|Index||3 reviews in total|
While agreeing by and large with the other reviewers about the poor
quality of the documentary, it is nevertheless an astonishing testimony
to how greatly our knowledge and understanding of silent film has
increased since 1968.
This after all was made by THE Kevin Brownlow, the man responsible for the successive meticulous reconstructions of Gance's Napoléon (and I can well remember the sensation that caused by the first 1980s version) and also the man who in more recent times has provided superb documentaries. Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980) which still does not entirely escape the existing US mythology on the subject but makes some remarkable steps in the right direction as well as providing invaluable interviews with a galaxy of silent heroes who nearly all, rather spookily, died within a few years of the film (almost as though they had solely remained alive and, for the most part, on remarkable form, in order to make that film). Then (Brownlow's crowning glory) Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (1995) where finally we really begin have a full picture of the achievement of the silent era. And finally an honorary Oscar in 2010 "for the wise and devoted chronicling of the cinematic parade" whatever on earth that may mean. Cinematic parade??!!!?
There are of course some good things here (essentially the interviews with Gance and Dieudonné and the archive footage all of which it would be good to see in better quality) but it is almost comical to see how it was then necessary to explain everything and yet say so little about films that are now universally regarded as great classics of the cinema. It is hard now to conceive that in 1968 virtually no one had seen any of these films.
So, if one begins with Commencini's La valigia dei sogni (1953), the sad, sad story of a man who spends his time trying to save silent films (fragment by fragment) from the shredder and a film way,w ay ahead of its time in appreciating the value and importance of the then fast disappearing heritage. Then this cranky little documentary of 1968 where Brownlow seems not yet even to understand the importance of showing silent films at the correct speed. Then the incredibly belated academic awakening in the 1980s (with noble exceptions of course).....and one begins to appreciate what an extraordinary revolution has occurred.
There is an extremely good account of the making of Napoléon, Nelly Kaplan's 1983 documentary Abel Gance et son Napoléon.
Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite (1968)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Mildly interesting documentary about the career of director Abel Gance. The documentary shines a spotlight on three of the director's biggest films: J'Accuse, La Roue and Napoleon. For its time I guess this film isn't too bad but considering some of the documentaries out there now I must say that this one was pretty disappointing. These films of Gance's were hard to see when this film was made so there are countless clips of all three films shown and sometimes these clips go on for minutes at a time. The problem with this is that we get to hear very little from Gance himself who is being interviewed throughout the film. I'd much rather hear from the director on how he created these films instead of just seeing the film clips. Of course, seeing these clips were harder to see back in the day so perhaps I'm being too hard on this film.
I just saw this 1968 documentary on Turner Classic Movies. While I
learned some interesting things about this director as well as the way
he made films, I was surprised how poor the overall production was. On
the plus side, showing film of Gance and his cameramen shooting some
actual scenes was amazing--particularly when they discussed his amazing
innovations. However, on the negative side, there was the very dull
narration (both the voice and script), the film seemed to lack depth
and told us practically nothing about Gance himself, and finally
because it was so incomplete a record of Gance's films. It was all just
so superficial and dull and inadequate. Some of the incompleteness is
not the fault of the documentarians, but they mention several "lost
films" of Gance's that were shown immediately after the documentary on
TCM--and fully restored. This recent restoration begs the question "why
doesn't TCM now make a documentary given that they now have better and
more complete film stock?".
My advice--you'd do better to do an internet search on Gance or find a book about him. This film just doesn't do much to inspire, enlighten or entertain.
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