This silent film epic is screening in The Victoria Hall with a pre-recorded musical accompaniment. The film itself, directed by Abel Gance, is one of the outstanding achievements of European silent cinema. Epic well describes the over five hours which only take in Napoleon’s youth and early career. Gance and his production team, especially the lead cinematographer Cinematography by Léonce-Henri Burel, were in the vanguard of film technique in this period. In an early scene the mobile camera brings out the dynamism of young Bonaparte: and these techniques are paralleled on many occasions especially in a dramatic sequence in the French Assembly. The film makes extensive use of tinting and toning, reproduced in this version. Finally the film ends with a precursor of the Cinerama format, as the entry of Napoleon’s army into Italy is presented on three screens in a magnificent panorama.
The film has been transferred to a digital format. So whether this will be equal to the thrill of 35mm presentations has to be seen. However, Kevin Brownlow, who painstakingly restored the film over many years, made the point that it will look better than on the 9.5 mm gauge in which he first viewed it. And it will certainly look better than on a Blu-Ray or DVD. On the large screen at the Town Hall, 12 metres across, the framing will be about 27 by 20 foot. And the final triptych has been folded into a 2.39:1 frame, stretching across the entire screen. Added to this, the score that Carl Davis composed to accompany film screenings, based extensively on music contemporary to the time, will be in 7:1 Dolby Surround Sound, and the Town Hall has good acoustics for music.
The film falls into three parts, though this screening has three intervals, so I am unsure where they will fall. Still, if you have never seen Napoleon on the big screen then this is a cinema must.