27 April 2012

Wherein the Author In the Course of Various Musing and Observations Selects a New Title For This Blog

Thinking of changing the name of this blog. Maybe something clever. Ironic? Specious? No, not that. I'll keep you posted, which I suppose is some sort of pun but I wasn't thinking along those lines.

I've been thinking a lot these days. Which can be dangerous for a sort like me but what with a sometimes functioning brain, an intellect of sorts and self awareness I find it unavoidable. It's just best not to dwell on the negative. Obsessing, as 12 steppers will tell you, is a bad sign. So easy to fall into.

Are you...listening?

No of course not, you can't, can you. There's no audio here. Written word and all.

Would, if they remade Ophuls' Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), would, would it be called: Text from An Unknown Woman. Would a remake of Letter Never Sent (1960) be called: Email Never Sent?

Would this going out to all the people repping the 99%, would that have any meaning? Would the over use of "would" cause people to click off and out and on and over and under an in between and say, I'm supposedly clean, right?

Well I have been for what it's worth. And it's been worth a lot. A life, marriage, two children. Good!

You can easily wear your recovery like a badge of honor. No not the recovery, the stains, the wounds from your addiction. You can get off on that twisted thing you were and then you're just posing. So don't.

I was talking about dwelling, or obsessing. Here's how it went down. I was thinking about someone who (and I hate sounding like a modern day athlete here) showed me no respect. That's what we all want. Fundamentally. Isn't it? To be afforded basic respect as a human being equal to everyone else. On a one-on-one basis that means that neither person, certainly in a friendship, acts superior or is neglectful of the other's feelings. How ya been is answered and then reciprocated with a corresponding how you been that is in turn in listened to. That's all. My highs and lows are of equal importance to yours, my general opinions, are of equal value as yours. Simple. You don't get that from someone you've cared about it and...But that's enough. Point made. Moving on. No obsessing to see here.

(Would my life be better if I could stop playing Words With Friends?)

I've often thought that without sports in my life I could get so much more done. But then I'd be some other guy. Besides I don't attend or watch everything anymore. Pretty selective. So a break please.

I'd like to hear from you. Who are you reading my words? What do you want? More of this? Less? You just come for the film talk? Do you miss the days when I made lists? You know the best World War II movies, the best James Cagney films, the best movies with toe nail clippers, that sort of thing. IMDb used to link a lot of those. They show no interest in my ...what to call it, well this sort of thing or any kind of writing that gets all experimental with run-on sentences intentionally used. Stream. Of. Unconsciousness. Bingo! New name for the blog.  Thanks again, brain. You're pretty cool.

The ubiquitous "they"has done a whole new deal with the dashboard for these blogs. Format, I believe it's called. It's taken a while to get used to for us creatures of habit. (The Habits of Creatures, now in 3D, from National Geographic in cooperation with the Disney Corporation. 'Nuff said.) One "NICE" thing is that you can now see how many page views the blog and each post gets. Or in my case, how few. Humbling, bumbling, stumbling. I wonder. Sometimes. But then....What would I do without this. This. Life amiss? Listening to Bowie, the muse tickled and nothing to write about it. Bless, life can provide. Read your history and you'll see how many people never had a chance. Awful circumstances. Oh Lucky Man! Am. And thanks for noticing, self.

Okay so look I've been me my whole life so have no real experience being anyone else. Oh sure I've pretended. When I got back from England I used to go to bars affecting a pretty convincing British accent and....That went nowhere, I can tell you.

So I'm running out of steam. I'll have to go down to the corner store and buy some. "Packet of steam, please!" What's that you say? In Europe it comes in bottles? Well, I never!

25 April 2012

Perfecting the Art of Mediocrity is Not A Proper Alternative to Kissing Your Craziness

"If a man wanted to wear a monocle or carry a cane, he did not hesitate to do it, and no one gave him a second glance." William S. Burroughs in 'Queer.'

