From the archives: In cinematic form, Napoleon conquers all (2012)

July 18, 2012

The early reviews are in, and they are ecstatic.

In yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle writes “There is no other movie like “Napoleon,” Abel Gance’s 1927 silent masterpiece. There are other films, including silent films, that are equally great, but “Napoleon” is great in an entirely unique way, and the experience it provides – at times, akin to taking a drug – is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater.”

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan adds “At 9:40 p.m. Saturday, the near-capacity crowd at the 3,000-seat Paramount Theatre rose from the places it had settled into eight hours earlier and cheered a mighty cheer, the kind of full-throated, sustained roar not usually heard in a movie theater. The audience had just lived through one of the world’s great cinematic experiences….”

And earlier, in Saturday’s New York Post, Lou Lumenick exclaimed, “… it’s worth begging, borrowing and/or stealing to partake of — no hype here, honest — the film experience of a lifetime.”


Napoleon poster on display at the Paramount

The Twitter verse was equally a-buzz. (Is that a word?)

“Shattered all expectations ,” “Tremendous,” “Electrifying. Riveting,” “A blast,” and “a fantabulous epic” were just some of the tweets referencing the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s presentation of Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount.

Others tweeted “one of the great silent movies” and “totally / epic. Did not expect the / handheld camera!” And “I’ve never flown to another city just to watch a 5+ hr silent film…until today!” and “cinema event / of a lifetime today. no, / not the hunger games.”

In his article, Turan noted that individuals had flown in from Amsterdam and the Czech Republic for the screening. I knew of a few who came from England.

Toronto free-lance journalist Eric Veillette flew in from Canada for the event. Early on in the screening he tweeted “Even if abandoned after the snowball fight it wld still be the greatest 1 reeler ever made.” Near the film’s awesome finale, Veillette posted once more, “The moment the curtains revealed the tryptich, the gasp was in unison.” And after the five-and-one-half-hour epic had ended, he tweeted again, “At closing, the applause for @CarlDavisMusic was ferocious, but got louder when Abel Gance’s sig appeared on screen.”

The triple sized tri-color screen

The triple sized tri-color screen

The buzz on Twitter by individuals who have seen Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount has been as rhapsodic as the reviews of critics. Composer and conductor Carl Davis, who led the Oakland East Bay Symphony in a performance of his original score, himself tweeted, “Seeing children at the screening of #NAPOLEON gives me hope for the world.”

Another film buff tweeted yesterday, “In 6 hours, we will belong to the first of two groups the world is again divided into: those who have seen NAPOLEON, and those who have not.”

Two performances remain of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s presentation of the restoredNapoleon (1927). They take place at the Oakland Paramount theater on Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1st. For these remaining screenings, Davis will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony in a performance of his truly remarkable original score – a score which adds immeasurably to the experience of Napoleon.

There are no plans at this time to show this epic film again in the United States, and there are no plans for the film to be released on DVD or Blu-ray. Movie-goers in the Bay Area are fortunate that they have the opportunity to see this cinematic masterpiece at a local venue. Here, now, a great film is made great again.

More info about this special event, as well as remaining ticket availability, can be found at If you saw Napoleon over the weekend, please post your thoughts in the comments field below. What did you think?


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