It was an alterna-hero of the early French cinema that brought Abel Gance’s Napoleon to the attention of Kevin Brownlow. Unenamoured with a Jean Epstein movie (Le lion des Mogols), which he’d bought on the then home video standard of a 9.5mm film print, Brownlow sought the advice of the store from where he’d bought the offending picture for a suitable alternative with which to replace it. Hardly spoilt for choice, and grumpily under the impression that it was a “classroom” film, Brownlow switched his copy of the Epstein film for a two-reeler that went by the title of Napoleon Bonaparte And The French Revolution.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
This coming Saturday sees the latest iteration of Brownlow’s on-going quest to rebuild Gance’s masterpiece screens in London. Now running to five and a half hours or so, of a potential nine, Brownlow’s staggering achievement is the equal of Gance’s visionary effort on-screen. One might even suggest that Brownlow is a worthy, second-life kind of co-auteur of the picture, such is his salvaging of a work once seen as hopelessly lost. Terms such as “the cinema event of the year” have been bandied about, and for once such hyperbole might not be idly placed.
Keep an eye on our Twitter feed throughout Saturday for a rolling update of proceedings.