Friend of mine has it all. And nothing. He's created a world out of his own sanity that perplexes the madness in us all. There is confusion everywhere. And he can't see it. Because he talks and talks and talks and says nothing. Never asking, never seeking beyond numbers, he is numb to the external. The twisted membranes of his logic will never snap. And so he cries.

A member of my my beloved major league baseball club skipped out on the team because of "anxiety issues." It is utterly confounding that this sort of dropping out doesn't happen a hundred times more. A thousand. It can take courage to face the fact that you're not coping. Or a real blast of a panic attack. Stupid people can even mask those. Wow there's a lot of medication to blot out true feelings and allow the brain to passively pass the time.

Take it from someone who knows.

Spending a large portion of one's life trying to maintain a tenuous grip on reality makes one appreciate how fragile our brains are. (Here's a thought: try psychedelics at the same time you're still wrestling with acne. Oh God, then look in the mirror and watch those pimples pulsate. Trippy to the max. Consciousness in. Consciousness out. Weird wild wonderful world.) Fuel your troubled psyche with an addiction. Feed it. feed it. Come on now. More, more, more. You can handle it. You are the drugs. You don't need it. It needs you. Okay. Done. Now try to live without your fix. See ya sanity. I'm taking my neurosis for a walk, baby. Look at my rage and watch my confusion. I'm clean. Now I just get high by being a jerk. Give an honest account.

Hey then...you get blindsided by pure white lightening panic. You don't know where your brain went and you can really imagine a straight jacket being rather snug. Not so bad. Anxiety to the nth degree -- baby. That's it. You can't take much more. How about some xanax? Call me Mister Comatose if you please and note that I'm a functioning member of society. If a zombie at that.

Oh by the way. I've got a respectable job in a respectable neighborhood. Member, like of the community. Family man, even. I can make it here. Whatta trip. Maybe you'll develop a tic or a twitch or predilection to shutting yourself in the house like all the time you can so you don't have to deal with too many too often too bad. And woe be to you if something throws a wrench into your work life or family life or health because you just don't need anything else right now. Did I mention money? Oh there you go. The clean junkie lookin' for a monkey. Dollars and sense, nonsense. Let me outta here.

But you go on.

You go on because the alternative SUCKS. You go on and carry on and take care of business because there's no other way and that straight jacket doesn't look so snug after all. And the longer you carry on (and stay calm) the more convinced you become that you can really do this. Really manage. It's all just an illusion but what the heck, we all make fool ourselves one way or another. At least we aren't doing it in church.

So many people. So little sanity. But so few people able to dance with their demons. They can't even see them. It's better this way. Really. Look those monsters square in the eye. Sure you flinch, you blink, you even freak a little (a lot!), but you know you're alive. That's what its all about. All the crazy you endure is life's way of saying-- you m*therf*cker, are part of this. Lucky! And you embrace the day you were born and all the pain you've been through ever since because now you know you are indeed part of those lucky few. The living.

Congratulations to anyone who takes a powder for a day or week or month or year to deal with their crazy. You are so cool.

22 April 2012

My Saturday With Papitou and Monika

A lot of men, in fact almost all straight men, enjoy looking at pretty young naked women. We especially like it when we are seeing said female as part of an artistic experience. What a bonus to be enjoying a painting, a photograph or, best of all, a film, and seeing  a nude female in the bargain. Non gratuitous nudity is the best because it's guilt free.

So imagine my delight yesterday when I watched two films that featured pretty young thespians au naturel. Josephine Baker and Harriet Andersson. Both were 21 at the time and were fine performers as well as being particularly easy on the eyes.

Siren of the Topics (1927) is the latest in my personal exploration of silent films. It is one of those films that is not particularly good but a joy to watch nonetheless -- and I'd say that even if Josephine Baker, as Papitou, had kept her clothes on. Thankfully Ms. Baker delighted in cavorting about sans garb. Both instances in which she is disrobed during Siren, skinny dipping and bathing, are germane to the plot (wink, wink).

