Napoléon (1927) - Silent Epic
Napoléon (1927) - dir. Abel Gance


The opening scene is of a snowball fight at the young Napoleon's school Brienne-le-Château. The use of a handheld camera and extremely quick cuts gives Napoléon a dynamism unique in silent films. It feels more akin to Aronofsky than Griffith.

Griffith is brought to mind however, when we see Gance's staged historical re-enactments. Maximillian Robspierre is given some dastardly sunglasses, but Gance stays close to David with the death of Marat.

Gance doesn't waste time with subtly. Napoléon's cinematic innovations don't disguise its operatic style and Wagnerian ambitions. This giantic epic film - 6 hours long originally - was meant to be only the first of 6 films about Bonaparte's life.

The version available to us is a 4-hour cut. More recent restorations add nearly two hours to the running time, but Francis Ford Coppola claims distribution rights and refuses to allow the film to be shown without his father's score.

The last scene of the film is perhaps more innovative than the first. Here, we get a triptych, meant to be shown on three seperate screens, standing side-by-side. This is usually accomplished through super-imposition and cross-fades. The effect here is powerful. We can fully feel the grand sweep of history.

Napoléon is #107 on the TSPDT 1,000 films list I'm blogging through.  I've now seen 397.