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I originally wanted this to be an entry in The Professor's "What Did You Watch Today" thread, but I bumped into the character limit for replies, so I'm giving it its own thread. Given the magnitude of this, it is perhaps more fitting after all.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the U.S. Premiere of the latest Kevin Brownlow restoration of Abel Gance's silent epic Napoleon, a 5 1/2 hour beast of a movie, that is characterized by its spectacular finale, a "triptych" that consists of three regular movie screens side-by-side with images being projected onto all three screens at once (by three separate projectors, that have to be synchronized with each other), resulting in a massive widescreen that dwarfs pretty much anything ever made (regular widescreen today has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Napoleon ends with an aspect ratio of 4:1, almost twice as wide as what is standard today). One of the reasons this is not out on DVD is this insane finale that simply has to be seen to be believed! At times it has one image across all three screens, at other times it displays three different images, giving it an intensity that, combined with the immersive effect of the large screens, surpasses anything I've ever experienced! This was without a doubt the greatest cinematic experience I have ever had...

It was a dark and stormy night... Okay, so it was just a rainy day in Oakland (welcome to NorCal!)Napoleon plays at The Paramount Theatre, a place which I shamefully admit I'd never been to before. It's a beautiful place with absolutely stunning interiors.

This is what you see, coming in:

This is the first thing you see as you enter the theater, the stair up to the balcony. If you turn around and look back at where you came in from, you'll see this:

Leaving the lobby, you enter a corridor with entrances into the theater room itself:

And then the "sanctus sanctorum":

(This picture, not by me, is actually taken from the stage, but I just wanted to show you how exquisite this place is.)

I didn't take any pictures during the movie (I didn't want to risk getting kicked out, that's for sure!), so instead I'll give you the trailer and a couple of pictures taken after the movie:

The trailer actually shows what the triptych looks like, only in a very small format that doesn't even come close to the actual experience. Even this still, taken from the finale, doesn't really give you a fair idea of just how massive the triptych is because it gets shrunk so much to fit the computer screen:

(The blurred vertical lines you can sort of glean around a third into the image from each side is where one screen ends and the other begins.)

The silent movie was accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by Carl Davis who also composed the score (the music you hear in the trailer is the "Napoleon theme") and it is an outstanding score, using elements from La Marseillaise, Eroica, Rule Britannia and more.

Before the movie started I took a picture of the orchestral pit:

As you can see there isn't much room - and there are no drums of any kind. After the movie was over I briefly chatted with the audio engineer and he told me that they had 5 musicians located on the stage, behind the screens, who had video feeds of the conductor, audio feeds of the orchestra and could see the movie on a 42 inch display, so everything was live. The movie has a scene where there's a hurdy gurdy player, and the engineer told me that they had a miked-up real hurdy gurdy player who mimicked the finger movements of the person on the screen.

Here's a picture of the triptych as it looked from my seat after the showing was over:

(The triptych is so wide it didn't even fit into the viewer of my shitty 16:9 camera)

Another pic of the triptych, taken from further away:

And a third view of the triptych from the balcony, posted onto Twitter(not by me):

As you can see in the pictures above, the two extra screens are angled, and they are actually "fed" by projectors that are on the opposite side of the room, so the blue image on the left, comes from the right-most of the three projectors and the red image on the right comes from the left-most projector, while the (main) screen in the middle comes from the central projector (so the three image "beams" cross each other on the way from the projector to the screen).

The projection booths for this showing were custom built. In the image of the Paramount interiors above you can see how there's a projection room near the roof, but for this movie, they built a central projection booth on the ground level, with 2 smaller projection booths on the sides:

The central projection booth and below is one of the two extra projection booths, that were only used during the triptych finale:

Napoleon is a movie that goes from being very good to being out-of-this-world spectacular! with the triptych ending. If you are in the SF Bay Area, if you are in California, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!!! There are 2 showings remaining: March 30th and April 1st, 2012 and that's it! Read more and buy your tickets here.

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Wow, that sounds exciting!  I'm envious!

The screen and process reminds me of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.  (I was lucky enough to see the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey there.)

Lucky S.O.B.!! Was it sold out? How does it compare to the old cut version? It's gotta come to New York. For anyone unfamiliar with this much anticipated premier:



Was it sold out? How does it compare to the old cut version?

No, it wasn't(!!!).

It's 330 minutes compared to the 1981 Coppola version's 235 minutes. However, when you takes into account that the Coppola version played the movie too fast (24 frames/second vs. 20 frames/second), there's "only" about 35 minutes extra footage. And of course this one plays with Carl Davis' score, not the Carmine Coppola score.

It's gotta come to New York.

No further screenings are planned.

Shite. Looks like a once in a lifetime event, Knalds. Glad someone here saw it. What were some of the more memorable moments (if you don't mind running down a few)?

There's a magnificent snowball fight (with a kid Boney) that's outstanding (hand-held shaky cam and all), a pillow fight that has first 4 then 9 separate images on the screen (like a checkerboard). There's a scene from the French National Convention where there's a ruckus with the camera placed on a swing and it swoops down and up (and back) over the crowd while still tilting the camera down, so we keep watching the crowd and there are some spectacular horse-riding chase scenes that were clearly shot on a horseback (the camera shakes in a way that give it a way).