That plot centers around a wealthy French cad of means who wants to dump his loving wife for his innocent god daughter. He sends the god daughter's noble young suitor to the tropics to oversee his operations there. The bounder sends orders to his swindling, thief of henchmen (he's really an awful sort) to dispose of the young man. Once there he meets and rescues a lovely native girl, Papitou, who falls head over heels for him. Back stabbing, dramatics and more rescues ensue as everyone ends up back in Paris. It would surprise no one that everything works out for everyone in the end with all evil doers getting their comeuppance.

It's all rather silly if one stops to take it seriously. But as Saturday matinee entertainment it's fine stuff. It's also a way to get a look at Ms. Baker, who dances up a storm and plays her part to perfection. Especially the nude scenes.

Summer With Monika (1953) was the first screen pairing of legendary director Ingmar Bergman and one of his frequent actresses, Harriet Andersson. It is also the first Bergman film that Woody Allen ever saw. He choose to go see it as a teenager because -- I kid you not -- he'd heard there was a naked lady in it (didn't I tell ya?). Allen may or may not have fallen in love with Ms. Andersson, but he most certainly fell in love with the films of Bergman who became a major influence on Allen's career.

Andersson plays the title character, an 18 year old good time girl who is in love with a young working boy her age, Harry (Lars Ekborg). They escape their contentious families and nowhere jobs for a Summer romp on a boat. Their adventures including stealing from a wealthy farmer, fighting a psycho/jealous acquaintance and Monika stripping down to her birthday suit for a stroll on the beach.

As we all know, Bergman didn't flinch from showing characters who find out that what goes around comes around. In Bergman films, as in the world in which we live, life has a way of getting in the way of our dreams and caprices.

Summer With Monika has just gotten the Criterion treatment. The new DVD will be available later next month but it can currently be seen on Hulu Plus, which offers a bounty of great films for a nominal and well-worth-it monthly fee. It is a gorgeous movie to watch and contemplate, which makes it a typical Bergman film. Andersson could not have been better and this early starring performance promised much more to come from her.

It is interesting that, though the middle third of the film takes place in the great outdoors, it begins and ends scenes in the big city, Stockholm. I can't think of another Bergman film with so many scenes of big city neighborhoods and streets. He tended to shoot in small towns, farms and, of course, the distant past. His urban scenes are every bit as beautiful in their own way as the more rustic settings.

Andersson is as beautiful on screen as anyone the great director shot. In Summer With Monika she seems to have a different look with her clothes and hair in every scene. Her persona too goes through various flights, perhaps in keeping with her physical look, or vise versa. I'll have to watch it again to sort that out. And no I won't pause during the nude scene (for very long).



15 April 2012

The Insanity of War and the Humanity of Borgaze's Seventh Heaven

It's difficult to know quite what to make of the human race at times. The capacity for cruelty and insensitivity seems boundless. There has been progress made over the millenia but the Holocaust is far from ancient history and genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda are within this lifetime for most of us. It's not just the wholesale killing either. There is widespread indifference to human suffering when it falls out of a country's "national interest." There is even the perpetuation of old feuds and constant calls for war within these United States. Many of the individuals who of late have presumed to run for the highest office in the land, constantly demonstrate a callousness towards their fellow man that belies their belief in a supposed loving god. Individual acts of violence and mayhem are carried out on a daily basis by damaged minds unable to cope with the perpetual despair that is their lives. But we carry on. And we must.

There is little else to do but to honor one another and strive to lead virtuous lives and, if we cannot exactly spread the word of peace and love and tolerance, at least practice it in our lives and thus lead by example. We are what we do.

One would think that...but apparently not. No. Films are never going to be the answer or even a clue for the mindless. Indeed far too many films serve to feed the notion that violence is an acceptable manner of problem-solving, even a romantic and glorious one. Smiting one's enemies is seen as something noble and necessary because the proverbial bad guy is so easily identifiable and so totally one dimensional and devoid of humanity. There is no subtlety in a punch to the villain's nose, because there is nothing but pure evil to be hit. Rarely, outside the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge, are our "real life" foes so unambiguous.

