“Napoleon” … cinema as it should be


In June 1925, the French director Abel Gance (1889-1981) told the technicians and artists of Studio Bellancourt while filming the silent film Napoleon (1927): “You have to understand very well the deep meaning of these words. It is imperative that this movie allows us to enter the Temple of Arts through the gigantic door of history! I am inhabited by an indescribable agony from the idea that my will and the gift of my life are worth nothing if you do not give me, all of you, devotion every second … my friends, all the screens of the universe await you! For everyone. Collaborators of all kinds. everybody! Heroes, minors, photographers, operators, painters, electricians, mechanics, to you all, especially the extra crowd, the humble (compasses), who will bear the heavy burden of restoring the spirit of their ancestors and giving, in one spirit, the formidable face of France between 1792 and 1815. I ask, Rather, I ask for complete forgetting of any frivolous personal considerations, and absolute devotion. Only in this way, will you serve the illustrious cause of the most beautiful art of the future (cinema), thanks to the most wonderful lessons of history. ”

Filming ended in 1927, and the film was shown with great anticipation in Paris in March. The performance was held in the opera in a special ceremony accompanied by live music (unfortunately incomplete today, composed by the Swiss Arthur Honegger, at that time copies of Lamarcese’s words were distributed to the audience, to sing in one voice with a scene in the second chapter of the film, which Gans called “the music of light.” The actors and the audience sing as one, as if they had become part of the movie). Then a later performance was held at the “Apollo Theater” and it was called the “Final Edition” (nine and a half hours). Both shows were so successful that even more shows had to be added to accommodate the massive influx of viewers.
The movie “Napoleon” is not limited to only two copies; There are even 21 copies, often produced by the director himself, including three in the 1930s with dialogues and scenes filmed again and dubbed by the actors themselves. The film was originally produced by La Société Générale du Cinemas, which was short-lived and contributed to the production of only two films, masterpieces of the history of silent French and international cinema: “Napoleon” and “The Passion of Joan of Arc” by Carl Theodore Dreer. “Napoleon” was shown in eight European cities when it was bought by the “Metro Golden Mayer” company. But after it was shown in London, its duration was cut short, and only the “Polivision” series was preserved (a name given by the French film critic Emile Faubler, a symbol specifically for the movie “Napoleon”, meaning that it is the trio of screens that were designed exclusively for filming and showing the film). The film was not received well in the United States at a time when the talks were beginning to appear in the cinema.

The film has undergone one of the longest restoration and rediscovery processes in seventh art history. All this through the tireless work of fifty years of research by the British Academy Award-winning film historian, writer, and filmmaker, Kevin Brownlow (1938). The latter began working on the restoration of the film in 1956 at the age of 18, based on the two original copies. Brownlow restored a copy, because he later found either scenes not found in previous restorations or copies of higher quality photographs. In 1980, he presented his full version of the film (Five Hours) at the Telluride Film Festival, along with orchestral music composed by Carl Davis in the presence of Gans himself, who was ninety years old. Then, a miniature version (4 hours) sponsored by the American director Francis Ford Coppola, known today as “Coppola’s version”, was presented with a new soundtrack composed by Coppola’s father, Carmine. Brownlow subsequently undertook a second restoration in 1983, and a third and final restoration in 2000, in cooperation with the British Film Institute. Finally, Netflix, in cooperation with the “French Cinematheque”, announced that it will fund a new restoration, called “Apollo”, which is the most comprehensive and longest version since the film was first shown, and that it will take about seven hours. It is assumed that the restored copy will be ready on the 5th of next May, on the 200th anniversary of the departure of Napoleon Bonaparte.

He was the most experimental and extreme in terms of technology, imbued with a nationalistic spirit that placed Napoleon in the ranks of a saint.

