Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Abel Gance's Napoleon

In the Comments under the previous post an interesting conversation has begun to develop about arthouse - or as Mark prefers it, art house - cinema. In the course of it we started talking about sheer length and the priorities of commercial production. I don't want to say much now about Gance's five and a half hour film, Napoleon (1927) just to put up three clips, the first of them being ten minutes from the actual film. It is the snowball fight scene from Napoleon's childhood.

The second is Kevin Brownlow talking about Gance's film, Brownlow having assembled a longer version and slowed it down so that the silent film moves more naturally. It is, I think, Brownlow's version with Carl Davis's music that was shown on TV, in episodes, some years back. It blew me over. I thought I had rarely seen anything so beautiful in cinema. Brownlow's own enthusiasm is clear.

The third is a personal, critical view, not of Napoleon but of another, earlier, Gance film, one that Brownlow refers to above as an influence on Eisenstein and others La Roue (1922 or 1923) by Kristin Thompson.

She is tough on his melodrama, but who wasn't melodramatic in the Twenties? Melodrama can be extraordinarily purgative as well as grossly sentimental. I also think it is a being a bit sneaky to attack someone for a minor work that seems to be a preparation for a greater one. But let that go... Do watch.

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