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Classics "Napoleon" of Abel Gance: the titanic restoration of a major work of mute cinema

18:50  16 may  2021
18:50  16 may  2021 Source:   francetvinfo.fr

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for over a decade, Georges Mourier and Laure Marchaut have the restoration of a huge work of cinema Mute, "Napoleon" of Abel Gance. They hope to finish their work by the end of the year.

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Titanic restoration for a crazy film. For twelve years, in the depths of a nineteenth-century fort is preparing the rebirth of a masterpiece of mute cinema, Totem des Cinephiles: the Napoleon of Abel Gance.

"It is a dinguerie," says Georges Mourier, the project manager of this replenishment of a budget of 2 to 2.5 million euros, in the small vaulted and semi-buried room that he shares in The large suburbs of Paris since 2008 with its monitoring, Laure Marchaut.

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masterpiece of mute cinema

under the leadership of the French Cinémathèque , they put the last hand to the restoration of this major coin and unclassifiable from the cinematographic heritage, venerated by number of cinephiles and filmmakers, in the forefront of which Francis Ford Coppola. A Homeric task they hope to finish by the end of the year.

Relating the youth of Napoleon, until the beginnings of the Italian campaign, the film, projected for the first time in 1927, in a seven-hour version, is carried by an epic breath, full of visual and narrative innovations (including a famous end of triptych, on three simultaneous screens). "Abel Gance is very daring for his time, he mixes the sublime and trash, the fight in the mud and the fight in the sword", Synthetise Georges Mourier, about this "last superproduction" of the era of Mute: " At each sequence, it is a cinematographic revolution ".

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But, swept shortly after the boom of speaking cinema, forgotten for years, the coils of this unique and abundant work have been scattered around the world, some lost or destroyed. "Gance had no notion of heritage. It used its previous films to draw in "and create again. In total, there are between 19 and 22 versions of its Napoleon ... Result: Abel Gance's archives formed a dispersed fund and "incredible opacity", is the researcher.

A decade of

restoration has repeatedly, Napoleon has been restored. Georges Mourier and Laure Marchaut therefore thought originally to confine himself to a three-month mission to hand over a little order in the archives of the Cinémathèque. They will finally devote a decade, ranging from surprise.

Very quickly, Georges Mourier has the intuition that the previous restorations have never managed to restore the work of Abel Gance in its original form, the "great version" of seven hours presented in 1927, of which certain plans differ totally from Those used so far ... "It's a Film Frankenstein", whose coils have been "exploded around the world", sometimes found by miracle, in the end of Corsica, and "recomposed" by the Different restaurateurs, says Georges Mourier. To understand how Gance had built the same scene, where Napoleon hears the Marseillaise, the restaurateur had to draw a plan in a copy found in Rome, the next to Copenhagen ...

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Work of Dentier

"more than sewing, ON Made of lace: it was necessary to undo the laces from the predecessors, without breaking the thread, and withdraws in the right direction ". Sometimes working by image, they have appointed a total of 100,000 meters of film, some very damaged or extremely flammable, preserved under high security. Laure Marchaut never leaves her gloves to manipulate the film and still remembers the "strong smell of vinegar" that emanated from a box inside which the film had molded.

To maintain "the soul and material of the film", and avoid "the lifting effect" of digital treatments, the restoration of the images themselves has used chemical processes before high definition scans. "One thing is certain: the viewer will never know where we went to", assures Georges Mourier. Before that, it will be necessary to find a place of projection at the height of the cinematographic UFO that is this Napoleon.

The film "is made for a public communion", is the researcher, who imagines a projection "in front of thousands of people, with an orchestra on stage". And as long as to do, "why not in the invalid yard?".

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