FILM by Shane “It’s A Three Part Series” Hnetka
So part two of my look at Napoleon begins. To recap, Napoleon is a 1927 silent film by Abel Gance. It’s innovative and really long. Over the decades, the movie was shortened and otherwise tampered with.
And that’s when Kevin Brownlow enters the picture.
A Lifetime Assembling A Puzzle
Kevin Brownlow is a British film historian and the only film historian to ever receive an Academy Award for his work. He has written several books about silent films — his most famous is The Parade’s Gone.
Brownlow has also made documentaries about silent films, as well as directed a couple of movies.
Brownlow first discovered Napoleon as a kid in the 1950s. It started his love of silent movies and it also became a passion project for him. He wanted to restore the movie to its former glory. Brownlow befriended Napoleon director Gance, and in his spare time spent a huge chunk of the ’60s and ’70s going through film archives and reassembling the movie. In 1979 he screened a four-hour, 55-minute version of the film with a score by Carl Davis at Colorado’s annual Telluride Film Festival, with Gance in attendance.
And that’s where Francis Ford Coppola enters the story. Coppola bought the American distribution rights, re-cut Napoleon to four hours (played at a faster film rate) and had his father, Carmine, compose a new score for the movie that they screened with a live orchestra for several screenings in 1980. Coppola would release this version on VHS.
But Brownlow didn’t stop restoring Napoleon, and we’ll pick up on his efforts March 17 in the thrilling conclusion to this three-part series.
Phantom Of The Night
“Death is not the worst thing. There are things much more horrible.” The Regina Public Library Film Theatre has been screening German Expressionist movies on the first Thursday of the month since January. It started with the brilliant The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and February brought the 1922 horror film Nosferatu. March has Werner Herzog’s excellent 1979 remake of this F.W. Murnau classic.
Herzog’s Nosferatu featured Klaus Kinski as Dracula, Isabelle Adjani as Lucy Harker and Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker. Kinski had previously starred in Herzog’s masterpiece Aguirre, the Wrath of God and would go on to star in a total of five of Herzog’s movies despite legendarily fighting with the director constantly (although Kinski was well-behaved for the most part in this production).
F.W. Murnau didn’t have the rights to Bram Stoker’s Dracula when he made Nosferatu and changed the names and the plot to try to avoid a lawsuit with Stoker’s widow (the attempt failed). When Herzog made his remake, Dracula had fallen into public domain, so he restored the characters’ names while still following Murnau’s plot.
Nosferatu is excellent and eerie, and an fine companion to Murnau’s masterpiece.
Shane Hnetka is a professional film and comic book nerd.