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Friday, 3 March 2017

A real biggie

At Borderlines we could have booked for Abel Gance's silent five-and-a-half-hour epic, Napoleon. The breaks were kindly (50 minutes for late lunch, 20 minutes with optional tea/coffee and cake, 10 minutes for minor surgery) but we worried about the eventual state of our backsides. I bought the four-DVD set instead and we watched in upholstered comfort at home. In one go from 6 pm to near-midnight.

The film first appeared in 1927 but this version had been digitally restored over decades and includes a musical background adapted mainly from Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Submitting to this ordeal might have seemed masochistic but if you care for movies in the widest sense and feel you need to know more about French history you should take a punt.

Ironically this was only half the story, no mention of Trafalgar or Waterloo, of course. But never mind, for several years Napoleon retrieved France's glory and the preceding events are told with great passion. The central character (played by Albert Dieudonné) becomes part of your family by the end.

But the over-arching drama is the way director Gance pushes movie potential to the absolute limit. If you forget the mainly static camera and the lack of spoken dialogue this becomes a very modern film. Huge crowds are handled with great conviction (The Convention: France's maniacal revolutionary government; the siege of Toulon; and - grandest of all - Napoleon addressing the exhausted French army in Italy) yet the face-to-face scenes involve real people.

At nearly six hours for £22, it's a snip. With whatever wine you care to choose. Bring in the neighbours and gain a reputation for cultural philanthropy.

UPDATE. Checked with Borderlines management and discovered that 73 hardy souls with cast-iron bums (= half the Small Studio) had booked Napoleon. Felt mildly proud of Hereford.


  1. "...take a punt." Does that mean "have a go" over there? Here (outside of kicking the football to the other team) it is a term implying failure or lack of resourcesleading one "to put off until later". (at best)

  2. MikeM: "Take a risk" is probably the best translation. Do you wanna borrow the DVDs? It might be some time before we develop the energy to watch it again. Mind you, it could be Region 2.

  3. Ah, Region 2. Formerly known to me as "does not work". Your description and your offer are enticing, and thank you, but lo: the full length movie is on YouTube. perhaps I'll take a gander.

  4. Whereas you live in Region 1. You may remember a post I did a year or two ago when I faced up to this situation. A small company here in the UK offered a gadget (it resembled a TV remote) which cost a mere £10 and which promised to convert my TV or my video recorder or both to take Region 1 DVDs. Was it a scam? In the end I "took a punt", bought the thing and had my son-in-law use it (I couldn't bear the thought of being disappointed). All he did was point it and press one button once. Wow! I could now play Stephen Sondheim show recordings previously denied me. I'm sure there's someone equally inventive in the US but, as you say, YouTube is easier.

    If you do eventually watch Napoleon (no rush) let me know. We can then form an elite group - the Boney Persistors - and enjoy muted transatlantic celebrations when the dates for The Siege of Toulon roll round. Somewhat prolonged celebrations given that the dates are August 29 - December 19 1793.

    In the meantime we shall continue to use outdated slang in our exchanges. If it's any comfort I regard you as the bee's knees.