It is estimated that between 80-90% of the films created during the silent era have been lost, with the fragile elements of the day not standing up to the test of time. So, it’s a miracle that over a hundred years later we’re able to watch any movie at all from that time, and even more of a miracle that one of the most epic productions, Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon,” has been restored and is now heading back to the big screen.
Academy Award-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow and the BFI National Archive have announced the newly restored “Napoleon” will hit UK cinemas this fall, and will be followed by a DVD/Blu-ray release. While you’ve likely surmised from the title that the movie is about the famed French military leader, you might not know about Gance’s ambitious production, which found him putting together what is essentially an early version of widescreen, using three cameras filming next to each other, to create a finale sequence that would require simultaneous projection on three screens. Gance wanted to give the battles a grand scale, and it was an innovative technique for the time (he called it Polyvision).
This isn’t the first time “Napoleon” has been restored. Francis Ford Coppola also long been involved in restoring and presenting the film (with a new score by Carmine Coppola instead of the original one by Carl Davis), occasionally showing the movie in the United States, and even legally battled Brownlow over previous public screenings. And while there have been prior DVD releases internationally, this one is being touted as “the first, full version, anywhere in the world and will include the recording of the score and a significant package of extras.”
No word yet on a U.S. theatrical or DVD release but here’s hoping this puts the wheels in motion. Here’s the trailer for the 2012 screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.