5-1/2 hours of Napoleon

Just got back from seeing the most recent version of Napoleon, screened at the Paramount theater in Oakland as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. 3000 enthusiastic movie-goers, Carl Davis conducting a 48-piece orchestra with his score–very nifty. Hell, by the end of it I was ready to enlist and follow Albert Dieudonne anywhere.


(after 13 years, my first OP)

I’m so jealous! What a wonderful thing to witness. I’m very very happy for you. I hope they do something similar in Chicago, that doesn’t cost a week’s salary.

I did my own retro thing on Saturday. A Monster Marathon at the Portage theater, featuring the original films Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, Creature From The Black Lagoon and, ha, John Carpenter’s original Assault On Precinct 13. There was a 6th, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but I skipped it because I saw it in the theater a couple of years ago as part of a Quentin Tarantino retrospective, and it’s too silly. I wish they’d shown The Bride of Frankenstein instead. Still, how glorious and fun to see all those old classics on the big screen. It’s hard to imagine how they were so shocking to the original audiences, but I tried.

I, too, am jealous! Everything I’ve read about Davis’s presentation has said much the same - ‘outstanding’, ‘phenomenal’, ‘transcendent’. I can only begin to imagine . . .

Paradoxically, part of my jealousy stems from seeing (and hearing!) Francis Ford and Carmine Coppolas’ version in the early 80’s. That was an experience. Yet, Davis’s version (and vision) is said to put the Coppolas’ to shame. It must be absolutely spectacular.

I saw it when this most recent version was premiered in London in 2004. The most striking thing was that the audience was already ecstatically applauding during the closing credits, while the live orchestra was still playing. Which hardly mattered because that became a standing ovation when the music finally stopped.

The snowball fight is magnificent and the last section is just completely overwhelming. But the love story with Josephine doesn’t half drag on…

I saw it on the 24th. There are a dozen reasons “Napoleon” should be a disaster but none of them matter, it’s the most impressive movie presentation ever. The audience was ecstatic in way that doesn’t happen even for live theater or concert performances.

I had a “cheap” seat in the second row but that made the Polyvision finale all the more overwhelming and the presence of the live orchestra all the more exciting.

The orchestra sounded great. After you fit all the required brass, woodwind and percussion into the pit that doesn’t leave much room for string players, but the string ensemble was first rate.

To misquote John Waters, “The best movie ever made, the best movie that ever will be made.”

I’m sure I will see enjoyable movies after this but all will be trifles after “Napoleon”

It makes me sort of upset that they aren’t even planning on a DVD release of it. They’ve released the triptych finale on DVD somehow before, so that’s not that big a deal (of course it won’t be the same as live but DVD never is). The score is a bigger problem, but recording it live during one of the performances could take care of that.

I love Carl Davis’ music! I saw *Napoleon *on TV years ago, which is akin to seeing Titian’s portrait of Henry VIII on an Etch-a-Sketch, of course.

Oh man, I’m so jealous. I read about this new version in the NY Times a couple of Sundays ago and started salivating at the prospect of seeing it. Alas, this won’t be happening around here.

The music was phenomenal, a great combination of score, musicians, and site acoustics. It didn’t hurt that when Davis quoted from “Eroica” it was worked into the action on the screen so perfectly that it made you think Beethoven had been watching the movie while writing. (Not to take away from the original material, which was terrific.)

A question about the 80s version. In the FAQ about this version, it states that this one is an hour and a half longer than the earlier one, and that “about 50% of the extra running time is due to additional footage; the balance is the result of showing the film at the correct, slower speed.” How noticeable was the speed? Did it have that frenetic quality from off-speed projection?

In the current production that I saw there were still some shots that seemed over-fast although not comically so. There are long stretches of the movie where no one moves very fast, so possibly a 24fps showing would still be acceptable but maybe not ideal.

One possible problem with the lower 20 fps I saw was the very noticeable projector flicker. There seemed to be some manual adjustment the projectionist was toying with at the beginning of the movie (I was there on the 24th) Eventually he settled for a dimmer image that had less flicker, than the most brilliant one that flickered badly.

The number of blades on the projector shutter would have a definite effect on flicker vs. brightness but I don’t know that such a thing can be changed while the film is running.

I seem to recall - and this may well be a selective memory - that the jerky, sped-up motion was definitely noticeable, but not distracting. It was almost charming, or innocent, and simply made me appreciate more the monumental effort that it represented for the times.

Did they actually have three screens set up for the triptych scenes?

I saw Abel Gance’s Napoleon at the Blue Mouse theater in Salt Lake City (Now, sadly, gone, along with its weekend midnight screenings of Rocky Horror). The screen was nowhere near wide enough for the three-camera Cinerama -before-Cinerama, and the image bled off the screen on both sides and onto the adjoining walls. One of these days I’d like to see it in a theater big enough to accommodate it.

Here’s a link to one news report that has a number of good photos that show how they set things up.

Back then I saw it in Kansas City, at the Midland theater, with Coppola, the orchestra, and the original director, who at the time was still alive. I think he was 91. What a fantastic film it was, but I haven’t seen it since.

I think you have your dates wrong, because I was at the London premiere of this version, and that was definitely in 2000 (with Kevin Brownlow & Carl Davis in attendance, of course).

Living in Oakland, I would’ve loved to go back again but the price was out of my league, and since I had seen it already (and was sick this past weekend), I’m content with the memory. A fantastic film and a truly great experience. I’m glad the OP got a chance to catch it!

Could a kind soul clue me in on what version this is? I gather from the OP that this is a remade version of an old silent film version about Napoleon, with a live orchestra, is this correct? I vaguely remember seeing a silent film about Napoleon on TV when I was ten or so, which was about, oh 25 years ago, with a snowball fight scene (someone putting rocks in snowballs, I remember I found that somewhat unsporting :slight_smile: ) Is that the version which has been remade? (I believe that was a French production, but not sure at all on that part…)

You are probably thinking of the Napoleon we are talking about.

The version I saw in the 1980’s was 4-1/2 hours long, because at the time that was all there was of the approximately 6 original hours.

When I saw this thread I was thrilled, because apparently more of the film has either been found or restored.

When I saw it Abel Gance, the director, was still alive and able to see his film living again. Francis Ford Coppola had a score composed for it and the movie toured all around the country. I gather from this thread that new music has been written.

It’s not a remake, it’s THAT movie, but now with more missing footage restored and presented as can never be done on TV or DVD.

A bit slow in responding, but cheers for the replies - this thread has made me go on the hunt for this flick, now I want to see it again :slight_smile: Maybe the live show will even make its way to my neck of the woods.