New York

Napoleon, Directed By Abel Gance

Zoetrope Studios And Image Film Archives

What becomes a legend most? In the case of Abel Gance’s 1927 Napoleon it’s the Francis Ford Coppola imprimatur, a 60-piece symphony orchestra, the Radio City Music Hall, and an audience with a $10–$25 investment in witnessing a masterpiece (albeit one shortened by 20 minutes and projected at sound, rather than silent, speed). Kevin Brown-low has devoted half his life to tracking down the various prints, reconstructing Gance’s four-hour-plus magnum opus, so it’s understandable that he would see it as the ultimate film: “The visual resources of the cinema have never been stretched further than in Napoleon. The picture is an encyclopedia of cinematic effects—a pyrotechnical display of what the silent film was capable of in the hands of a genius.” The fact is, though, that even as spectacle, Gance’s eccentric exercise in national chest-thumping is just not in the same league as Intolerance,

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