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Thread: Abel Gance's NAPOLEON (1927)

  1. #16
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    You'll have a live orchestra, so I can't imagine it being a bore.
    It's an EVENT. It's HISTORY.
    Make sure you're rested up!
    Looking VERY forward to your words.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  2. #17
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    Sorry to disappoint you but now i am not going. It's complicated, but I am just not able to go at this time and under these circumstances. I will have to hope I can see it some time, in some form. I have not, so far. And I realize that's a pity. I am very impressed, Johann, at your detailed description of the film. You've done a remarkable job. It's a thorough description and at the same time a worthy tribute.

    I have been talking with a friend about the early snowball battle sequence. It seems it was somewhat copied by Cocteau in his Dargelos scenes of a similar snow battle. I also have read that some think the actor who plays the boy Napoleon has more flair than the one who plays the older Napoleon. Those who have seen the film in the theater in the past, and I know at least two people who have, said that what you miss in seeing it on video is the opening up to the three screens at the end, which is a spectacular effect. Needless to say any film expecially an epic like this one is much better seen on the big screen but I am not going to eat my heart out at not being able to see it this time. I have seen a lot of special films and I will have to live without this one at this time.

    I am impressed by your description of Gance's use of multiple screen and multiple image effects and extremely dynamic camera movement, the invention of the dolly shot, and many other daring effects. I have seen some clips and can see that he was extremely inventive.

    Why did Kubrick not like it and find it too rough? What exactly is "rough" about Gance's Napoleon?

    In the Wikipedia article thaey indicate that earlier recensions werre at 24 frames and later ones at 20 frames, which means that originally it was fast and jerky and later versions are smoother.

    When you talk about the drum effects, what do you mean? Does your VHS version have drum sound effects on it? You talked a lot about the visuals but you said nothing that I noticed about the sound. Was it the music by Coppola's father? It seems that at one time Coppola prevented anyone from showing the film without his father's music. Yet the Wikipedia article on Gance's Napoleon lists practically a dozen versions of the film. I think early on it was cut to under two hours for a US version. And there have been three or four different compositions for it. The first one was Artur Honneger, who belonged to the Groupe des Six (including Milhaud, Poulenc, Auric, and incidentally including Cocteau as a non-musical member). I think I would really like to hear that music rather than the latest version, or Coppola's. Honneger is a significant composer. And I love that light, cool style of the Groupe des Six. It's sort of Art Deco music. I am, really, not a silent film person, even though my father was and used to rave about the great German silents to me when I was young. At the same time, I do not really like movie music that much, a lot of the time. I respond much more to the images. Do you think that sound and/or music was an essential part of Gance's conception of Napoleon?

    I found Honnerger's music on YouTube. A bit disappointed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOvgC...eature=related

    It is too bad they can't manage to present the film more often. Its history is a little bit sad from the beginning, starting from the fact that Gance spent all the money for six parts on the first part, and had to stop there. Why does it have to be such a big production? Why not show it like a miniseries, in two or three parts on separate days, so people can see it without giving up their whole day? This was done with Shoah, which I saw last year. It's nine hours, and was shown at IFC Center on two successive days. It worked out quite well. The music could be recorded. The presentation should be made affordable. Making it a jewel box production that costs from $60 to $150 a ticket doesn't exactly make the film available to young aspiring filmmakers, does it? It becomes a diversion for the bourgeoisie.

    For the moment the opening 9+ mins. of the snowball battle is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZLyQ...eature=related
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-31-2012 at 01:27 AM.

  3. #18
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    That's too bad about not being able to attend. But life goes on. It has to.

    Stanley Kubrick called it crude, and I think that's a bit unfair. I'm not one to argue with the Grand Master, but if you are someone who doesn't like silent films to begin with then Gance's Napoleon will seem utterly insufferable.
    I'm a film buff, so I look at it from a different angle. Kubrick was consumed by his own version, so he was critical of any Napoleon film. He said Bondarchuk's War and Peace has a nice ballroom scene but overall not up to snuff.
    Imagine what Kubrick's would have looked like. It would have been gorgeous.
    Barry Lyndon is all you need to see how it would have looked.

