Geneva Anderson digs into art

The Magnificent March of “Napoleon”—Abel Gance’s fabled silent film masterpiece has been restored and is screening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre to live music, starting this weekend, March 24, 2012

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting Abel Gance’s legendary masterpiece, Napoleon,  unseen in the U.S. for nearly 30 years—for four performances only—March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012—at Oakland’s historic Paramount Theatre.  This marks the exclusive U.S. premiere of silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s complete restoration of the film and the U.S. premiere of a 5 ½ hour orchestral score by the eminent British composer Carl Davis,  who will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony at all four screenings.  The Brownlow restoration, produced with his partner Patrick Stanbury at Photoplay Productions in association with the BFI (The British Film Institute), is the most complete version of Gance’s masterpiece since its 1927 premiere at the Paris Opéra.  The film will screen in the original 20 frames per second, with the finale in polyvision, requiring 3 screens.  The gorgeous Art Deco Paramount Theatre in Oakland is one of the few theatres in the country that could meet the technical, staging and spatial requirements of this enormous undertaking— a proscenium large enough for the Polyvision finale, an orchestra pit, floor space to accommodate a 48 member orchestra, and a seating capacity of 3,000.  And because Carl Davis would have had to work with a different symphony orchestra in every city to deliver the monumental 5 ½ hour score  — that’s at least four solid days of rehearsal—expensive!—there are NO plans for this restored version to travel to any other U.S. venue.  And because the cost of recording the 5 1.2 hour score is prohibitively expensive for the DVD/BluRay market, and the dramatic Polyvision finale in the theatre could not be duplicated— It would be letterboxed onto the television, no matter how large your viewing screen is.—there will be no DVD/BlueRay recording made.  This is it!

What exactly is Polyvision? And what are the technical requirements?  Polyvision was one of Abel Gance’s greatest innovations: for Naploeon’s finale, the screen dramatically expands to three times its normal width, for both panoramic views and montages of images. There has not been anything like it since: even the similar American process Cinerama, first presented 25 years later, never made such virtuosic use of its three screens.

To present Polyvision at the Oakland Paramount, three projection booths equipped with three perfectly-synchronized projectors must be specially installed, along with a purpose-built three-panel screen, which will fill the width of the auditorium.  These technical requirements can only be handled by top technicians and a 3-person team from Boston Light & Sound is being specially brought in for the Paramount’s installation.

In the captivating clip below, Brownlow is captured in an interview discussing Napoleon some 30 years ago.  Brownlow became fascinated with Gance’s film when, as a schoolboy in the 1950s, he ran two 9.5mm reels he had stumbled upon at a street market.  That chance encounter turned into a lifelong fascination with Gance and a quest to restore the film.   Last year, Brownlow became the first film historian ever honored with a special Academy Award and he will feature promnently in the events at the Paramount Theatre, including a special Gala dinner and reception on Friday, March 23, 2012 in Okaland and a talk at Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley on March 30, 2012.

The first major Brownlow/BFI restoration culminated in a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with 89-year-old Gance watching from a nearby hotel window.  Under the auspices of Francis Ford Coppola and Robert A. Harris, a version of this restoration, accompanied by a 4 hour score composed by Carmine Coppola, was presented at Radio City Music Hall and other venues in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1980s. This version, with the 4-hour version with the Coppola score, has been shown on television in the U.S. and was released on VHS and laserdisc, but never on DVD in the U.S.   Brownlow and the BFI did additional restoration work to Napoleon in 1983.

The current restoration, completed in 2000 but not previously seen outside Europe, reclaims more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered since the 1979 screening and visually upgrades much of the film. This unique 35mm print, made at the laboratory of the BFI’s National Archive, uses traditional dye-bath techniques to recreate the color tints and tones that enhanced the film on its original release, giving the images a vividness never before experienced in this country.

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with artist Paul Davis who created the spectacular poster for this special event.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What: Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927   5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the final polyvision.  The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film.  This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music.

When: March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 19, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment