Abel Gance’s silent epic “Napoleon” has had a turbulent history since its premiere in 1927, but the film has not yet met its Waterloo, thanks to Kevin Brownlow. The cinema historian has spent decades restoring the film’s scattered fragments. Starting this weekend, the five-and-a-half hour account of young Napoleon Bonaparte’s life will be shown at Oakland’s Paramount Theater, complete with symphony orchestra and requisite three-screen finale. We discuss the film and its significance in film history.

The Return of ‘Napoleon’ 21 March,2012forum

Anita Monga, artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Kevin Brownlow, film historian and filmmaker

  • Francisco

    Considering that Obama has just signed another Police State law, I think the return of Napolean is an apropos subject reflecting today’s politics.

    Obama can now incarcerate any citizen indefinitely without giving a reason. He can have anyone engaging in a protest arrested, so long as a “federal agent” is somewhere in the vicinity. Police can use drones to hunt down dissidents and police are being militarized in other ways, even receiving tanks.

    We live in a police state. Let’s not laud tyrants or waste our time learning about their upbringing. They take power and money and freedom, and you don’t.

    • Albert D

      First, I get the impression that anything you can’t afford is, by your definition, not worth going to.
      The other name for that is: envy.
      Second: stop with the politics bs and stick to the subject at hand: the screenings of “Napoleon.”
      You can go blather and derail elsewhere; people who are looking forward to this unique event (myself included) are here to comment on the SF Festival and “Napoleon.”

      • Fred

         You’re right Albert, the coming of fascism to the USA is just “bs” to be ignored. Insert head into sand.

        • Albert D

          No, the coming of whatever to the US is to be discussed in a political thread, not used to derail a discussion about a once-in-a-lifetime film event, that’s my point.

  • Greg

    As much as I’d like to see this, the price is way over-the-top. The tickets are being sold through Ticketmaster (which adds 30 percent to the cost) and range from $52 to $135. Let them eat cake!

    • Francisco

       Ugh… I’m so tired of these gentrified, overpriced film festivals. They don’t have the decency to say that if you don’t own a Lexus or BMW, you really aren’t welcome.

      • cinephile

        I don’t own a car. I’m in the lowest income bracket in every survey that comes my way, and every month I can barely make rent even though I share a place in the Mission district with 5 roommates. But I’ve also been waiting decades to see this film presented in a theatre, where I can truly appreciate the filmmaker’s artistic intentions. Of course it’s more expensive than other screenings; it uses three film projectors/projectionists where most films require only one. Then there’s the full symphony orchestra playing along with the picture, live in person, for over five hours; that can’t come cheap. I’ve been saving my pennies for this event ever since I first heard about it in July.

        • Erich

           The nature of poverty is that once in a while, you have to splurge on something that really matters to you. Feel no shame for that.
          Personally I’ll wait for the DVD.

  • GinnymayP

    On the topic of silent films and somewhat of a resurgence, I recommend
    Voices of Light, a screening of Carl Drayer’s the Trial of Joan of Arc with oratorio accompanying it. this will be at UC’s Zellerbach on March 31.
    The film itsef is especially interesting due to it’s past of being destroyed in a fire, reconstructed and burned again. Drayer gave up on it. In the 1990s a copy was discovered in the 1990s in a Norwegian asylum storeroom! Shown at art film festivals it caught the attention of composer Richard Einhorn who developed the oratorio with influences of his research of midevel music. Film has similarities with Bergman’s style.

  • Rygg Larsen

    For those who are unable to attend, will this restoration be available on DVD/Blu-Ray in the near future?

    • GinnymayP

      Don’t know, but it would be great if that happens. I sang this piece at a choral festival accompanying the film and it was a profound experience.  There are some excerpts on Youtube.

      • cinephile

        Passion of Joan of Arc is available on DVD with the Voices of Light score. But the restored Napoleon is not, and as yet there are no companies willing to step up and pay the costs to have it properly scanned and an orchestra recorded.

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