Remember that little guy you learned in history class who made a name for himself during the French Revolution when he drove the British away from France? Well French filmmaker Abel Gance made a film all about him called Napoléon. This French silent film is about the life of Napoléon Bonaparte from his school days treating a snow ball fight like a war on the battlefield to being the military commander that we know him to be.
One thing that people can’t argue about this film is that it takes the time to tell the story. About five and a half hours of time to tell the story. To think this film was about to be a six part series! Gance’s plans were abrupted when he realized how expensive making masterpieces are. I felt like this story was told in a way like an Orson Welles film where we understood the childhood background story of this character and how he would grow up to be this influential leader who knew about strategy and was passionate about his cause to fight with his troops. He triumphantly waves the flag of his country to everyone within sight, including his enemies. Also, like the feather in Forrest Gump or the sled in Citizen Kane, eagles play a big part in this film as they symbolize the freedom that Napoléon fights for and his eagle eye vision as fights in the sea and on the battlefield. What did you know about Napoléon Bonaparte before the film and what did you learn after?
Napoléon is known for using many innovative filmmaking techniques, bringing me back to a D.W. Griffith movie. Techniques such as rapid cutting, close-ups, location shots, film tinting, and many others including split screen during the climatic battle at the end. Gance was forced to make cuts but didn’t want to leave anything out so he decided to keep all of it in through Polyvision which was a widescreen format and three having different shots in the same shots called triptych sequence. This technique was done before widescreen was even widely used (ignore the pun!). How do you feel like these filmmaking techniques made the film stronger?
This is unfortunately another film I couldn’t find on YouTube or streaming sites. So that you have an idea what the film is like, here’s the trailer: