Monday, September 24, 2012

36. NAPOLEON (1927)

Running Time: 235 minutes
Directed By: Abel Gance
Written By: Abel Gance
Main Cast: Albert Dieudonne, Edmond Van Daele, Alexandre Koubitzky, Antonin Artaud, Abel Gance


NOTE: With "Napoleon" we come to the issue of running time, yet again, as the film actually has a slew of different versions, each with different lengths. I managed to finally track this one down on the net, so I really didn't care which version I came across, I was watching it no matter what. Anyway, I found the 1981 reissue of the film by Francis Ford Coppola, which clocks in at nearly four hours. THE BOOK cites the film as 378 minutes, but also notes that as the running time of the original version, a version that's basically obsolete at this point. In 2000, film historian Kevin Brownlow restored the film, which clocked in at 333 minutes and a version that most people will tell you to track down, if you can find it, as it's essentially the most complete version that exists. In my case, I was just fine with Coppola's version. 

It's kind of cool that three years to the month since I started my journey through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book, I return to where it all started, the genre of silence. Ever since I saw and fell in love with Abel Gance's "La Roue" back in October 2009, I've been trying...and trying...and trying to track down his second and last feature from THE BOOK - "Napoleon". Last night, while making my umpteenth attempt at finding it somewhere on the net, a Google search paid off and got me one leap closer to journey's end.

I just wish it would have been good...

I didn't like "Napoleon" folks, not even the slightest little bit. Well, I take that back because, in fact, "Napoleon" started out with a glimmer of promise. We zoom in on Napoleon Bonaparte as a school age child, engaging in a snowball fight with his childhood enemies. Bonaparte as a child last about twenty-five minutes, before we're thrust into his adulthood and his military career. I'm not even going to get into the whole film and the full plot synopsis for the simple reason that I just spent four hours with this film and I can't even bear to relive it for five more minutes. My one saving grace is that I stumbled upon a version that was only 235 minutes and not a version that exceeded 300 minutes, for that may have literally bored me to death. "Napoleon" is LONG....too long, in fact and it drags like snail carrying a backpack full of bricks. I tried to imagine myself watching this film back in 2009, put into place between "The Jazz Singer" and "The Kid Brother" and asked myself, "Would I have liked it then?" "Do I just not like it because it's been so long since I've seen a silent film?" The answer was a resounding "no" on both accounts. "Napoleon" wouldn't have had a hope in hell of making my first TOP 20, no more hope than it has of making my sixth TOP 20.

The one thing I will give to Abel Gance and his filming of "Napoleon" is the innovation that was used and it didn't take a film historian to realize that Gance was using some techniques that were ahead of their time. Perhaps none more mesmerizing than the finale and the use of widescreen, as Gance used three cameras, setting up three side by side shots and creating a widescreen effect, a technique that he hoped would enhance the climax of his feature. Had I enjoyed the film more, I'm sure I would've literally been in awe of Gance's innovation. He uses some other editing techniques that you wouldn't give a second look to today, but that probably had audiences eyes popping in 1927.

RATING: 2/10  I'll give it two notches for innovation, but in reality it SHOULD get a '1' and probably will come RECAP time. I just didn't like this picture in the slightest.


September 24, 2012  12:36am

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