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.