Bambi Ballard's latest restoration of cinema's supreme, grandiloquent epic (63 mins longer than the version premiered by Kevin Brownlow in 1979, tinted and with an extended three-screen climax) is the closest we're ever likely to get to Gance's original. Despite its simplistic view of Napoleon himself - seen from childhood to the fascistic start of his empire-building as a 'man of destiny', guided through hardships and loneliness by his 'inner eagle' - the film is completely vindicated by Gance's raving enthusiasm for his medium. All of the brilliant experiments with film language remain potent, from the montages of flash-frames to the bombastic poetry of the triptych finale; even the gags are still funny. The many highpoints include the hour-long siege of Toulon in torrential rain, won by strategies prefigured in the opening snowball fight, and Gance's own patrician performance as the cold-blooded Saint-Just. To see this with Carl Davis' score (lashings of Beethoven) played live is an almost unimaginably thrilling experience.
Cast and crew
Edmond Van Daele