real accomplishments of this man are far too extensive for me to go into here. I will note one or two of the more far-reaching events however. The Code Napoleon of 1804, which covered all of Napoleonic France, much of which is not only still in effect in modern day France, but also from which a number of our own U.S. civil laws are based. The Code Napoleon, conceived for the guidance and protection of French citizens, covered areas such as: Civil Rights of Citizens, Rights and Duties of Married Persons, Divorce, Paternal Power, Acquiring Property, Donations and Wills. All this, remarkably, was not created by a statesman known as a man of peace but produced under the aegis of an unquestionably talented warrior, while at the same time he was quite busy consolidating his dominion over most of the European continent. I might add here that while we all acknowledge the militarism of Bonaparte, he certainly had plenty of company in an era beset by European military conflict, even discounting his presence on the world stage. A common error here is that his actions needs to be seen in the context of his times, not of our time. Although his career was cut short before achieving his goal, his prophetic vision of a United Europe without borders while all within would be equal, would seem to be identical with the powerful movement we see today toward European unity 200 years later.

While there was no testing as such in the 18th Century, Napoleon is universally considered today to be among those notables in history who were geniuses; this man with a brilliant mind who could dictate to three secretaries all at the same time, on three totally different subjects.

I do not wish to take up too much space here with a subject which -- while I nevertheless find interesting personally -- I yet have the knowledge that it is not directly related to filmdom and IMDb, so I will therefore close. However I have a final question which I direct to both *HARRY-76* and*JAYBABB*, which is this: Assuming your criticism of Napoleon is based on that which is more publicized, his military career, I would be greatly interested to know if you also consider such figures as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and even a couple of home-grown Americans, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, to be "madmen.....who should have been institutionalized"?
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However you prefer your "Napoleon," it's definitely worth seeing
Ninja Doll27 October 2005
My recollection of "Napoleon" is of a wonderful evening of first-rate movie and first-rate score, with Gance's work on three screens and Carmine Coppola conducting a full orchestra. While it may not do justice to the continually evolving cinematic extravaganza described in the other review, it is nonetheless the version I've grown up with and viewing it remains one of my favorite life experiences.

I applaud anyone who has had a hand in this project and has continued to update, revise, and otherwise revisit this very noble film. It seems to have taken on a life of its own in terms of restored versions. The newly performed work may be superior to Coppola's initial resurrection but without Coppola's vision, would it have become the phenomenon it is today? I'm pretty sure he's entitled to protect his initial investment (of time, energy, money, and media) even as the movie itself changes with each new find. In the end, the consumer (from any country) will seek out the version he wishes to own -- passing judgement by consumption.

I would not hesitate to acquire both versions, frankly. It's not about who did the better job, it's about the evolution of the film since it was first dusted off.
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It took me about 2 years to find this movie, and all the time I spent trying to find it was well worth it, but not nearly worth as much as watching this film. Whether or not you like silent films doesn't matter the least bit. One way or another this picture will blow you away. If you've seen the 1925 Ben-Hur then you already have some idea as to what "big" is. But when or if you ever see this picture, you take out some of the gigantic sets and throw in multi-layered sequences, frequent, rapid cuts, rapid tracking shots and the stunning trypytch climax, you would've never thought you knew just how "big" something big could be. Though this film runs more than 3 hours it doesn't really drag, but stick with it anyway because if you let your fascination for the cinematography distract you too much you might miss what the last intertitle said. See this movie! If you can ever find it (because it is incredibly rare) then buy it or rent it, go home, make sure your schedule's clear, and watch and enjoy. You will not be disappointed.
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Masterpiece of the Silent Era
Chuck-18515 December 2002
The reviewer from Cleveland, Ohio, (Harry) was obviously hoping for a nice and tidy Politically Correct account of Napoleon. Unfortunately, Napoleon's appetite for conquest turned him off a bit. For the rest of us, this film is one of the great masterpieces of the Silent Era (and the restored version is the one to see). For history buffs, the early years of Napoleon, including the violent French Revolution, is all here in its magnificent and tragic moments. The film doesn't follow through to the inevitable defeats of Napoleon, however. For anyone who's unfamiliar with 19th Century European history, the final impression that all ended well with the Emperor might mislead viewers as the film ends. Gance never filmed the defeats, but his direction of Napoleon's victories is still one of the great achievements of film. You doesn't have to be an admirer of Napoleon to enjoy this movie. Whatever one's opinion of the emperor, this film will remain forever the standard by which all epics and historical dramas should be judged. If one is interested in the final years of Napoleon and his eventual demise, the 1970 Dino De Laurentis production "Waterloo" is the place to start. With Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington, one couldn't ask for a better cast.
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Timeless masterpiece.
Invariable Self7 September 2000
What more can be said of this film than already has been? Albert Dieudonné's unforgettable presence, combined with Abel Gance's genius makes this a timeless masterpiece. Although it only traces Napoléon's early rise from childhood to the dawn of his first step into immortality, it is still perhaps the greatest biography ever done on film.
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A Stunning Masterpiece!
Keith W3 September 2002
I have just finished watching the U.S. release of the movie and I love this movie.

