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Napoleon (1927) Abel Gance


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#1 John Drew

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 05:08 PM

One of the most unforgettable film experiences I've had was to see Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon in 1981, when it played in front of a live orchestra in San Francisco, presented by Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope Company, with a score by Carmine Coppola. However, I had no idea that this was a truncated version - only 235 minutes as opposed to the full 330 minute version. Brownlow had previously shown a fuller restoration (not the complete 330 minutes) of Napoleon, with a different score written by Carl Davis, at the Empire, Leicester Square in 1980 (there was also a showing at the Telluride Festival in 1979 - I'm not sure what score was used for that). This was followed by a more up to date restoration that was premiered at the British Film Institute in 2000, and then again at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2004, both of which used the Carl Davis score. But this, and other planned screenings of the full restoration with the Carl Davis score, have apparently been legally opposed by Francis Ford Coppola, who insists that because he owns the rights to Napoleon, only the version with his father's score should be presented to audiences.

This came up in a blog (O.T.S. Opinions on pop culture and stuff) by Matthew Levandoski, who writes an open letter to Francis Ford Coppola about Napoleon. In part, he writes...

Dear Francis Ford Coppola,

I am compelled to write this letter because it has recently come to my attention that your American Zoetrope company owns the rights to Abel Gance's 330 minute, triptych employing epic "Napoleon"(1927), which many would claim effortlessly takes it's place along side Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans”, Robert Weine’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” as one of cinema’s undisputed silent masterpieces. Sadly, a masterpiece that I, and countless other fine film lovers, have never had the chance and, one can only assume, the pleasure of seeing. All I can ask is: why?

From my research, I have gleaned that film historian/preservationist, Kevin Brownlow’s 1981 235 minute restoration was provided a musical score by your father, Carmine Coppola. But a man named Carl Davis composed a score for Brownlow’s full length restoration in 2000 and the subsequent screening by the British Film Institute. You legally opposed this screening, and every proposed screening since, because it didn’t include your father’s score, which happens to be 95 minutes too short. I have not listened to either score, but, even if I had, would not be so bold as to say which is the better piece of music, but surely, since your father has passed on, you would agree on the impossibility of Carmine’s score being amended to fit the more complete version of the film. And yet, that logic seems to make very little impact upon you, and the film remains in a certain type of limbo.

And so, Mr. Coppola, my confusion stems from this fact: your career seems to me to be the definition of passion for good story telling, and likewise the telling of good stories. You have either written, produced or directed(all three at times) some of my very favorite films, and evidenced by those films you seem to have a wonderful sense of value for the place that the art of cinema holds in history. But your stubbornness on this issue seems to prove otherwise. Personally, I can’t imagine living in a future world where films like “The Godfather”, “The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now” or one of your recent efforts “Youth Without Youth” were not available to the public for a silly reason like this. I would consider it a cultural disservice, in fact, and I am sure that you would be against the notion as well.


Now, I'm not too positive on how much research Mr. Levandoski has done into this matter. He doesn't provide links to any successful legal stoppages of the film, and very minor digging reveals that Davis wrote his score in 1980. But it is an impassioned plea. I did find one article about the 2004 screening in which Kevin Brownlow addressed the audience about the legal matters before curtain...

Before the screening, by way of a prologue, Brownlow explained to the audience that (Francis Ford) Coppola was attempting to suppress the five hour version in favour of his own abbreviated edition, comparing his actions to those of Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Apparently, Coppola's agreement with Brownlow required that the film be played with Carmine Coppola's score in the US and that score was tied to the U.S/Coppola version. Davis reported that this could be the last performance of his compilation score, since the Coppola family claim to owns rights to the film and only wish it to be shown with music composed by Carmine Coppola.



For all I know these issues have been resolved since the 2004 showing, and the reasons for Napoleon not being screened may be due to the enormous difficulties in presenting the picture. But it would be a shame if Napoleon hasn't had any subsequent screenings at 330 minutes due to the controversy over which score should be used.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 07 May 2010 - 11:12 AM.