Continuing.

I was deeply touched by a melodramatic tear jerker of a movie today, Seventh Heaven (1927). It is the second in a series of director Frank Borzage's silent films that I am seeing for the first time. It stars Janet Gaynor, who appeared frequently in Borzage's films, and Charles Farrell, who co-starred with Gaynor on 11 occasions. This was the first.

Seventh Heaven is set in Paris, where Diane (Gaynor) plays an abused waif rescued from a cruel older sister and a life of misery by the handsome working stiff, Chico (Farrell). He is, in his own words "a remarkable man." Chico revitalizes the fading humanity in Diane and imbues with her boundless optimism through a recipe consisting mostly of love. He is a total charmer, full of bluster and bluff and positively radiating self confidence.

As has so often been the case in world history, not to mention films, war interrupts this fledging idyllic relationship. For it is 1914 and the world is being swept up in one of its most senseless and cataclysmic infernos. Coincidentally I have just finished back-to-back readings of terrific new books on WWI: The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund and Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars. In very different ways, the books "humanize" the war by introducing the stories of individuals who were swept up in the war either as casualties, witnesses to the horror, demonized conscientious objectors, or those who lost loved ones. You'd be hard pressed to find a better example of humanity's propensity for deadly folly than the Great War.

So with this as a personal backdrop I was particularly taken by the story of a couple in love being torn apart by war. There were countless such instances in the period from 1914-1918, not to mention all the years before and since.

Of course, Chico could not resist the call to war and Diane wouldn't think of dissuading him from going. There is a fundamental (and deeply flawed) belief within societies that answering the call to war on behalf of one's country is not to be questioned. It is a sacred duty. For most, asking the reason why comes, if at all, after years of senseless slaughter, doing or dying is what we do. The brave ones, it seems to me, are those who refuse the call and risk ostracization and prison.

So Chico goes off to war and Diane, only recently having found hope in what had seemed a heartless world, must wait. And wait. This she does dutifully.

It would be wrong for me to reveal the ending, but suffice to say that one way or the other such stories, if told properly, can cause watery eyes and a lump in the throat. (Of course, they are all too often done poorly and evoke smirks or groans.) Farrell and Gaynor were excellent actors. They had the faces for films, particularly in the silent era. They acted entire ranges of emotions through facial expressions. Also, Borzage was a very good director who know how to frame a shot and could occasionally use props and settings quite effectively in furthering a story and mood. His use of the long winding stairway to Chico's apartment -- up towards heaven, was masterful. He also added light touches to the film, including a rotund sot of cab driver.

Yesterday I'd watched a later offering from the same director and stars, Lucky Star (1929) which also involved a hero going off to the Great War, although this time from small town America. Lucky Star was, to me, a fairly good movie but it did feature one of the greatest closing shots I've ever seen. It was an example of both Borzage's ability to frame characters and to build, build, build on emotions. Borgaze played an audience's heart strings like a virtuoso plucking his violin.

I look forward to his other silent offerings which are perched atop my Netflix queue. Those I'm sure will arrive soon. I wish the same could be said of a world that lived in peace and harmony.

Carrying on....

05 April 2012

There is No Suitable Title For the Ravings of a Mad Man

Interesting crazy I saw. Coming out of the YMCA on my way to the bus stop. Just worked out. She was jabbering away to herself. What, you aren't gonna ask me for any spare change? Oblivious and all. I dare say I am impressed. You've got quite the conversation going, lassie. You make sense in your special way to your own special mind. Gotta respect that.

Baby.

There is an authenticity to the truly insane that is missing in "normal people." They ain't puttin' on no airs. Just bein' themselves. I appreciate that. No false fronts.

(How are you today? I'm fine thank you. it's so nice to see you. Say hi to Leo. Bye. Have a nice day. Stick a boiling badger up your bum!)

