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>
In the snowball fight, at least one of the school boys is played by a girl. See more »
Around the tine that Danton is delivered to the Executioner, there are several scenes with Robespierre seated at the desk. The position of his eyeglasses varies between being on his head, on the desk or in his hands. See more »
The first film with stereophonic sound was the re-edited version of this film that was presented with added dialogue and sound effects at the Paramount Cinema, Paris, in 1935. The stereophonic process used had been patended by Abel Gance and Andre Debrie three years earlier. See more »
an emotional extravaganza that reaches across time
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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