Kevin Brownlow’s Napoléon to Make Long-Awaited Début on Home Video
- Napoléon (1927) Abel Gance’s Restored Epic in UK Cinemas November 2016–January 2017
- Update: 28 July 2016 Press Release and BFI Blu-ray/DVD Details
It’s true: noted film historian Kevin Brownlow’s magnum opus, his 60-year long restoration of Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927), is set to finally see official release
The epic French film Napoléon has been largely unseen, outside of a few screenings with full orchestra, for years and film lovers have been denied the opportunity to witness its spectacle for themselves. It’s been unjustly tied up in complicated rights issues for decades, but they’ve all now been cleared and the wider public can see just why it’s hailed as such a classic.
Now all at once, in what will likely be the biggest silent film news of the year, the British Film Institute and Photoplay productions have announced multiple UK screenings, commencing with a première at the Royal Festival Hall. These will be followed by its release on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming via BFI Player. It has already been confirmed that the BFI/Photoplay version will only be released in the UK – there’s never been a better time to go region free!
Kevin Brownlow’s latest restoration runs over 5½ hours, with a majestic score by Carl Davis, silent film composer extraordinaire. There was a much-pirated US laserdisc and German, Japanese and Australian DVDs of an edited, sped-up (3 hr, 43 min at 24fps; 20fps is correct) 1980 version, accompanied by Carmine Coppola’s score. Last year the Cinémathèque Française announced the commencement of their own restoration, due in 2017, but even when that does finally appear, it’s almost certain to be accompanied by an extended version of Coppola’s vastly inferior score. Make no mistake, Kevin Brownlow’s is the definitive version: his lifelong obsession with Napoléon means he’s almost single-handedly responsible for its resurrection. Before his intervention all those years ago, Napoléon was a fragmented, forgotten film. Indeed, its very existence owes almost as much to him as to its writer/producer/director, Abel Gance. There’s a brilliant firsthand account of the creation, loss and eventual rediscovery of this forgotten epic: Napoléon: Abel Gance’s Classic Film by Kevin Brownlow.
Here’s the full BFI press release:
BFI National Archive and Photoplay Productions Present Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927)
Entering the Digital Era for UK-Wide Theatrical and Blu-ray/DVD Release
The BFI today announces a new chapter in the epic history of one of the world’s greatest films: Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). In the culmination of a 50-year project, Academy Award™-winning film historian Kevin Brownlow and the BFI National Archive have completed a new digitally restored version of Abel Gance’s cinematic triumph. From Autumn 2016, for the first time ever, audiences across the UK will be able to experience this extraordinary cinematic masterpiece with Carl Davis’ magnificent score when the film goes on theatrical release in UK cinemas and is available on BFI DVD/Blu-ray and BFI Player.
This legendary 5½ hour film was first presented, partially restored, at the BFI London Film Festival in 1980. The latest digital restoration of Napoleon will have its première screening with a live performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra of Carl Davis’ score (the longest ever composed for a silent film) in early November 2016 at the Royal Festival Hall.
This project has been achieved thanks to major work undertaken by the experts of the BFI National Archive and Photoplay Productions working with Dragon DI post-production in Wales, and to the generosity of Carl Davis and Jean Boht, who have made possible the recording of the score by the Philharmonia. The original restoration of the 35mm film elements in 2000 was funded by the generous support of the Eric Anker-Petersen charity, with the support of many archives around the world but especially the Cinémathèque Française and the Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie in Paris.
Heather Stewart, Creative Director, BFI said, “Several generations of staff at the BFI have worked on this project. Napoléon is a landmark in the history of cinema and we are grateful to all of the great talents who have helped us along the way but especially, of course, Kevin Brownlow for his indefatigable championing of the film and Carl Davis for his amazing score.”
Kevin Brownlow, Photoplay Productions said, “’This is a tremendous step forward for film history.’
Carl Davis, composer said, “Thanks to the BFI we have this splendid DVD (Blu-ray). In the words of Napoléon, ‘At last!’”