#2 SDG

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 05:28 PM

Here's a synopsis of the state of the film and its different versions as I understand it (or understood it when I wrote my review):

Instead of a series of films, Gance wound up with a massive, incomplete epic, reportedly six and half hours in length originally, but slashed by American distributor MGM to less than an hour and a half for its 1929 US release. Due to this butchery — not to mention the burgeoning sound revolution — Napoléon was a stateside flop, and Gance was never able to raise the money to tell the rest of Napoleon’s story. In subsequent decades Gance kept tinkering with the film, producing versions ranging in length from 135 minutes to 275 minutes. The original six-hour silent epic, however, was thought lost, until a 1979 restoration reconstituting approximately two-thirds of the original film, painstakingly reassembled and restored by film historian Kevin Brownlow and featuring an original score by Carl Davis. Two years later, an edited version of this restoration was released in the US by Francis Ford Coppola — who had sponsored Browslow’s work — with a new score by Carmine Coppola, Francis’s father. Premiering in Radio City Music Hall, it was subsequently released on VHS.

Since then, Brownslow has completed at least two further restorations, the latest and best, his 2000 version, runs about 5½ hours. Unfortunately, due to Coppola’s exclusive US rights, this optimal version is unavailable in the US.



#3 Ryan H.

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:30 PM

I desperately want to see this film.

#4 Persona

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:35 PM

235 divided by 60 = 3.83333333333 etc.

330 divided by 60 = 5.5.

Hours.

Is there a potty break at live screenings?

#5 SDG

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 08:08 PM

I desperately want to see this film.

I've got a VHS set I could mail you, if you want.

#6 Ryan H.

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 08:14 PM

I desperately want to see this film.

I've got a VHS set I could mail you, if you want.

That would be wonderful! :)

#7 John Drew

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Posted 07 May 2010 - 11:07 AM

Terrific image from Wonders in the Dark
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An essay by Allan Fish at Wonders in the Dark, picks up the plea for Francis Ford Coppola to allow Napoleon be shown in its newest form, with Carl Davis' score.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 07 May 2010 - 11:16 AM.


#8 John Drew

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Posted 05 February 2012 - 10:09 PM

I wish I had heard about this last year, as I'm sure the best seats are probably already gone.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival announces today (July 14, 2011—Bastille Day) that it will present the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s legendary "Napoleon" in its complete restoration by Academy Award®-winning historian, documentarian and archivist Kevin Brownlow, in four special screenings at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1, 2012.

The SFSFF screenings also mark the U.S. premiere of the renowned orchestral score, written over 30 years ago (and twice expanded since), by Carl Davis, who will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony.


And this is with the cooperation of Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope. The rest of the story is here at in70mm.com.

235 divided by 60 = 3.83333333333 etc.

330 divided by 60 = 5.5.

Hours.

Is there a potty break at live screenings?


Each screening of the 5 1/2-hour epic will begin in the afternoon and will be shown in four parts with three intermissions, including a dinner break.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 05 February 2012 - 10:12 PM.


#9 SDG

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 12:26 AM

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival announces today (July 14, 2011—Bastille Day) that it will present the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s legendary "Napoleon" in its complete restoration by Academy Award®-winning historian, documentarian and archivist Kevin Brownlow, in four special screenings at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1, 2012.

It only took a dozen years since the completion of Brownlow's 2000 restoration.

Why, Francis Ford Copolla?

#10 Persona

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 12:47 AM


235 divided by 60 = 3.83333333333 etc.

330 divided by 60 = 5.5.

Hours.

Is there a potty break at live screenings?


Each screening of the 5 1/2-hour epic will begin in the afternoon and will be shown in four parts with three intermissions, including a dinner break.

Wow! Now THAT sounds like FUN!

Edited by Persona, 06 February 2012 - 12:48 AM.


#11 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 February 2012 - 10:43 AM

I might end up going to this.



#12 Tyler

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 03:43 PM

Criterion has a feature on Kevin Brownlow's restoration process for Napoleon.

#13 Timothy Zila

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Posted 24 March 2012 - 11:18 PM

Criterion better put this out soon. Otherwise they're just torturing me with this news.

#14 old wave

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 03:52 AM

If I can convince my wife to go, I'm going to see this on the 1st.

#15 old wave

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 12:45 AM

I couldn't convince my wife to go, but I went anyway. :) Amazing and epic. It took a day of my life, but it was a day well spent.


This effusive, somewhat inarticulate review is also entirely accurate: http://www.sfgate.co.../DDLD1NPQTM.DTL

Edited by old wave, 02 April 2012 - 12:45 AM.