Happiness is a real original idea that no one gave you -- I read it on the internet.

So it must be

True.

There I said it.

The mind is an endless source of fascination to the truly delusional. To crazy people it's even better. Just unlock it and go. Zooooom.

There's a lot of sanity in American politics and always has been. Study our history. Go back in time and ask the Apaches or the Africans riding free of charge chained with their new friends in steerage. Ask the Mexicans who thought that New Mexico was part of the old one. Or those guerrilla fighters in the Philippines or.......See what the sane sorted out for all those people and made rational for gullible generations of school kids and Republicans. My country right or wrong.  Cause that's the way soldiers must think.


"Democracy! Bah! When I hear that I reach for my feather boa!" - Allen Ginsberg.
(Of course Allen may not have understood the complexities of-- aw, you get the picture.)

So I've conflated insanity and democracy and no a word about movies. And this a film blog. Well I never!

I guess it's cause I've been thinking Chaplin and Marx Brothers and didacticism and moral imperatives and how much I like Italian films and Bergman and the cute little way America's nose turns up when it's angry.

I know -- right?

Minds whirl and shwirl. If you've got the courage to let them. Honestly thought it's best not to let it all get away from you like that mumbling crazy I saw today (oh...craxy person is offensive to you? Well la dee dah). That's the problem. The fine line between functioning in society and thereby enjoying its fruits and living in an alleyway with a rat you've named Thadeus. Can't let yourself get so medicated that Fox News starts making sense. That's where films and other forms of art come in. Get your crazy going on around them. Let your brain freelance a bit. Sort out the sense from the nonsense separate from the tone deaf times in the board room. When you seek pleasure make sure its honest and harmless but not just another word for comfort do that soothing when you've got the flu cause you got a lot of living and loving and thinking and being to do yeah I mentioned being in this same crazy sentence cause that's what all that mind bending is all about. And don't do drugs, fool.

O' on ye brave young Americans -- and you old ones too and the in betweeners -- tear down your television/internet/car fortress and go hang with the crazies. Thank me later.

Baiter.

04 April 2012

Films Inspiring the Intellect and Life's Moments in Movies, Recurring Themes on This Blog But This Time With a New Fridge

Every time I open our new fridge I feel like I'm in someone else's house. The someone else who has a better fridge than we do. But it's our fridge.

I'll get used to it.

Flexible people are happier. Making adjustments to circumstances over which one has no control is crucial to an emotionally healthy existence. Finding the good, the benefit, the reason. It's damn difficult but....

There is a real danger in the comfort of a routine. Your mind doesn't explore as much. You become rigid and thoughtless. By thoughtless I don't mean rude. I mean not thinking.

It's worth cherishing those things that inspire us. Move our minds in new directions. Shake off the cobwebs. That's what a really good film will do. You can get locked into diversionary movies that keep you from thinking. They don't challenge you. Your brain sits through them. Maybe wanders to trivial matters.

When I saw Napoleon (1927) the other day (maybe you read about it), my brain at times had trouble focusing on the movie. Not so much because the guy behind me had the sniffles, but because the movie was artistically so powerful that my intellect was doing the boogaloo. My mind was intoxicated. It's like a hypodermic shot of love.

Explosion.

(Did I mention that the fridge makes ice? Our old one had stopped doing that a long time ago. Ice is nice.)

Bergman films always get my juices flowing. So do those of Fellini, Antonioni (the picture up top is from his film L'Eclisse (1962)), Woody Allen, Kubrick, they all do it. No wait, "juices flowing." Kinda lame. Let's say they get my cerebellum synthesizing. Or my heart and intellect talking -- to each other. Each. other. To. And you do.

I like a movie for moments. Those real and simple moments - like those captured in a painting by Cezanne or a Diane Arbus photograph. Flower petal seconds, you could say. If you dig me. The brain on rapid-fire kitsch. Just check out the clouds....




....and note how the camera is looking up to the trail, following the two women on horseback. Simple beauty.