I found it just before midnight on Turner Classic Movies. Every sunday these guys show a silent movie at midnight. When I looked at how long it was, I had to record it. I still think it is amazing that back in 1927 there was a four hour movie.

Also, it was WAY ahead of its time. Abel Gantz, the director, pioneered a primitive version of CineRama. He also, had smooth tracking shots, shaky-cam, and great subjective shots.

Other amazing things in this movie he did were his montage shots where he splices in a lot of frames of film at once. He also did very gory battle scenes for that time and how he divided up the screen into nine different ways. But the most amazing thing is all the superimposing done on this film.

Unfortunately, I have to stop talking about this masterpiece of cinema. And to all those people who bitch about the U.S. version, shut up!

It's still a great movie. I give this film a 9 out of 10.
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Gance is the French word for Griffith....
dbdumonteil11 April 2008
I'm the first French user to write about the best French movie of the silent era.Even a poster from Slovenia wrote about it (he or she had a French relative).But no French .

Part of the reason can be found in the fact that it has become almost impossible for the French to see Gance's work in its native land;my copy is the Coppola version,with English subtitles ,which is a bit amazing all the same.Believe it or not,it is never screened on French TV:about ten years ago ,it showed a digest "Napoleon et LA revolution" which essentially consisted of extracts of roughly part one;it's not available on DVD ,it has not been shown in movie theaters for years ;a lot of people know the existence of this film,few have seen a decent version,and less have seen the original version ,with Gance's dialogs - a work always loses something when translated in another language-

The Coppola version is quite satisfying ,Carmine Coppola's music really enhances the phenomenal pictures and displays a good knowledge of the French culture:the original music often segues into French hymns (of course "La Marseillaise" which was written in 1792,but also 'Le Chant du Départ " as well as English anthems ("God save the king" and "rule Britannia" );revolutionary songs ("Ah ca Ira " -"Chanson des Sans -Culottes" - "La Carmagnole " ) are also present.Coppola sr also included French folk songs such as "Malborough S'En Va t En Guerre" or the obscure "La Chanson du Carillonneur" which is heard during the siege of Toulon .This "drummer song" which I sang at school (and never heard of afterwards)has several versions,one of them is about the appalling army of king Louis (I cannot tell which one" whose soldiers would bravely serve if he paid them well;that's really a smart idea to have included it in the soundtrack.On the other hand "Auprès de Ma Blonde" ,which Gance had selected to enhance the final on the "Triple Ecran" in Italy did not make the Coppola score.

Technically,it's stating the obvious to write that Gance was very advanced ,using his camera in a way most (and in France all of them) did not start using before the talkies when they did.Most of basic filming precepts came into as being innovations on particular Gance techniques .He had begun experimentation long before 1927:the scene when Danton's,Robespierre 's and Saint-Just 's ghosts come back to "inspire " the hero to help lead the French on their way to freedom (which was a naive idea if you know -and of course you do-what Bonaparte will become later)directly comes from the wake of the dead from "J'Accuse" (1917).To think that this director used the split screen (scenes in the snow) and the triple screen (Italy).Nonetheless,the most impressive moment is the hero alone on his boat tossed by the raging sea ,while l'Assemblée is caught in the whirlwind too;a scene which was borrowed from Victor Hugo's "Quatre Vingt Treize " (93)

"Napoleon" cast a giant shadow on the rest of Gance's work ;his two other silent major oeuvres "La Roue" and "j'Accuse" are still highly thought of,but it is considered polite to ignore most of his talkies.And he never stopped trying ;his first talkie was a sci fi movie ("La Fin du Monde" 1930) whereas almost all his colleagues stayed in the filmed stage production style.He continued his experiments with "Un Grand Amour de Beethoven" where he invented the "subjective" sound .He often partially failed for lack of means : for his remake of "J'Accuse " (1938) he had to use shots of "La Fin du Monde" .But until the very end he never produced anything mediocre:his last work "Cyrano and D'Artagnan" was in verse.

If someone tells you there was nothing interesting in the FRench cinema before Bresson or- yuk !-Godard ,set him down with a DVD player for a screening of "Napoleon".It will blow his mind.

