Sunday, September 18, 2011
My wife Chris and I go back a long way with Kevin Brownlow's restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927). Here's a mini-history of Mr. Brownlow's lifetime labor of love:
The first major Brownlow/BFI restoration culminated in a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with 89-year-old Gance watching from a nearby hotel window. Under the auspices of Francis Ford Coppola and Robert A. Harris, a version of this restoration, accompanied by a score composed by Mr. Coppola's father Carmine, was presented to great acclaim at Radio City Music Hall and other venues in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1980s. Mr. Brownlow and the BFI did additional restoration work in 1983.
Left out is mention of the American premier of the restoration with the tryptych (3 projector) finale, which to our great amazement and joy was held at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was co-ordinated by the Walker film curator Rich Peterson, who was a good friend. The projectionist was another friend, Rich Landry, who showed us in advance how he planned to synch the three 35mm projectors for the finale. Piano accompaniment was by Arthur Kleiner, former head of the music department at MOMA, who had retired to the Twin Cities.
My time guess for the event is January, 1980. I know it was winter because a blizzard was in full flurry. Abel Gance had been invited but the storm delayed his appearance at the screening itself. We met Mr. Gance at a reception in the Walker the next day. Film restorer Robert Harris attended, as did composer Carmine Coppola who saw the film he was about to score for the first time. We were enlisted to drive Carmine and his wife back to their hotel after the showing, things being a bit frantic what with the blizzard.
The film and event were unforgettable, which is why I have never re-watched Napoleon on video or TV. It did come out on VHS, but due to some rights disputes over that particular restoration with Coppola's score, it has never been issued on DVD.
Now Napoleon is coming back in what promises to be the cinematic event of a lifetime. Four performances only will be held in Oakland's Paramount Theater next March 24-25 and March 31-April 1. The screenings sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will 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. Full details of this once-in-a-lifetime event are HERE! You can also pick your own seats and order tickets today!
Fans from around the world have already made plans to attend. A late winter trip to San Francisco is not hard to take either!
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