If we can look at the simple in a different way, we can contemplate in a different way, too, and away we go. We're onto something. Creativity or awareness.

The Coens are great at moments. The candy wrapper unkrinkling in No Country For Old Men (2007). Tarantino, for all his flash and dash, did it Inglourious Basterds (2009) with cream for the strudel.

Some moments are big. I know this from such things as earthquakes. Those can be some big f*cking moments. Let 'em be inside the movie. Don't make 'em outsized. Look at the stupid action super hero movies that just blow up big moments and turn them into dust. Eye candy. Watch how Coppola handles the big moments in Apocalypse Now (1979). Dead straight camera watching it. Unflinching. Boom! Guy's leg blow off, screaming. Observe and move on. Kubrick will expand them, sometimes. Surround our senses with them. We can't look away in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex commits rape. Obvious and horrible. Just make them accessible for us. Don't be gratuitous.

Of course, like Abel Gance in Napoelon, like Bergman, Woody Allen, it's best when directors tell stories through faces. All of human history is written on the faces of the progeny of all who have come before. We wear on our visages all that we have done and all that has been done to us. Oh, the joy and the pain that we reveal in our eyes, cheeks, mouths and expressions. Those expressions when we are not posing. In great films there is very little posing and a lot of being. A lot of people being what we all are. Sometimes confused, sometimes enlightened, sometimes ignorant, sometimes curious. Always experienced.

Dance everyone. Lift yourself off your doldrums. Give up your comfort zone. Let your mind out for a walk. Buy a new fridge. See a movie that asks you questions; that challenges you to ask questions. OF YOURSELF. Be the somebody that you are capable of and not the somebody you can settle for.

I like our new fridge.

(An addendum, if you don't mind.)


01 April 2012

Napoleon the Film Conquers All

Now what?

How does one follow up on a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience? What's next?  And how can you ever re-create that one time?

Yesterday I went to see a movie. This is not an altogether uncommon thing for me to do. But this was a different trip to the cinema from any I'd ever had and will be difficult to rival in whatever time I have left.

The movie was Napoleon (1927). The four showings, two last weekend and two this, are the first for the film in over 30 years. Tickets were more than I could afford but I couldn't afford not to go. I have previously been in packed movie houses, but this one was packed to the tune of 3,000 fellow patrons. The total does not, of course, include the 47 piece orchestra. I've seen silent films accompanied by a piano player, but never so much as a violin in addition to that.

The setting was the Paramount Theater in Oakland. The magnificence of this 82 year old classic art deco theater belies the notion that there is no there in Oakland. They've got one of the few places in the country that can show a movie requiring three screens and an orchestra. Just walking around this wonderfully preserved and refurbished theater was a thrill. I remember as a child when going to see a movie meant a trip to a theater, not a cineplex.

The sponsors of Napoleon were the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Bless them.

Napoleon in its current incarnation clocks in at 5 1/2 hours. Two intermissions and a dinner break were included as part of the program meaning that the 1:30 start resulted in a 9:40 finish. Including arriving very early and travel time there and back, my family had to (got to?) make do without me for 10 1/2 hours. For me it was time well spent. Very well.

For the first four hours of the Napoleon I was suitably impressed. I was watching a magnificent film on a huge screen in an idyllic setting with perfect musical accompaniment. Then it got really good. I mean really really good. The curtains bordering the huge screen spread revealing two more screens and the action in the story filled them all.

Wow.

Scenes of Napoleon's army preparing for battle spreading across three screens was something I shan't soon forget. But director Abel Gance (have I gone this far without evoking his name? Shame!) was not happy with just showing triple sized scenes. He at times had different things going on on each screen or even the same thing on the two outside screens to bookend the middle action.

The previous four hours or so were a feast for the eyes. This was the sweetest cinematic gluttony one could imagine. Cinemascope next to this is like grandma's old RCA.

