Director: Abel Gance
Year Released: 1927
At over four hours long, Abel Gance's famous "biopic" of French tactician Napoleon Bonaparte is not exactly easy viewing - while I am used to extended running times, even I had to break this one into two nights (which is what I recommend for pretty much anyone). Being both grand and extremely overdone, it calls for mixed reactions: there are (no doubt) those that can't deny the sheer size of the project and admire it for that, and there are others that think it's nothing but bloated hero-worship. From a historical aspect, I will concede that it is more than a little suspect, and I'm almost positive Gance took great liberties with the story to film the "myth" of Napoleon rather than the "reality" of his life narrative (he pays only little attention to the other key members of the French Revolution, Robespierre, Danton and Marat, who, played by the brilliant Antonin Artaud, is stabbed before he has much to say). Still, for all its over-the-top moments and wild performances, I simply couldn't look past Gance's visual inventiveness: the flash cuts, heavy-handed symbolism, superimposed images and now-legendary three-camera finale. It's not the most remarkable silent film to come out of France, but unquestionably one of the most ambitious.