Napoleon FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Photo © Pamela Gentile

I love the poster.  Can I buy one?                                                                                  

Yes! SFSFF’s Napoleon poster, created especially for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival by the well-known illustrator Paul Davis, is available for sale online by mail order. Go to the Napoleon Poster page for more information.

I saw this at Radio City Music Hall in 1981 and it was the greatest film experience of my life. Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola, wrote the music and conducted the orchestra. How are the Oakland screenings different?

The version presented by Mr. Coppola at Radio City and later around the country was just under four hours. In the intervening 30 years, Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury’s Photoplay Productions and the BFI have restored Gance’s NAPOLEON to a more complete 5 1/2 hours and have upgraded the visual quality of much of the film. About 50 percent of the extra running time is due to additional footage; the balance is the result of showing the film at the correct, slower speed.

The Photoplay/BFI restoration—a unique 35mm print—also uses authentic dye-bath techniques to recreate the color tinting and toning that enhanced the film on its original release, giving a vividness to the image as never before experienced in this country.

And a major new component for American audiences is the monumental score created by legendary composer Carl Davis. NAPOLEON has not been presented here with an orchestral score of any kind in nearly 30 years.

It can’t just be these four performances in Oakland. This has got be leading up to something… a national concert tour perhaps?

No, these four performances at Oakland’s glorious Paramount Theatre are it. No plans are being made to present the restored NAPOLEON in any other American city. The cost and technical challenges are just too daunting for most venues—and the sheer size of the three-screen Polyvision ending can be duplicated in only a handful of theatres. The technical requirements for presenting Polyvision alone—not to mention the enormous cost—make this something no one in the U.S. has been willing to tackle until now.
To do this elsewhere, Carl Davis would also have to work with a different symphony orchestra in every city—that’s at least four solid days of rehearsal. And don’t forget that each performance requires 5 1/2 hours of continuous music—a grueling schedule for any orchestra or conductor.

What is Polyvision? And what are the technical requirements?

Polyvision was one of Abel Gance’s greatest innovations: for NAPOLEON’s finale, the screen dramatically expands to three times its normal width, for both panoramic views and montages of images. There has not been anything like it since; even the similar American process Cinerama, first presented 25 years later, never made such virtuosic use of its three screens.
To present Polyvision at the Oakland Paramount, three projection booths equipped with three perfectly-synchronized projectors must be specially installed, along with a purpose-built three-panel screen, which will fill the width of the auditorium. These technical requirements can only be handled by top technicians, and a three-person team from Boston Light & Sound is being specially brought in for the Paramount’s installation.

Ok, so it’s only in Oakland… But it’s being presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Why not San Francisco itself?  Why not the Castro Theatre? That’s a great movie palace.

Indeed it is: It’s where the San Francisco Silent Film Festival holds its annual festival in July. But it’s NOT BIG ENOUGH for NAPOLEON! The Castro has no orchestra pit and not enough floor space to accommodate a 48-piece orchestra; it has 1,400 seats compared to the Paramount’s 3,000; and, perhaps most important, its proscenium is way too small for the Polyvision ending.
The Paramount, perhaps the most beautiful Art Deco movie palace in the world, is the only theater in the Bay Area that’s completely suitable for this huge event. It’s easily reachable by all means of public transit and well worth the trip in itself.

Hasn’t this been presented with Carl Davis’s score in Europe?

Yes, but the challenges are the same there and performances have been rare events.  The restored NAPOLEON was last presented in 2004 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

Has the restored version ever been on television or video?

No, the five-and-a-half-hour version with Carl Davis's score has never been released on television or video anywhere in the world. The four-hour version with the Coppola score has been shown on television in the U.S. and was released on VHS and laserdisc, but never on DVD in this country.

But will there be a DVD and BluRay release of the restored version in the near future?

No. The cost of recording the fiver-and-a-half-hour Carl Davis score is prohibitively expensive for the DVD/BluRay market… and of course you wouldn’t have the dramatic Polyvision finale that you’ll experience in the theater. The triptych would merely be letterboxed onto your television, no matter how big it is.

So why did the San Francisco Silent Film Festival do this?

Why climb Mount Everest? Someone had to take it on!