Written and directed by Abel Gance
Okay so I sat down and started watching this and really rather enjoyed the first half hour/40 minutes. And then I paused it and it turned out it’s a 5 and a half hour movie. GOOD LORD. WHY. Whyyy
So I’ve watched it in installments.
The opening sequences of Napoleon as a little boy are pretty rough to watch. I have issues with empathy and hating to see people being bullied. The bullying of Napoleon is harsh. Especially the bit where two of his schoolmates release his pet eagle just because they see how much he loves it. That’s exactly the kind of thing I have trouble with (see write up for American History X )
Very easy to see how impressively made this film is, how it led into the new wave cinema movement. The merging of images over other images, the different frames used, the splitting of the pillow fight into multiple pictures on the same screen. It’s impressive, and the special effects also make good storytelling sense when they’re used.
I wasn’t too sure if there’s any kind of meaning behind the different colours soaked over the footage. I guess just as a way to differentiate the different stages of the story, the stages of his life? The purple was very intense and I found it actually distracting.
The battle scenes are pretty impressive, I wonder how much it all cost back then to assemble a bunch of people. How much trick photography was used to make it look like more people were there? How many extras appear over and over again? The pasted together frames of the huge army with Napoleon addressing them at the end of the film is impressive. I’d never know if extras were doubled, or if half of them are matte paintings behind the extras but it’s not about that. The film maker has achieved an epic scope with those shots and it’s cool to see. The speech loses quite a lot for being on title cards, but the music is appropriately surging.
I didn’t manage to watch every minute of this film. It became such a chore in my mind, I just ended up watching selected highlights. I apologise for this, but I don’t particularly regret it. It’s too much story, too many life events, too many battles and too many sequences of staring at Napoleon’s face.
Does it make me love the people? Napoleon looks a lot like Noel Fielding which I kind of love. I don’t know how much I cared about him as a character though…
Bechdel test: There are named ladies other than Josephine but they’re only shown speaking to each other about Napoleon, which… given it’s a biopic makes sense. (Quite possible there were magical scenes of named women talking about other stuff in a bit I skipped though? I assume not, but… you never know.)
“all the scenes in Corsica were photographed exactly where they happened.” well, isn’t that sweet?
State of Mind: Like, it’s pretty good, in parts. The ball sequences are lush and fun to watch, the battles epic, etc. I think my favourite part was the childhood stuff… but it’s just too damn long. I can’t. It’s impressive, the end is inspiring, although I don’t particularly care about Napoleon’s successes, the surging music over the footage in the colours of the French flag is all the right notes for good propaganda – like at the end of Independence Day when the alien ship is crumbling and Will Smith says to his son ‘I promised you fireworks’ or something like that, and honest to the universe when I first saw that film I thought “I’m so glad I’m American!”