NAPOLEON (1927) – Carl Davis conducts the Oakland East Bay Symphony

Sean Martinfield Arts Contributor

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s legendary silent epic NAPOLEON in its complete restoration by Academy Award-winning historian, documentarian, and archivist Kevin Brownlow, in four special screenings at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on March 24, 25 and 31 and April 1, 2012. The screenings also mark the U.S. premiere of the orchestral score by composer Carl Davis, who will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony. The Davis score may be the longest continuous film music ever composed and conducted. The occasion marks the first time in nearly 30 years since NAPOLEON has been screened in America, in any form and with full orchestra.

napoleon-e28093-directed-by-abel-gance-1927NAPOLEON – Directed by Abel Gance (1927)

The SFSFF’s spectacular presentation at the 3,000-seat, Art Deco Oakland Paramount will be climaxed by its finale in “Polyvision” – an enormous triptych, employing three specially-installed synchronized projectors, that will dramatically expand the screen to triple its width (25 years later, the American process Cinerama would employ a very similar system). Each screening will begin in the afternoon and will be shown in four parts with three intermissions, including a dinner break. Click here to purchase tickets on-line: NAPOLEON

The Brownlow restoration, produced with his partner Patrick Stanbury at Photoplay Productions in association with the BFI, is the most complete version of Gance’s masterpiece since its 1927 premiere at the Paris Opéra. The is undoubtedly the U.S. film world’s most long-anticipated event: because of the enormous expense and technical challenges of properly presenting the epic film, it has taken Brownlow and company three decades to mount American screenings with the magnificent Davis score, which has previously been performed only in Europe.

albert-dieudonne-e28093-as-napoleonALBERT DIEUDONNÉ – as Napoleon

pierre-batcheff-e28093-as-general-lazare-hoche-center-2nd-from-leftPIERRE BATCHEFF – As Général Lazare Hoche (center, 2nd from left)

A four-hour version of Napoleon was screened in the early 1980s at the Castro Theatre. Francis Ford Coppola sponsored this triumphant road show of the shorter version which contained its Polyvision finale and a score composed by his father Carmine. Kevin Brownlow, who last year became the first film historian ever honored with a special Academy Award, became fascinated with Gance’s film when still a schoolboy in London in the 1950s. “I was stunned by the cinematic flair,” says Brownlow. “I was exhilarated by the rapid cutting and the swirling camera movement. What daring! I had never seen anything comparable – and I set out to find more of it.” That determination led to a lifelong quest.

director-abel-gance-and-kevin-brownlow-1967Director Abel Gance and Kevin Brownlow, 1967 (Photo, Photoplay Productions)

The first major Brownlow/BFI restoration culminated in a screening at Telluride Film Festival in 1979, with 89-year-old Gance watching from a nearby hotel window. Under the auspices of Coppola and Robert A. Harris, a version of this restoration ran at Radio City Music Hall and other venues in the U.S. and around the world in the early 1980s. Brownlow did additional restoration work in 1983.

antonin-artaud-e28093-as-marat1ANTONIN ARTAUD – as Marat

The current restoration reclaims about 30 minutes of footage culled from archives around the world and visually upgrades much of the film. This unique 35mm print uses the original dye-bath techniques, accurately recreating the color tints and tones of the initial release prints and giving a vividness to the image as never before experienced in this country.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival was founded in 1994 to demonstrate the artistry, diversity, and enduring cultural value of silent movies, and to make sure these rare and vulnerable films remain accessible to current and future audiences. Today, SFSFF is an internationally recognized presenter of silent film with live music, renowned for the artistic and technical quality of its presentation, and for its masterful blend of art, scholarship, and showmanship. The organization produces the largest annual silent film festival outside of Italy, which has become a destination for filmmakers, historians, archivists, and other industry professionals and continues to attract thousands of film fans every year. While its annual July festival remains its flagship event, the SFSFF now hosts “live cinema” productions throughout the year. NAPOLEON is its most ambitious undertaking yet.

Founded in 1988, Oakland East Bay Symphony is a critically acclaimed community-focused regional orchestra dedicated to serving the diverse population of the East Bay. It has gained regional and national recognition for its unique convergence of artistic excellence, community service and education programs. Under the artistic leadership of Maestro Michael Morgan, OEBS reaches over 60,000 people annually, with more than one-third of its operating budget dedicated to education and outreach programs. On the concert stage, OEBS has become an important positive force in bringing together the talents and resources of diverse artists, performing arts organizations and audiences from throughout the Bay Area.

Composer/conductor Carl Davis (CBE) was born in New York in 1936 and came to the U.K. in 1960. Davis is a true music-maker and all-round musician, as both conductor and composer. He has changed the face of concerts as we know them, making classical music both accessible and varied and is a consummate showman and entertainer. His career has spanned many genres, from silent film performances to his popular themed concerts such as ”An Evening with James Bond” and “Oscar Winners”. He is perhaps most well known for his music for television including the series The World At War, BBC’s Pride & Prejudice, ITV’s Goodnight Mr. Tom, and the award-winning film The French Lieutenant’s Woman. For over 30 years, he’s been a frequent collaborator with Kevin Brownlow, both as the composer of the soundtrack music for such acclaimed documentaries as Hollywood, The Unknown Chaplin, and Cinema Europe, and as the composer/conductor of such “live cinema” events as Ben-Hur, The Wind, Flesh and the Devil, and many others. He considers his Napoleon score one of his proudest achievements.


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