The film ends when Napoleon is still but 27 years old (it begins with him as a child) having only recently wed Josephine and well before his assumption of France's throne.
Gance had planned to tell Napoleon's entire life story through another three super epic length films. It was not to be.

The history of cinema is rich with stories of films that were not well received, even reviled upon their release. Movies that were stashed away, sometimes after being edited and re-released in butchered forms only to be re-discovered, restored and re-released, Rules of the Game and Metropolis come immediately to mind.

With Napoleon, Gance was not just ahead of its time but ahead of any time. But even in the late 1920's it wasn't commercially viable for cinemas to show marathon films and next to none had the wherewithal for the triple screen, polyvision. Most audiences don't have the stamina for 300 minutes of movie.

In the U.S. a three hour version was shown and audiences were not impressed. Napoleon the film met its Waterloo much sooner than Napoleon the historical figure. I will provide links to fuller tellings of the film's history, but suffice to say that Napoleon languished in obscurity for decades. Enter our hero, Kevin Brownlow. He is a film historian, documentarian and author who received an honorary Oscar in 2010 for his role in preserving films, such as Napoleon.

In 1980 Francis Ford Coppola toured a four hour version of the film with a score by his father Carmine. Brownlow's edit restores some scenes Coppola left out in addition to some recently discovered. It is widely believed that this version is as close as we'll ever come to seeing Gance's full vision.

There is an inherent difficulty in describing works of art that are deeply moving. Mere descriptions are perforce insufficient. Cluttering writing with laudatory adjectives can trivialize the experience and frustrate the reader. And with Napoleon it's not as if you can run out and see it next weekend or put it on your Netflix queue. Fortunately a DVD is currently in the works, unfortunately this is a movie, more than any other I've seen, that begs to be seen on the big screen. Make that screens.

Great art elevates the human spirit and can create a desire in the viewer to do more. I wanted to run home and read great novels, read the history of the French Revolution and Napoleon. I had to write the great American novel, write epic poems. I had to be part of the spirit of the world that contributes artistic expression, ideas and knowledge. The world is truly a wonderful place when works of art like Gance's Napoleon can be seen and appreciated.

Abel Gance's Napoleon is  stirring film making because it is unafraid to use any and every means at the director's disposal to tell a story. Indeed, it incorporates even methods that are not, or at least certainly weren't in 1927, available. Except, somehow this cinematic visionary. There are split screens, screens in two, four, eight and sixteen. There are camera shots from well above the action giving perspective, and right directly within revealing the true excitement of a child's snowball fight and the frenzied joy of a wild party. Gance used his cameras masterfully, showing the biggest and smallest of moments with variously the heaviest and lightest of touches. There is drama aplenty, humor, tragedy, misery, joy, pathos and well any other component of human experience you care to name.

There are so many moments from the film that I'll not soon forget. Scenes of the convention during the French Revolution captured the passion of people walking the fine line between creators of a republic and creators of mob rule. (The scene in which the La Marseille is introduced was moving to me, thanks in great part to the orchestra but also to Gance's diretion.) Battle scenes where a hand, just a hand, sticks out of the mud. The drum that mysteriously moves on its own volition (why spoil it telling more, you'll see it after all, somehow). The faces. Like any great director, Gance used the faces of his characters as an emotional framework. And what faces he had to work with! Albert Dieudonne and Vladimir Roudenko as the adult and young Napoleon respectively were born for their roles. They only serve to highlight an exceptional cast.

Everything was highlighted by the magnificent performance by the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the direction of Carl Davis. Seeing a film accompanied by an orchestra is a treat any cinemaphile should get to experience.

Experience. That's what it was. In a classic art deco theater with fellow patrons from literally all over the world. Beholding a rarely scene masterpiece. How the devil do I follow this up?

Links and pics:
Official website, check out the video.
Wikipedia page on the film.
About the film and its restoration.

Closing screen shot of Josephine, Napoleon and Gance in the middle.

Photo I took from my seat.



Photo I took in the lobby of the theater.