Monday, February 13, 2012

A Napoleon FAQ


EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW 
ABOUT NAPOLEON 
(THE SILENT MASTERPIECE, THAT IS) 

People have been contacting us from all across the U.S. and even from overseas, looking for details about San Francisco Silent Film Festival's monumental presentation of Abel Gance's NAPOLEON at the Oakland Paramount in March. So we've put together some answers that we hope will shed light on your many questions about the event, the film itself, and how to make arrangements for the best NAPOLEON experience possible. For even more information beyond these FAQs - including trailer, videos, and much more - visit the new dedicated NAPOLEON page on our website. And check out the current issue of Vanity Fair (the Hollywood Issue), with an article by Martin Scorsese on Kevin Brownlow and SFSFF's NAPOLEON event! 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I saw this at Radio City Music Hall in 1981 and it was the greatest film experience of my life. Francis Ford Coppola's father, Carmine Coppola, wrote the music and conducted the orchestra. How will the Oakland screenings be different?

The version presented by Mr. Coppola at Radio City and later around the country was just under 4 hours. In the intervening 30 years, Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury's Photoplay Productions and the BFI have restored Gance's NAPOLEON to a more complete 5 1/2 hours and have upgraded the visual quality of much of the film.

The Photoplay/BFI restoration - a unique 35mm print - also uses authentic dye-bath techniques to re-create the color tinting and toning that enhanced the film on its original release, giving a vividness to the image as never before experienced in this country.

And a major new component for American audiences is the monumental score created by legendary composer Carl Davis. NAPOLEON has not been presented here with an orchestral score of any kind in nearly 30 years.

It can't just be these four performances in Oakland. This has got be leading up to something... a national concert tour perhaps?

No, these four performances at Oakland's glorious Paramount Theatre are it. No plans are being made to present the restored NAPOLEON in any other American city. The cost and technical challenges are just too daunting for most venues - and the sheer size of the three-screen Polyvision ending can be duplicated in only a handful of theatres. The technical requirements for presenting Polyvision alone-not to mention the enormous cost-make this something no one in the U.S. has been willing to tackle until now.

To do this elsewhere, Carl Davis would also have to work with a different symphony orchestra in every city - that's at least four solid days of rehearsal. And don't forget that each performance requires 5 1/2 hours of continuous music - a grueling schedule for any orchestra or conductor. 

What is Polyvision? And what are the technical requirements?

Polyvision was one of Abel Gance's greatest innovations: for NAPOLEON's finale, the screen dramatically expands to three times its normal width, for both panoramic views and montages of images. There has not been anything like it since: even the similar American process Cinerama, first presented 25 years later, never made such virtuosic use of its three screens.

To present Polyvision at the Oakland Paramount, three projection booths equipped with three perfectly-synchronized projectors must be specially installed, along with a purpose-built three-panel screen, which will fill the width of the auditorium. These technical requirements can only be handled by top technicians and a 3-person team from Boston Light & Sound is being specially brought in for the Paramount's installation.

Ok, so it's only in Oakland... But it's being presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Why not San Francisco itself? Why not the Castro Theatre? That's a great movie palace.

Indeed it is: it's where the San Francisco Silent Film Festival holds its annual festival in July. But it's NOT BIG ENOUGH for NAPOLEON! The Castro has no orchestra pit and not enough floor space to accommodate a 48-piece orchestra; it has 1,400 seats compared to the Paramount's 3,000; and, perhaps most important, its proscenium is way too small for the Polyvision ending.

The Paramount, perhaps the most beautiful Art Deco movie palace in the world, is the only theater in the Bay Area that's completely suitable for this huge event. It's easily reachable by all means of public transit and well worth the trip in itself.

So just how do we get there?

The Oakland Paramount is located at 2025 Broadway between 20th and 21st Streets in downtown Oakland. The Paramount is steps away from the 19th Street BART Station. To plan your trip on public transportation, visit BART or 511.org. For driving directions to the Paramount, please visit Driving Directions. There are several major parking facilities located near the Paramount. Visit Paramount for a map of the area.

