“Napoleon in San Francisco”
or “The Eagle of Destiny has landed”
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The 70mm Newsletter
and photographed by: Mark Lyndon,
Reception and Gala Dinner
Romain Serman Consul General Of the French Republic in San Francisco. Image
from home page of Consulat général de France à San Francisco.|
very special reception and Gala Dinner took place in the lobby of the
stunningly beautiful art deco Paramount Picture Palace in Oakland,
We celebrated on the eve of the first complete screening of ‘’Napoleon
vue par Gance’’ in the US on the 24th of March 2012.
We celebrated in the presence of M. Romain Serman, the Consul General of
the composer, conductor and arranger of the truly
monumental score, and the world’s leading film historians
Patrick Stanbury, of Photoplay Productions, who had made it all possible.
|More in 70mm reading:
Abel Gance’s "Napoleon"
Presented in “Polyvision”
"Napoleon" in Triptych was
an Absolute Triumph
Carl Davis Interview
Projecting “Napoleon” – une
pièce de resistance
Cinerama As Perceived By
Carl Davis' Blog
Consulat général de France à San Francisco
majestic Oakland Paramount, San Francisco was restored to its former
grandeur during the 1990s|
Toasts were proposed,
inspiring speeches were made and the champagne flowed.
Maestro Davis summed it all up when he reminded the guests of the moment
when he suddenly knew what Gance was after. During the battle of Toulon,
Napoleon orders his men to do the ‘impossible’ and turn the cannons round
‘‘Impossible n’est pas Français. !’
And so it proved, (in spite of the best efforts in the name of Health &
Safety by the Oakland Fire Department), history was made, and the
masterpiece was screened.
The Great Screening
full house in the majestic Oakland Paramount, San Francisco|
The Maestro’s inspired
choice of Mozart’s great ‘Little G minor Symphony’ No 25 to accompany the
opening sequences was not lost on Milos Forman when he made his own opening
sequences for the film "Amadeus" three years later. Moreover, never
forget that Gance’s seminal work was and remains an inspiration for all
those who aspire to turn the moving image into art.
American audiences love a feisty courageous but ultimately lonely young hero
who is up against it. The young Napoleon, played by the gifted Vladimir
Roudenko, won the west coast audience from the outset with his many trials
and battles at the military college at Brienne.
Revolutionary breakthroughs in camera techniques, which produced a fluency
never before seen and multiple imagery, pioneered by Gance and wonderfully
showcased in these sequences, continue to astound film makers as well as
audiences. Our Paramount audience were wonderfully astounded.
Davis conducting the symphony orchestra|
Gance was a keen admirer of
Wagner, translating his conception of total theatre into that of his own -
The brilliance, skill and astuteness of the score by Maestro Davis is
revealed at the first appearance of the Eagle of Destiny - a potent symbol
of Napoleonic greatness to come; this theme recurs at key points in the epic
narrative engaging and gathering emotion each time.
The measure of the greatness of this score is how well this point is
intuitively understood. The Eagle leitmotif and the wonderful variations
thereof underpin and underscore this film like no other.
The French Revolution - The Terror
The event that many historians regard as the greatest in history is firmly
placed at the heart of Gance’s "Napoleon". The French revolution has been
dramatised in many films, but surely never as searingly as this; both
filmmaker and score composer rose to the occasion.|
The reign of terror is
chillingly and eerily evoked through the operation of two instruments - the
guillotine and the hurdy gurdy. A wonderfully creepy performance by Edmond
van Daële as Maximilien Robespierre reveals his own desperate attempts to
soothe his terror of the guillotine by encouraging a hurdy gurdy player to
At this point Napoleon, now played by the charismatic Albert Dieudonné, is
seen as an unwilling witness to an atrocity exhibition – the Terror !
The Corsican scenes offer a
welcome but all too brief respite from events in Paris but, even here,
Bonaparte is to be pursued by sworn enemies. Escaping by sea into the arms
of a violent and raging storm, Gance intercuts this section with the tempest
raging in the National Assembly - at the point of highest drama he mounts
his camera on a swing hurtling into and out of the riotous Assembly !|
To this day, these sequences remain unsurpassed in their audacious and
breathtaking boldness. Gance took Danton’s dictum:
‘‘L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace !’’
to heart and dazzled cinema audiences thereafter.
The Battle of Toulon
orchestra sitting below the standard screen|
Gance’s version of the
battle of Toulon, has never been equalled in the long history of warfare on
screen. It is quite stunning (guess who wins !), but it is worthwhile noting
that, all the while, the magnificent score continues to shimmer and shine in
the skilful hands of Maestro Davis and The Oakland East Bay Symphony
Where lovers met …
At the victims’ ball, a
gorgeous creation of Gance’s art in itself, where victimhood was a trés chic
fashion accessory, the first historic meeting of the most famous lovers
since Antony and Cleopatra took place. Josephine, played by Gina Manès,
flirtatiously waves her fan and coquettishly quizzes Napoleon:|
‘’Which weapons do you fear most?’’
‘’Fans, Madame !’’
His subsequent attempts at wooing Josephine are deftly played to the hilt.
Here, Gance proves himself a master of light comedy.
Compassion and humour feature very strongly in Gance’s marathonic
Tenderness and humanity, which feature so prominently in this glorious
marriage of film and score never, ever descend into sentimentality.
Tristan Fleuri, a kitchen scullion played by Nicolas Koline, is a
wonderfully observed character who observes the fortunes of Bonaparte
throughout. He is an unashamed supporter from the days of the military
college at Brienne. His natural decency and warmth wins over the audience to
the noble cause of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Revolution enters Italy
pose of the three screens and a panorama from "Napoleon" - very well
projected by the Oakland Paramount team|
The glory of this film goes
on and on. Napoleon, on the eve of his invasion of Italy
enters the empty and ghostly chamber of the National Assembly. Confronted by
the ghosts of the revolution, once titans of the revolution and all consumed
by it, he is made to realise that the revolution will die unless he acts. He
must take the revolution outside the borders of France - into Italy; Gance’s direction of this scene is a masterly political drama, none finer.
Gance using Triptych technique to make a "painting" of images.
Notice Josephine’s face superimposed on the globe – an image Napoleon
carried with him.|
image in French colors of the Tricolore|
pitiful state of the Army that would carry out this historic task was
unflinchingly portrayed, but leavened with Gance’s deep compassion. The slow
movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was the perfect choice to
underscore this scene ; yet for all the misery of the Army of Italy there
was a growing sense in the audience that something truly stupendous was
about to happen; it did!
eagle of destiny is significant in that it depicts the central symbol of
Napoleon, (or a maguffin as Hitchcock called it!).|
The audience gasped audibly, then cheered
wholeheartedly when the screen opened up to reveal the world famous
‘Napoleon triptych’. The Eagle of Destiny had landed. The Eagle then flew in
complete triumph over all three screens. The triptych became a great
tricoleur, awesome! - here was history in the making, here was a real
Cinerama moment !
Suddenly it was all over. The Maestro put his baton down. The audience
roared their approval and rose to their feet as one. Many felt that it had
changed their lives; it had !
Paramount in Oakland, California|
Abel Gance's epic masterpiece together with the score by Carl Davis has
surely merited the ultimate accolade; that they be proudly placed amongst
the greatest achievements of mankind.
for the film in San Francisco|
interval where the company served refreshments included in the price of the
screen for "Napoleon" at the Oakland Paramount|| |
Triptych screen, with right and left angled a bit|
hours later, around 10 p.m., it is all over”. || |
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