My understanding of the silent era comes mostly from the books & documentaries of Kevin Brownlow, so this morning I was back at the Castro Theatre for his talk at the SF Silent Film Festival. Needing no introduction, Mr. Brownlow received long applause when he stepped up to the podium. He gave a 75 minute presentation about his life-long quest to reconstruct Abel Gance's 1927 Napoleon. He got to know Gance himself & showed us outtakes from a documentary he made about the director in the late 1960s. Mr. Brownlow is sharp, exceedingly modest & quite humorous. He expressed disappointment that we did not laugh at a joke he made at the expense of the English.
The story of the reconstruction is intricate. We saw different versions of the film's snowball fight, & Mr. Brownlow guiltily omitted a sequence depicting the countryside of Corsica from an earlier reconstruction. At one point he found himself dueling against a re-make by Gance himself. We also saw frames from a still lost mob scene. Stephen Horne accompanied on the piano & accordion.
Film critic Leonard Maltin closed the event by unabashedly hyping the up-coming showing of Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount next March. This is Mr. Brownlow's 3rd reconstruction, lasting 5 and a half hours. There is only one print, & this is the only American screening. There will be 4 shows, each a day-long event with 3 intermissions. Carl Davis will conduct the Oakland East Bay Symphony playing his original score inspired by composers contemporary with Napoleon. In the clips we saw, the music sounds like Mozart & Beethoven. Mr. Maltin apologized for sounding like an infomercial as he warned us we would regret not buying tickets now. After the presentation Mr. Brownlow did a book signing, though there were no copies of The Parade's Gone By left to purchase.
§ Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program II
Featuring Kevin Brownlow on fifty years of film preservation and study.
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sun, Jul 17th 10:00am
U.S. premiere of the complete restoration by Kevin Brownlow
U.S. premiere of the score by Carl Davis, conducting the Oakland East Bay Symphony
March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012
Paramount Theatre, Oakland