About the actors

Albert Dieudonné would play Napoleon again in Roger Richebé's fine comedy "Madame Sans -Gene" (1941)

Gance told the young Suzanne Charpentier who played Violine (Toulon segment) she made him think of Poe's "Annabelle Lee" ;and she became Annabella .She would marry Tyrone Power.
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Best Biography Film Ever - Where Is The Top 250?
icet200425 August 2007
the story of french revolution and about legendary Napoleon Bonaparte. Abel Gance was talented no doubt.Gance was without a doubt the greatest silent movie director and this movie is absolute masterpiece one of the greatest movies of all time.this film has made a movie history.and Albert Dieudonne is one of the very best french actors ever.almost perfect movie,but it's was too long 3 hours and 50 minutes. my aunt husband is french so i haven't nothing to against french. Napoleon Bonaparte the most legendary french of all time without a doubt - ardent patriot and boldfaced who won a several highly important battles.In this movie battle scenes were brilliant. Gance was the master of battle scenes.this movie is 80 years old but it's looks like 50 or 40 years's the most grandiose silent movie with Metropolis(1927)and The Gold Rush(1925)but it's have more power and burning energy.Albert Dieudonne was the best choice have to play Napoleon Bonaparte like Bela Lugosi who was the greatest choice to play Count Dracula.the ocean storm scene was great too.It's was a truly memorable's definitely worth seeing it's timeless film.i guess that current France president Sarkozy likes this movie too like's a visually impressive good movie too.a masterpiece of visual of may be a little bit propaganda movie,but it's one of the 25 best movies ever and without a doubt the greatest french silent what ever produced and one top 3 french movies ever.Napoléon is my favorite warrior.if you want an epic watch this highly recommended by me.a fan of Napoléon Bonaparte i give it perfectly 10/10
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Excellent Portrayal of an Era, Not Just a Man
Snow Leopard24 March 2004
There's quite a bit more to "Napoléon" than just the title character. It is an excellent, and sometimes brilliant, portrayal of a tumultuous era that still affects the world. While not always adhering strictly to history, it does a relatively faithful job of describing the general atmosphere of the time period, showing Napoleon Bonaparte's career to have been created partially by his own qualities, and partially by the situation around him.

Although the film follows the career of one of history's most notorious figures, it hardly depicts him as an unqualified hero. Both his good qualities and bad qualities are clearly shown, along with the results of both. Even the opening childhood sequences show him to be brilliant but unkind, perceptive but self-absorbed, and full of other such conflicting qualities. In fact, it is a valuable lesson to see how such a person can capitalize on the right situation for his own benefit. Only the last part might perhaps convey a false sense of grandeur, but that is mainly because (unfortunately) Abel Gance was never able to complete his intended project to cover the whole of Napoleon's career.

From the very first sequence, with the 'battle' in the snow, Gance sets a high standard - like most of what follows, the scene is interesting, entertaining, and revealing, filmed in a detailed setting, with direction and photography that make that most of the possibilities. No doubt it's historically stylized, but it and the other scenes of Napoleon's youth work very well, and they provide an effective introduction to what follows.

As the film then follows Napoleon's rise to prominence, it shows as much about what was happening in France (and Corsica) as it does about Bonaparte himself. The events, ideas, and consequences of the French Revolution (the consequences of which include the Napoleonic Era) could well be said to have affected the future course of history in more ways than any other event of the modern era, and while this film of necessity hardly covers everything, it does leave a clear impression of the moods and attitudes of the time - and of how these both affected and were affected by Napoleon himself.

While he is both interesting and important as a historical figure, Napoleon the man had many flaws, for which he can rightly be censured. "Napoléon" the movie, though, is nearly flawless, and it deserves all the praise that it gets.
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Michael_Elliott29 February 2008
Napoleon (1927)

1981 cut

**** (out of 4)

Abel Gance's technical marvel was certainly years ahead of its time but I'd guess that most people would find it a chore to sit through today. The film follows Napoleon as a child all the way up to mid-life where the film ends because the director had planned on making five more films in the series but could never get the backing. Storywise, there really isn't anything new here that we haven't seen in previous epics from Griffith or DeMille. What really separates this thing is its technical beauty, something that could be lost on those who don't know much about how films were back in the day. If anyone has a decent amount of knowledge about the silent era then this film will certainly knock their socks off. I would argue that the actual battle scenes were better in Intolerance and Ben-Hur but the scope here is certainly multiplied. The director was highly influenced by Griffith and even asked for his advice before going into this film and it's clear what Griffith told him, he took it to the next level. For starters, the first big battle takes place when Napoleon is a child and he and his friends are having a snowball fight. This might sound simple but the director makes a great battle of it. The next big moment happens when Napoleon is stuck on a small boat out at sea when a storm hits. The way this is edited together creates some great tension and even better are the various (at the time) strange camera movements that get you right into the storm. Another battle, taking place at night, during a rain storm, also looks wonderful. Not to mention the final battle scene where the director uses an early example of widescreen. This effect (three cameras side by side shooting) might not stand up to today's standards because it's easy to see where the "next screen" is but it still looks great.
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The Ultimate Silent Film?
Cooper Stimson26 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The following is the text of the program notes written for a screening of Napoleon by the Dartmouth Film Society, 24 February 2010.

