There is no other movie like Napoleon. Abel Gance’s silent 1927 masterpiece is a truly legendary work of cinema, for which the director pulled out all the stops technically, experimenting with camera, screen width, and editing in ways that still blow the mind today. Gance’s original cut, shown over two days in Paris, is said to have been more than nine hours long. Various shortened versions showed all over the world after that premiere, but most of the original footage has long been lost.
The Oscar-winning historian Kevin Brownlow, who has been committed to reconstructing the film for decades, talked to us about Gance’s visionary filmmaking, on the eve of a handful of screenings of his latest, five-and-a-half hour restoration of the film, at the historic Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, March 24, 25, and 31 and April 1.