Sunday, July 17, 2011

SFSFF: Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program II

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.

San Francisco Silent Film FestivalFilm 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
Castro Theatre

§ Napoleon
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


Patrick J. Vaz said...

Just bought my Napoleon tickets -- plural because I'm going twice. This will be amazing.

Axel Feldheim said...


I was going to say something about "once in a lifetime", but obviously you're going to do better than that! This is certainly the kind of event that people will be coming in from all over the country to attend.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Actually, this will be a "third in a lifetime" event for me -- I first saw the three-screen Napoleon back in the 1970s; it was a fundraiser for the Pacific Film Archive. Then I saw it again when it toured in the 1980s. Yeah, people will be traveling for this one.

Civic Center said...

Saw it at The Avenue theatre near Candlestick in the 1970s with a jerry-rigged three screen setup for the finale and somebody playing organ for five hours. Beyond awesome.

Saw it in the 1980s at the San Francisco Opera House when Coppola was touring it with his father conducting a symphonic orchestra in his own score. Didn't much care for it, the opera house was too big for a movie showing and the score was pretty awful.

The Paramount, Brownlow and a new score, however, sound pretty cool.

Axel Feldheim said...

Impressive. I had no idea a 5+ hour movie about Napoleon had such a following (said the man who just attended 2 Ring cycles).

SFMike: If you saw that here in the 1970s, I wonder if that was the late, great Bob Vaughn you heard at the organ. I got turned on to the power of silent movies + live music by his performances at the Castro. He was old enough to have accompanied these movies when he was a teenager in the 20s. He spent his adult life working as an immigration inspector or something like that, but he was a terrific musician, & I still miss his playing.

Mr. Brownlow has some circumspect words to say about Francis Ford Coppola in this interview from the BFI:

Brownlow blames him for supressing this restoration in the US & actually compares him to Goebbels at one point.

Civic Center said...

Dear Axel: Yes, it was Bob Vaughn, and he was amazing.