The presentation of Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON this Saturday at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, dwarfs any previous experience that I’ve ever had in a movie theatre. I have never seen a film of such epic scale with the most amazing attention to authentic historical detail within a beautifully characterized story of a man destined to change the world. NAPOLEON is truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Words are inadequate to describe my pure joy of taking in five and half hours of a restored classic that the great Kevin Brownlow spent much of his professional life restoring. Kevin is an incredibly gifted, humble man whose lifework is to share his appreciation of silent films with the rest of the world.
On a personal note, Kevin Brownlow graciously shared some of his archival information with me some time ago for my ongoing bio of Michael Curtiz after I met him when he was in Los Angeles to receive his Honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. Kevin is simply a prince of a fellow.
There was also the beautifully rich musical score written by and conducted by Carl Davis with the Oakland East Bay Symphony. (Can you imagine a seamless film score conducted by a seventy-odd year old man and played live by the same orchestra for almost six hours!) Watching NAPOLEON in Oakland’s Paramount, the most impressively restored, beautiful art deco movie theatre I’ve ever seen, was an approximation of heaven.
Seminal moment: When the final reel of the film shot in Gance’s revolutionary widescreen Polyvision format commenced and the curtains pulled back to reveal two additional screens with simultaneous projection of three reels arrayed in a horizontal row on three screens, the audience gasped and then exploded with cinematic shock and awe. I felt like a flower was opening up inside me. It was magnificent!
NAPOLEON is more than an epic film. It is a life-enriching event. I encourage everyone who can make it up to the Paramount in Oakland next weekend to do so. NAPOLEON in this venue is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Kudos to Kevin Brownlow, Carl Davis and everyone who made this event occur. Particular praise must go to the San Francisco Silent Film Society who oversaw a project requiring the creation of two additional projection booths with the overall cost of presenting this film on two weekends estimated at $700,000. Bringing NAPOLEON to the U.S. took a lot of courage. A singular instance of the desire to promulgate art trumping fiscal bean-counting and corporatism. Bravo!