The tinting is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous (yellow, green, orange and of course red and blue, giving the tricolore effect for part of the triptych) and the, at times, rapid editing, fadeovers, montages and unexpected camera positions. During one of the battles depicted in the movie, a brief cut has the camera mounted on a cannon that fires, and you see the recoil from the perspective of the cannon, an eerie effect where everything suddenly moves except for the cannon barrel.

But the triptych is obviously the main "thing" about the movie, it's hard to describe just how overwhelmingly powerful an experience it is. At times Gance uses images 1/8 second in duration and your brain is so busy just absorbing all the imagery that it feels like you're a couple of seconds behind in interpreting or "processing" what's going on. Gance basically manages to overload your sense of critical analysis (your consciousness, if you like) and you just have to surrender and take in what your eyes are seeing.

There's a magnificent snowball fight (with a kid Boney) that's outstanding (hand-held shaky cam and all), a pillow fight that has first 4 then 9 separate images on the screen (like a checkerboard).

Yes, I remember the snowball fight from a screening I attended some years ago. Rather absurd that in such an illustrious life a snowball fight should be one of the highlights. I never thought of this before but perhaps the fight is some sort of precursor (foreshadowing?) of the fate of Napoleon (did it snow at Waterloo?). I remember the chase scenes but I hadn't thought of the movement of the camera reflecting a rider's perspective. Interesting.

Of course, I haven't seen the fully restored version but the Marat murder sequence always stands out in my as the most effective - the entire "terror" portion of the film, actually. Is this section extended in the restored version? 

The tinting is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous...

Well, I'm glad it worked for you. Tinting is an anathema in my book. It's akin to strobe lighting or 3D. Why????? The other effects reflect what I saw in the edited version, which as you say, are very effective. But I've never understood the impetus for directors/editors to suddenly flood the screen with a crude monochrome. Heinous.

But the triptych is obviously the main "thing" about the movie...

That seemed to be the rage in that day - the big finish. Certainly, Griffith and Demille were fond of it, but it doesn't sound as if they accomplished a finish of this magnitude. Must have been something. Birth of A Nation ends with a comparable (??) sweeping  visual and emotional flourish (despite its moral reprehensibility), employing techniques that as you point out "manages to overload your sense of critical analysis". Almost. But I don't remember the triptych as much in Birth (Griffith uses it more in Intolerance) as I remember the timely cutting technique. Does Gance using cutting to good effect in this version? 

Here's a pretty funny story about that 1981 presentation. I came across it in the comments section of a current SF Chronicle article:

Indeed, NAPOLEON with Carmine Coppola conducting was playing in San Francisco the day of the 49r's playoff win heading to the Super Bowl - however it was i the San Francisco Opera House (not Davies Hall). I know - I was playing the organ part in the score together with the orchestra. It was actually quite a funny performance in that most every male in the orchestra and audience was wired up to a portable radio . . . and the 49r victory happened just as Charlotte Corday plunged her dagger into Marat just after intermission and the start of Part 2 of the film during that matinee performance. In the cheering cacophony that erupted throughout the theatre the majority of the orchestra simply stopped playing and Carmine was left gesticulating wildly with his baton and calling out "What . . . What's happening?" plus "Play . . . Play!!!!" since the film was still running on the screen. It took a good couple of minutes before the cheering subsided and all settled down to continue watching the ongoing film . . . and another minute or so until the orchestra began playing again! Dennis James, NAPOLEON tour organist

Wow, Knalds, nice rundown. I've been so excited about this for so long!

You look to have been sitting near the right aisle in Orch Row J?  I think just about any seat in this theater would be good for this showing of Napoleon.

ACT I  1:30 – 3:30
ACT II  3:50 – 4:50
ACT III  6:45 – 8:35
ACT IV  8:50 – 9:40

It may be more than 5 hours of film time but you're committed to over 8 hrs for the full experience.

What did you have for dinner?  I'll be there next Saturday!

I was actually seated further back, row AA, aisle 4 (which is to the right). The central screen seemed a little small, but once the triptych starts you're just overwhelmed by images no matter where you sit.

Every restaurant in the area was overflowing with people, so I ended up going for a nice big sandwich from "Ike's Lair" (across the street and a block or two North) and washed it down with a latte from the Starbucks on Grand Ave (I never go to Starbucks, but when its raining and you need a caffeine fix...). Napoleon people were everywhere, it was kinda fun to see. If you're thinking of dining at a restaurant, you should make reservations, just to be on the safe side.


I had the pleasure of seeing this film in 1981

at the RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL  It seems like it

was ages ago, that is because it was ages ago,

I can barely remember any of it.  

Here's a slideshow with pictures of some of the preparation for the showing.

Heyo, Criterion Collection mentions the return of Napoleon... I wonder if that's an indication of a future DVD/Blu-Ray release (even though no release can possibly even approach the impact and effect of the triptych on the big screens)?


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