This weekend I had the grand experience of seeing Abel Gance's Napoleon at the Oakland Paramount, accompanied by a live orchestra. I saw the 1st of 4 shows, which are touted as the only American screenings of Kevin Brownlow's 5 1/2 hour restoration. I sat next to a man who traveled from Chicago just for this event. Carl Davis composed the score & conducted the Oakland East Bay Symphony, lightly miked from the pit. I really enjoyed Mr. Davis's symphonic score, drawn boldly from Beethoven, Mozart & Bach & matching the film's heroic rhetoric. It truly enhanced the film & was especially effective during the battle scenes. Mr. Davis was careful enough to include the hurdy gurdy, which appears briefly on-screen. I loved the light cymbal crash that accompanies the return of the boy Napoleon's pet eagle. The orchestra was phenomenal, playing for longer than a Wagner opera with untiring strength & consistency. The musicians received their 1st standing ovation right before the dinner break, & at the end of the performance the pit elevator brought them up into view, where they received another huge ovation.
The screening is humanely provided with 3 intermissions, including an hour & forty-five minute dinner break, which allowed my movie companion & I to walk 4 blocks to our dinner reservation & back in plenty of time. The house was packed, & the lines for the restrooms & concessions required a hopeful frame of mind. I did not spot any costumes, but my movie companion saw someone in a Napoleon hat. I was impressed that the program adhered almost exactly to the advertised schedule, beginning a bit past 1:30p & getting out by 9:45p.
The audience applauded when the curtains were drawn back for the famous triptych finale & broke into applause several times more during the sequence. I'd say this is a once in a lifetime experience, but I believe that Patrick proved this untrue by attending both weekend performances. I waved to him at his seat up front, where he must have been practically inside the triptych. I somehow escaped the notice of SFMike, who has provided more background for the event here.
§ Abel Gance's Napoleon
Restoration by Kevin Brownlow
Score created & conducted by Carl Davis
Performed live by Oakland East Bay Symphony
March 24, 25, 31, April 1
Paramount Theatre, Oakland