The Bay Area is accessible to three major airports, Oakland International (OAK)San Francisco International (SFO), and San Jose International (SJC) . And out-of-towners can also visit Oakland.com for travel options.

We're coming in from out of town. Where should we stay?

Waterfront Hotel in Oakland's lovely Jack London Square is the official hotel sponsor for NAPOLEON. The Waterfront is offering discounted rates to NAPOLEON attendees. Visit their website  for accommodation details and reservations. To receive the discounted rates, enter the promo code PARAMOUNT2012 when making your reservation.

For information on other accommodations, including partner hotels in San Francisco, please visit our Event Information page. Downtown San Francisco is less than a 20-minute BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride away from the Paramount Theatre.

For additional questions about travel and accommodations, contact Lucia Pier at lucia@silentfilm.org or 415-777-4908 x1.

Hasn't this been presented with Carl Davis' score in Europe?

Yes, but the challenges are the same there and performances have been rare events. The restored NAPOLEON was last presented in 2004 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Has the restored version ever been on television or video?

No, the 5 1/2 hour version with Carl Davis' score has never been released on television or video anywhere in the world. The 4-hour version with the Coppola score has been shown on television in the U.S. and was released on VHS and laserdisc, but never on DVD in this country. 

But will there be a DVD and BluRay release of the restored version in the near future?

No. The cost of recording the 5 1/2 hour Carl Davis score is prohibitively expensive for the DVD/BluRay market... and of course you wouldn't have the dramatic Polyvision finale that you'll experience in the theater. The triptych would merely be letterboxed onto your television - no matter how big it is.

TCM is the event's "Official Media Sponsor." Does that mean it will be shown on TCM soon?

No, for the same reasons stated above and for other more complicated rights issues. However, TCM recognizes the importance of this event and is proud to support it.

It's 5 1/2 hours long? When do we eat?

All four performances begin at 1:30 in the afternoon. There will be three intermissions, including a 1 hour, 45-minute dinner break at 5:00 pm. A number of local restaurants are planning special NAPOLEON menus. Go to our Event Information page for further details.

I love the poster. Can I buy one?

Yes! The  SFSFF's NAPOLEON poster, created especially for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival by the well-known illustrator Paul Davis, will be available for sale at the Paramount on performance days. We are also offering them for sale online by mail order prior to the event. Go to SilentFilm.org to order yours today.

Are there any other events planned around the screenings?

Yes, on Friday, March 30, Kevin Brownlow will give an illustrated talk on his 5-decade crusade to restore NAPOLEON at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (visit PFA for more information).

The SFSFF is also holding a gala dinner - to be catered by a local celebrity chef -- in the magnificent grand lobby of the Paramount Theatre on Friday, March 23. Kevin Brownlow, Patrick Stanbury, Carl Davis, the Consul General of France, and other special guests will be attending. Visit SilentFilm.org for more information about the dinner and how you can support SFSFF.

Can I still get tickets?

Yes, but you better hurry. People are coming in from all over the world for this event and tickets are going fast. But there are still seats available for all four performances. Tickets can be purchased at the Paramount Oakland box office or online at SilentFilm.org.

But the tickets must be expensive, right?

Not for a music and film event of this magnitude. Tickets range from $45 to $120... and there are no bad seats. And by becoming a member of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, you can purchase greatly discounted tickets.

So why is the San Francisco Silent Film Festival doing this?

Why climb Mount Everest? Someone had to take it on!

2 comments:

  1. I really hope I'm flush enough to be able to come up and see this new cut. I will never forget seeing the Coppola version and count that event on the short list of my life's great moments.

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  2. If you are still undecided about attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's presentation of Kevin Brownlow's restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount on March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 - then check out this piece on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-gladysz/abel-gance-napoleon_b_1273020.html. Or, visit the SFSFF website for more info.

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