It has been nearly a hundred years since one of the most important films in the history of cinema was shown, and we are eagerly waiting for the new restored version, so that the new generation can see this masterpiece. We see in the film a comprehensive art as cinema floods us with its language, with new resources and innovations unprecedented in the history of the seventh art, and rarely seen in contemporary cinema. Gans, who directed, wrote the script, produced and acted in the film, is considered today one of the most important figures in French cinema, and most importantly in the Impressionist school in his country. Before filming the tape, many countries were to meet to participate in the production (20% France, Spain 7%, Netherlands 4%, Scandinavia 7%, Central Europe 5%, Germany, Great Britain, Latin America and Russia for the rest). But the poverty caused by World War I made the production entirely French, and toned with color with the use of three screens (one front and two near-side) in the red, white and blue of the French flag. Before filming began, 8,000 uniforms, 4,000 rifles, 60 guns, 19,000 combatants, 19 million French francs and 450,000 meters of film strips had to be manufactured and assembled. When filming began, Abel spoke on the radio from the Eiffel Tower to “let the whole world know that filming the greatest movie of all time has taken off.” Albert Diodonnell played the role of Napoleon in this film that covered the first part of his life, from Corsica, his escape with a fragile boat, using a tricolor flag as a sail, his arrival in France, the republic agreement, the era of terror, the French revolution, his rise in the military ranks, and ending with his victorious conquest of Italy in the year 1797. The title of the original movie is “Napoleon As Seen by Abel Gance” in which Gans, at the age of 38, used innovative techniques in the cinematography: heavy, portable camera shooting at a time when most films were shot with a still camera, quick editing, close-up and wide shots, pointing scenes Looking, three screens display different scenes (polygon), picture on picture, sharp cut scenes, split screen shots and mosaics …
“Napoleon” is cinema as it should be. It was the most experimental, and still is the most extreme in terms of technology. Rich in a nationalistic spirit that makes Napoleon almost a saint, and the methods used by Gans make us literally speechless. From the very first scene, children in a boarding military school have been fighting a snowball war, which turns into an extreme visual battle that makes us part of the conflict. The camera moves freely, approaching the children without fear, chasing them, and rotating without a specific axis, while we see compound pictures of the child Napoleon with his face filled with water and snow. The illusion is paired with fantasy, and the battle ends in a feather-filled pillow war as the screen splits into nine separate images. The tape is full of cinematic spells, Napoleon in the midst of a sea storm with the camera swinging to the raging rhythm of the sea and at the same time the spirits are equally stormy. The camera appears in the air, it simply flies from here to there; To the final sequence in Italy.

Abel Gans considered cinema “the greatest medium for the human mind” and the great movie “Like a bridge of dreams extending from one era to the next.” He is the ambitious and paranoid director. In his time, cinema was an area to be explored, a new art form that is still being searched for. And Gans is one of the pioneers of this era. He made a lot, but he became famous for three films: “Accused” (1919), “The Wheel” (1923) and “Napoleon”. After the presentation of “Napoleon”, Gans was accused of his uncritical view of Napoleon, of having betrayed his anti-war film “Accused”, which was discharged from the army during World War I, and thought of the friends he left behind on the battlefields. “It was the time most of my friends, colleagues, and peers died; An idea occurred to me while I was walking on “Noel Street”: My presence in this world has no meaning at all unless I try to fight this death by making a film about it. ” Thus, he set about making “accusations” and allowed the French soldiers to act in the film: The Army of the Dead, Ghosts, which was one of the first anti-war films in the history of cinema.
It was the original idea of ​​Abel Gans to produce six films on the biography of Napoleon, but he did not have the financial means for this ambitious project. One wonders what a thirty to forty hour movie about Napoleon would have been like: full heroism? A patriotic epic that strangles itself or creates psychological cracks in the character of the hero through only height? Thus, the man who dreamed of expanding the boundaries of cinema beyond imagination was severely punished by the industry and the public. He is more like Prometheus who stole the flame of fire and was punished by the gods. Nevertheless, Gans continued to produce films, returning again and again to Napoleon, who was misunderstood. In the last days of Gans’ life, he would wander around the Latin Quarter inhabited by the marginalized. There he remained passionate about cinema, perhaps they alone could understand him and his works. The price that “Victor Ugo Screen” paid to enter the Temple of Arts was exorbitant and expensive, but he made his eternal mark there, and today we are waiting for “Napoleon” again.

Subscribe to «News» on YouTube Here


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here