Abel Gance's Napoleon premiered 85 years ago, a silent epic about the childhood and early career of the French leader. The original was thought lost or destroyed until a restored version was finally screened in the early 1980s. Now the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is bringing the complete restoration to the U.S. for the first time March 24.
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There have been a lot of films about Napoleon, but the most famous one of all is also the hardest to see.
It's no wonder that Napoleon is seldom shown. It's 5 1/2 hours long plus three intermissions, and it has a finale that requires three synchronized projectors — not to mention a 48-piece orchestra and an orchestra pit to seat them in below the screen.
The film is epic not only in length, but also in imagination and ambition. Filmmaker Gance used hand-held cameras long before they were commonplace.
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