Sunday, April 15, 2012

Napoleonic Optimism

I forget exactly how I first came across Abel Gance's "Napoleon", but I do remember how I fell in love with it; by reading Kevin Brownlow's book. He chronicles the pre production, production and exhibition of, in my opinion, one of the greatest cinematic achievements ever - an opinion I formed from the book alone! The innovation in the project alone is breathtaking.

Thought lost for decades, Mr. Browlow slowly and painstakingly put together as close of a restoration as possible (now clocking in at almost 6 hours!) - a restoration that was screened just a week or so ago in this country. Being unable to attend - even suggesting to the promoters that the screening be streamed online - I started, as I had when I first finished the book, dreaming about an appropriate home video release.
Some years ago, it was almost impossible to think that a Criterion DVD of "Napoleon" would be released, considering the legal trouble between Francis Ford Coppola - who assisted with a version in the early 80's - and Brownlow over their respective cuts. But, considering the recent screening event being green lit by both parties, I think we may be closer than ever to watching a complete set of the film at home. Consider also the following from an interview with Brownlow on

ML: In other words, there has been a rapprochement between all parties. 
KB: Yes, well the idea is that the Coppola version will be upgraded with our material and eventually we hope that our version will be on DVD. 
ML: On Bluray ?
KB: Yes.
ML: Hopefully this will be with the Carl Davies score. Has there been a compromise with the Carmine Coppola score?
KB: No! That will always be on their version.
ML: But they have given permission to release both versions?
KB: I think that the idea is that both versions will be available but, God, it is taking a long time.

And this little nugget from a NYTimes article:

"Mr. Harris agreed with the characterization of the festival screenings as a kind of a test run for the digital restoration, which suggests that he and Zoetrope (Coppola) have plans for future exploitation, including, maybe, a DVD and Blu-ray."

Sure, I've read a few articles where Brownlow suggests - and flat out says - that no DVD release is planned, but I refuse to accept that as the final answer. I think that the ultimate goal here ought to be in bringing the film to the attention of as many movie lovers as possible. If money is an issue, would a kickstarter like campaign be too naive?

I'm not trying to suggest that viewing the film - especially the grand triptych finale - on a TV would be the same as seeing it in a theater with a live orchestral performance; because it's not. And I understand that there is still some footage that has yet to be recovered. But, if "Metropolis" - a film that equally deserves theatrical presentation and also has some footage missing - can get a home video release and thus be enjoyed by just about anybody...

Will a Blu Ray/DVD release of "Napoleon" ever happen? I'd like to think so.

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