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May 24, 1983 - Image 11

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1983-05-24

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ARTS

Page 11

Tuesday, May 24, 1983

The Michigan Daily

Revolution in film kills'Napoleon'

By Malcolm Robinson
T HE HISTORY of film .
has been marred, almost from its
very beginning, by the presence of lost
or butchered masterworks. These par-
ticular films had been screened and
then pulled from distribution - some
never seen b the public at large -
} usually because someone or other
judged them to be commercial failures.
Sometimes these movies resurface,
edited anew into a radicallly different
form, ready to pass into the lore of the
buffs and the critics. The films come
quickly to mind. There is the bulk of
Erich Von Stroheim's Greed and the
lost 43 minutes of Orson Welles' The
Magnificent Ambersons. Too, there is
Max Ophuls' Lola Montes which, thank-
fully, had most if not all of its lost
footage restored to it.
Only recently, the same sort of
reclamation accomplished with Lola
Montes has also been attempted with
yet another of the lost films, Napoleon,
Abel Gance's often breathtaking,
technically dazzling, silent epic. Sad to
say, the problems of this initially ac-
claimed film predate its completion
date of 1927. Writer-Director Gance, it
seems, had intended on creating not one
but a total of six films to tell the story of
Napoleon's life.
That he began to run out of money
early on will make sense to anyone who
notices the attention to detail and the
care lavished on the production. Spec-
tacular in its conception and daringly
innovative, Napoleon's great success
(as well as the praise earned for the
director's 3 screen Triptych process,
polyvision) led Gance to believe he had
succeeded in revolutionizing both the
making and the presenting of all future
motion pictures.
This was not to be the case.

The year 1927, though a significant
one in the history of film, is in no way
important for what occurred in France
during that year. It was in America,
only a short six months after
Napoleon's Paris premiere that Gan-
ce's masterwork was followed by The
Jazz Singer with Al Jolson; and with the
advent of the talking motion picture,
Napoleon was quickly shunted aside
and all its marvels were first forgotten
and then altered, shortened, mutilated
to make the film compatible for the
audiences of the '30s.
It is only through the dogged efforts
of film historian Kevin Brownlow and
the financial backing of Francis Ford
Coppola that this earlier travesty has
been undone so that Napoleon - in
practically its original form - could
have been brought to the general
public. Presented first on three screens
with full orchestra, the film has now
been placed into theaters minus both
orchestra and the multiple projectors.
How very ironic and sad it is, then, that
this new version is merely a caricature
of the one I'd seen in New York.
Simply put, by forcing the motion pic-
ture to conform to the wide screen ex-
pectations of modern audiences the
Zoetrope Co. have distorted the film's
imagery.Their act of arbitrarily cutting
off the top or the bottom of the frame
ultimately undermines the integrity of
Gance's artistic vision.
As harsh as this judgement may
sound, it is truly meant as a perhaps
minor caveat; for Napoleon, even in its
present incarnation, is a film of great
sweep and force and beauty and ought
to be seen. At the same time, it must be
said that this is not the great film some
have claimed it to be; Gance is too in
love with his subject - France - too
singleminded in his nationalism to
produce anything as nuanced as a
Sunrise or a Magnificent Ambersons. it

is difficult not to be torn in one's ad-
miration for the film.
Given the nationalistic fervor of the
film, it ought not be surprising that the
actors, for the most part, not only un-
derplay their parts but are also subser-
vient to the wizardry of the editing.
Even Albert Dieudonne, as Napoleon,
often has the impact that befits not a
title character but instead a member of

a cast of 1000's. As Saint-Just Abel Gan-
ce himself deserves mention - he is a
dapper, graceful figure. Unfortunately,
only one of the Triptych sections
remains - Gance destroyed the rest in
his despair - and, in its present for-
mat, the film can only hint and suggest
the kind of power the sequences have
when screened as they were meant to
be.

Renaissance riches

T HE MUSICIANS of Swanne Alley
are in town with their lutes, recor-
ders, tandoras (wire string bass lutes),.
citerns (renaissance ukeleles) and viols
(sixteenth century cellos).
Performing all sixteenth centurian
music, the six member ensemble will
give one concert tonight in the Pen-
dleton Room of the Michigan Union at S
p.m. before heading to the Boston Early
Music Festival.
They will play consorts by sixteenth
century British composer John
Dowland and some anonymous Italian
renaissance dance music.

Paul Odette and Christal Thielmann
of Rochester, New York were studying
in Boswell, Switzerland when they met
Lyle Nordstrom of Pontiac Michigan
who was on sabbatical. The three
decided to form an Elizabethan music
group upon their mutual return to the
U.S.
The other members are Patricia
Nordstrom, Lyle's wife, Emily Van
Evera, from England, and Ann Arbor
resident David Douglass.
The group also performs in England
and will tour the continent this fall.
-Ellen Lindquist

*The best freshly-made
quality sandwiches
on campus
*Fast, personalized service
eDaily specials -
oriental lunch box
*delicious egg rolls

315U S. Boarawalk (near Brnrwood) * 668-1545

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