In the popular consciousness, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French and President-cum-King of Italy, is remembered as a man of small stature but massive influence (although he was of average height for his time). Conversely, the film Napoleon vu par Abel Gance, as it is properly titled, is a film of massive proportions but seemingly little influence (note the modifier). Its full, gargantuan, 340-minute, 16,800 ft triptych glory has been screened only a few times. Even its triumphant premiere in Paris in April 1927 was in the form of a truncated version; a month later, a private showing of the full cut was met with even greater accolades, but afterward the film quickly spiraled into obscurity, hastened by a massively delayed American release of an even more greatly truncated version. This delay let not only other large- scale epics but also talkies hit the market first, diluting Napoleon's impact. Luckily, like its subject, Napoleon would live to return from exile... eventually.

Even though it was seen as "just another movie" and was a financial disaster upon American release, Napoleon left an indelible mark on the art of film-making. Decades ahead of its time, the film pioneered many techniques that would eventually become standard, including the use of widescreen. Always eager to break the restrictions of the frame, Abel Gance tasked engineer Andre Debrie with developing a system for wider- than-normal shots. The outcome was an impressive technique dubbed Polyvision: as the last reel began, curtains rose, revealing a screen three times as wide as normal, or a triptych, with to this day unprecedented aspect ratio of 4:1 (widescreen movies today are generally either 1.85:1 or 2.39:1). A sweeping panoramic view of the ragged army fills a field of vision wider than can be taken in at once; Bonaparte enters the scene and shouts "Attention!" but unlike his soldiers, the audience needs no such urging.

With his editing and camera techniques, Gance foreshadowed the cinematography of many a modern action film. In an effort to immerse the audience in the battle sequences, Gance made extensive use of hand-held cameras, and edited his footage in an idiosyncratic, rapid, rhythmic style, sifting through roughly 250 miles of film for the perfect take. At the time, celluloid was not marked by shot or take as it is today; to differentiate one take from the next, an editor would examine each frame closely with a magnifying glass, looking for clues like blinks or shifts of light. "The whole thing is musical, of course... The whole film is cut to a rhythm," Gance said of the editing; in service of this rhythm he cut miles of footage, including sequences shot in first-person with chest mounted cameras, color sequences, 3-D versions of the triptychs.

The American release was a multivalent disaster. Unhappy with the length of the film, the American company MGM made drastic cuts. The triptychs were trimmed, only the middle thirds remaining, and the film was entirely re-edited, using second- and third-camera footage, alternate takes, and mixing shots from one scene into another with reckless abandon; dialogue was at times completely rewritten, often with changed tone and meaning. As a final insult, the American edit ended with Bonaparte declaring his goal to be "A United States of Man," followed by an American flag and an image of George Washington. Where the original film had brought audiences to their feet and critics to apoplectic rapture, this incarnation was met with boredom and hostility. Many theaters dropped it after a few days, some even paying money to not show it. Two days at one theater in Florida grossed only $77.35; Napoleon was a flop.

Decades later, Gance was still working on Napoleon; in 1935 he converted it for sound (inventing stereophonic audio for this purpose), and in 1970 he released another edit; both times he shot additional footage to add in, and both times the film lost something of its original appeal, the definitive print being long forgotten. Then, in 1979 filmmaker and film historian Kevin Brownlow painstakingly reconstructed the original version, including the triptychs, and premiered it at the Telluride Film Festival, in the Abel Gance Open Air Cinema (constructed specifically for this film), with Gance in the audience. It was a resounding success; half a century after the fact, Gance and Napoleon received the recognition they had been denied.

As Bonaparte was in fact taller than reckoned, so too was his biopic's influence greater than it initially seemed. Poetry critic Edmund Wilson wrote of TS Eliot's The Waste Land that it "was dropped into the waters of contemporary verse without stirring more than a few ripples. But when two or three years had passed, it was found to stain the whole sea." Napoleon vu par Abel Gance is much the same; an initially ignored work which has come to be recognized as a masterpiece.

Cooper Stimson, 2/21/2010
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