Abel Gance: Napolean 1927

Abel Gance: Napolean 1927

Gance was the genius of innovation in twenties cinema, producing this epic biopic using triple-screen projections, embedded cameras, colour tinting, and much more. Abel Gance was a singular genius of the silent film era, a director who, according to silent film historian Kevin Brownlow “covers every aspect of motion-picture production”. And Napoleon is his masterpiece. It is significant in film and media history: it contains a wealth of innovative camera shots (chest-mounted cameras, saddle-mounted cameras) including big closeups, and three-screen panoramas and montages. And it is most modern in its rapid cutting. According to Brownlow: “Gance wanted to hurl the spectator into the action” – and the scene that exemplifies this is the chase across Corsica where the camera is extremely mobile, intercutting pans and big-closeups as well as tracking shots, to create a tremendously engaging sequence. Apparently Gance did not have the benefit of a Moviola (film-viewer) for editing, and would stick his film clips to a large window in order to edit his tryptich sequences. This is probably the first multi-screen film – creating a fascinating technique for non-linear story-telling that was not to be revisited until the late 1960s (The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Woodstock (1970). Eisenstein is said to have thanked Gance for his inspirational cutting technique (Brownlow at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ2kRzJajyo).

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