This new version of Napoléon will allow audiences to see the film’s original tinting and toning, including colour combinations which could not be achieved in the existing 35mm print. Integration of sections sourced from a wide range of elements have also been improved by detailed digital image repair and alignment.
The film has been entirely re-graded and received extensive digital clean-up throughout, all of which offers significant improvements in overall picture quality. This is the most complete version of the film available, compiled by Academy Award™-winning film-maker, archivist and historian Kevin Brownlow who spent over 50 years tracking down surviving prints from archives around the world since he first saw a 9.5mm version as a schoolboy in 1954. Brownlow and his colleagues at Photoplay, initially the late David Gill, and then Patrick Stanbury, worked with the BFI National Archive on a series of restorations. The film version has been screened only four times in the UK since the year 2000 at memorable events with full orchestra performing the original score by composer Carl Davis.
Running at over 5½ hours on screen, the film demands a huge investment of resources, from projectionists, musicians, conductor and audiences; in a live performance with intervals the experience adds up to over 8 hours from start to finish. Napoléon offers one of the most richly rewarding and thrilling experiences in the history of cinema, a brilliant pairing of music and film, comparable to grand opera in its intensity, offering dazzling scenes of unparalleled brilliance, with full scale historical recreations of episodes from the personal and political life of Napoléon from the French Revolution to the heroic arrival of French troops in Italy marking the beginning of the First Italian campaign of 1796.
Following the première of the digital restoration of Napoléon it will be released in cinemas UK-wide in its music-synched version. The simultaneous BFI Blu-ray/DVD release of the film is the first, of this full version, anywhere in the world and will include the recording of the score and a significant package of extras. Napoléon will also be available to view on BFI Player.
Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927) – BFI Blu-ray and DVD release on 21 November
The BFI has now confirmed the date for the Blu-ray and DVD releases of Abel Gance’s epic silent film Napoléon (1927), newly digitally restored by Photoplay Productions and the BFI National Archive, as 21 November 2016.
The film will have its première screening on 6 November at the Royal Festival Hall, London. In a very special performance, Carl Davis will conduct his score – the longest ever composed for a silent film – with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Napoléon will also be released in cinemas nationwide by the BFI from 11 November.
Abel Gance’s heroic depiction of the rise of Napoléon Bonaparte has long been hailed as a landmark in cinema history. Reconstructed after decades of painstaking work by film historian Kevin Brownlow, the film has developed a legendary status. Featuring ground-breaking technical innovations – including its famous triptych finale – and an epic running time of 5½ hours, the film’s exclusive availability on 35mm has limited it to a rare number of (highly popular) screenings.
This definitive restoration (with music recorded in 7.1 surround) presents Gance’s masterpiece in all its glory and is a must-see on either the big screen or small screen this autumn.
- New 2K restoration
- Feature-length audio commentary by Gance and silent film expert, Dr Paul Cuff
- Abel Gance: Charm of Dynamite (Kevin Brownlow, 1968, 51 mins): BBC documentary on Abel Gance’s silent films, narrated by director Lindsay Anderson (If…, This Sporting Life)
- Composing Napoléon: An Interview with Carl Davis (2016, 45 mins)
- Alternative single-screen ending
- Individual triptych panel presentations
- Napoléon digital restoration featurette (2016, 5 mins)
- Stills and Special Collections gallery
- Illustrated 60-page book with writing by Paul Cuff, Kevin Brownlow and Hervé Dumont, an extensive interview with Carl Davis and full film, music and restoration credits
The triptych ending for this film is made up of 3 separate 1.33:1 images, resulting in a presentation ratio of approx. 4:1
- France | 1927 | black & white, tinted and toned | silent with English intertitles | 332 minutes | original aspect ratios 1.33:1 + 4.1 (triptych) | BD50 x 3/DVD9 x 4 | 1080p | 24fps | 7.1 DTS-HD (48kHz/24-bit) and PCM 2.0 stereo (48kHz/24-bit) | Cert PG (mild battle violence) | Region B/2
See if it will play on your equipment: Blu-ray and DVD Region Codes and Video Standards
Mammoth discussion of the history and many versions of Napoléon by Valerio Greco of the Silent Valerio Facebook page: