Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The literature of Napoleon

For the upcoming presentation of Napoleon at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California - the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is creating a keepsake program. Once issued, it will become the latest addition to a small but distinguished body of work about Abel Gance's 1927 masterpiece. . . . as well as another reason to attend the event.

Here is a survey of some of the earlier books and programs about Napoleon (1927). They include the illustrated program issued when the film premiered in Paris; a commemorative program published by Zoetrope Studios in 1981 (around the time the first restoration showed in New York and elsewhere); Abel Gance's scenario and writings on the film published in book form in France in 1927; another French title, Napoleon: Epopee cinegraphique en cinq epoques, by Abel Gance which was published in 1991; Kevin Brownlow's book on the film - published in the United States and England in both softcover and hardback in 1983 - it was reissued by the BFI in 2008 with an accompanying audio CD; and Nelly Kaplan's book about the film - published by the British Film Institute in 2008. Except for the Nelly Kaplan book, each of these titles is out-of-print and/or otherwise somewhat hard-to get.


Above: the 24 page program for Abel Gance's epic film, produced for its world premiere at the Opera House in Paris in April, 1927. Its pages are lavishly illustrated with hand-colored stills. The last page shows the interior of the Capitol Theatre in New York City, where the film would have its American opening in 1928. Copies can sell fro more than $1000.


Above: published by Plon in 1927, this is Abel Gance's scenario for Napoleon. This rare French book features 32 stills from the film. Copies sell for hundreds of dollars.




Above: three different editions of Kevin Browlow's book on Napoleon, which contains more than 105 photographs and stills from the film, including the famous triptych. Top left is the British hardback in 1983 and top right its American counterpart (the hardback and paperbacks looked the same). Lower right is the 2008 BFI reissue which originally included an audio CD of Arthur Honneger's original score to the film. Regrettably, it quickly went out of print.


Two more recent books about Napoleon. Above left is Nelly Kaplan's book about the film, published by the British Film Institute in 2008 as part of their BFI Film Classics series. Director, scriptwriter, and author Nelly Kaplan was an intimate collaborator of Gance from 1954 to 1964. She gained access to rare documents by the director - some unpublished, which appear for the first time in this book. Right is Gance's book on the film, edited by Bambi Ballard and with an introduction by Kevin Brownlow. This softcover book was published by Faber and Faber in  the UK in 1990.

If you are looking to obtain any of these titles, try searching some of the online bookstores including abe.com or alibris.com  Also, composer and conductor Carl Davis has copies of Kevin Brownlow's book (the 2008 BFI edition) which comes with a free CD of highlights from the Carl Davis score. This offer is good while supplies last. Copies may be purchased through his website at
http://www.carldaviscollection.com/otherdetail.php?ID=10


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