Abel Gance’s impressive 1971 sound edition of his epic Napoleon Bonapart, which contains much of the silent original, with new material shot and added in both 1965 and 1971, and with sound synchronization from both the 1932 reissue and the 1971 version. —BAM/PFA
Abel Gance was the major figure among directors in 1920s French film, and among the most ambitious visionaries of the silent cinema. Fueled by literary ambitions from childhood, Gance began working as an actor at the age of 19, with the ambition of breaking into playwriting. In 1909, Gance managed to get a job writing movie scenarios for Gaumont and, by 1911, was directing them. None of Gance’s earliest films survive, but his first viewable effort demonstrates that he was already pioneering the use of unusual visual effects. In the short La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915), Gance uses an anamorphic lens to illustrate the story of a mad doctor who uses a ray to twist everyday objects and people out of shape. Gance gained his first good notices from critics with Mater Dolorosa (1917), a genuine tragedy without a “happy ending,” relatively rare in French cinema of the day. With this film, Gance began to use editing and camerawork to project the interior thoughts of his characters.
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