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Sunday, March 6th, 2005

Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON…and why I should have started writing this stuff down ages ago

I have lived in Los Angeles 4 1/2 years and I feel very fortunate to call this city home. There is a virtual “all you can eat” buffet of movie-going to be had here 7 days a week! I have taken full advantage of this every chance I’ve had. I frequent the Egyptian, LACMA, UCLA, the Nuart and many of the other specialty venues around town. I’m thinking that maybe I should just pack a toothbrush and sleeping bag and move into the lobby of the Aero. In the past several years I’ve seen some amazing stuff—rare silents at Cinecon, the 3-D film fest, UCLA’s Festival of Preservation, David Lean films at the Academy and so on. Being that I’ve seen some pretty rare and unique stuff, writing about it just makes sense. For the longest time, I just assumed that I’d remember everything. Then my friend asked me where I went for lunch today. I honestly could not recall. Point made. It’s time to write. The things I write in this blog won’t really be official essays or even full length reviews. It will just be my scattered and possibly rambling thoughts on the movies I see. I may look back on this years from now and cringe or it may serve to revive my memory at some point in the future (like tomorrow). Either way….here are my thoughts and opinions on my movie-going journeys across Los Angeles.


NAPOLEON (1927) Directed by Abel Gance
I have a theory that in Los Angeles if you wait long enough, you will get the chance to see just about any movie ever made somewhere on the big screen. I have heard about NAPOLEON for ages and wondered when I’d get my chance to see it. Fortunately in this case the wait wasn’t long. When I heard it would be playing at the Getty, I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a fascinating and epic film. In some ways Gance reminded me of Von Stroheim. Having just seen many Von Stroheim films in the LACMA series, his epic style is still very fresh in my mind. Gance employed just about every film technique under the sun (and available at that time) in the film. While the overall film was great, there are certain sequences that stand out in my mind more than the actual film as a whole. The snowball fight sequence in particular really stands out as a singular example of what Gance’s technique could achieve. The sequence is also important in that it lays the groundwork in the film for NAPOLEON’s future as a military leader. The montage is so hard for me to describe for some reason…tons of superimposition, clever camera work, extreme close ups of Napoleon’s face and eyes, reaction shots, snow flying, blood and all around bedlam filled the scene. It all had a very avant-garde feel to it much like the psycho dramatic trance films I saw in “Alternative Cinema” class in film school. Later in the film Napoleon meets Josephine at a wild party where the French are celebrating having survived the Revolution. Once again these same techniques are employed. Rapid shots of women’s bodies, booze and the overall decadent nature of the party create the mental effect of being a drunken and delirious guest there. The famous triptych finale in the film was interesting, but distracting at the same time. I found myself paying much more attention to the technical flaws (focus and the shots not quite syncing up) instead of being right there in the story. I also REALLY wish there would have been an intermission. I would have coughed up everything in my wallet for a cookie! The film ran almost 4 hours, but that didn’t bother me. There are some films that just need to breathe and need to take their time and that’s ok. We live in such an MTV era where most people have the attention span of a flea and can’t (or won’t) stomach anything that doesn’t move at an ultra rapid pace. Those people are just missing out.


This week as I was unpacking some books, I came across a copy of Kevin Brownlow’s book about the restoration of NAPOLEON. Perfect timing. Now having seen the film, I’m more curious than ever to read it. I also checked with Vidiots and they have a documentary on Gance and some of his other films as well. There are just so many films and filmmakers and things that I need to discover. If I live to be 100, I’ll never get to everything. There’s just no way, but I assure it will never be for lack of trying.

Written by Karie (site owner) on 03/06 at 12:32 AM

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