    Gance really aimed for Greatness with this one and achieved it. Kubrick said that there has never been a good Napoleon film but in all honesty he was wrong. Abel Gance did the best job you could hope for, given his times and resources.

    That's a good point about the boy who plays the young Napoleon- Vlad R. He does have more magnetism than Albert D.
    That boy has a real temperament that is only reached fleetingly by Albert.
    If you do research on the casting of the title role, you'll discover that Albert dressed up one night in full Napoleon costume and arrived at Gance's house in the middle of the night, as a ghost. The nightwatchman (?) couldn't believe who was at the door.
    Albert (as Napoleon) angrily asked him: "Don't you know your Emperor when you see him? Go get your Master!"
    He wanted the part bad and he got it. And he did a great job. But the boy was better.


    My vhs copy has drum sounds on the soundtrack during certain parts- I have a very high quality VCR- (19 (micron) heads).
    Carmine Coppola does do the score and it's rousing. I dig it. I don't know much about the groupe des six- thanks for the info.
    As far as whether or not Gance wanted Coppola score, he heard it at that premiere in Telluride, and he weeped.
    So that about says it all about whether it was suitable.

    $150 a ticket?
    Hmmm.
    That's not very affordable.
    Last edited by Johann; 01-21-2013 at 08:12 AM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  4. #19
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    Well, it's unfortunate that I said I was going to go and then couldn't make it.

    Now I'm a film buff too, ain't I? Can't I be a film buff but not a big fan of silent film? I recognize the importance of studying them to understand the history, and I recognize that there are masterpieces among them. I've studied the opening snow fight sequence carefully and I can see the ways it's remarkable for its time, indeed for any time. It's very inventive at certain points and visually extremely lively. However I think the medium at that point has certain limitations. One has to make many allowances. You yourself qualify your praise of the film, "Abel Gance did the best job you could hope for, given his times and resources." There are problems of the silent medium itself. Acting becomes mime. And the language of mime doesn't communicate in the same way at all as speech. I saw Marcel Marceau various times both on film and live, and frankly I could never really tell what he was getting at. I'm a visual artist, so one can't say I'm "not visual." The other thing is that one has to make allowances for the quality of the image itself. It works best in closeups. In the long shots, the figures are twisted and attenuated. The images are rickety and the whole image doesn't hold to the horizontal but at times shifts off kilter in one direction of the other. This was a medium in its infancy. We can adore early renaissance Italian painnting, yet know that perspective had not yet fully developed. In writing, the English language changed completely from Chaucer's time through the 16th, 17th, 18th, to today, yet we can read any book written in modern English without making any allowances. We don't have to make allowances because Dickens didn't have electricity or because Hemingway didn't have a computer.

    The long passage when the screen shows overlays of young Napoleon's face with images of the battle is the most inventive. However, it is only a very impressionistic and partly expressionistic version of events. Do we really know that Napoleon was the winner till he comes forward at the end? That is the clincer. It's a clear, simple scene, and the text where the schoolmaster tells him he will go far is more essential to the whole sequence, conventional though it is, than the fantastic overlays.

    19 heads! How is that possible? My VCRs aren't currently even set up to work, though i do have plenty of tapes still on file. i also have a small collection of laser discs. i read somwhere that there was a version of Gance's Napoleon on laser disc. I do hope to get to review the whole film in some form some day.

    Thanks for your further notes about the two actors. I don't find Albert at all appealing. Maybe one doesn't have to.

    Kubrick became a master at a time when the art was highly developed. However the early film we saw by him during New Directors this year was not particularly impressive. It would be useful for scholars though, because it has hints of certain things to come. This is listed in the ND/NF + Film Comment Selects thread (forums) but I didn't "review" it because I focus on new films when I cover festivals. This is more a predictor of themes than a preview of technical accomplishments or style.

    FEAR AND DESIRE (1953) 72min
    Director: Stanley Kubrick
    Country: USA

    Directed, photographed, and edited by the talented and ambitious 24-year-old
    Kubrick, FEAR AND DESIRE was written by his high school classmate, Howard
    Sackler, who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in playwriting. Some Kubrick
    scholars see this wartime drama of five soldiers behind enemy lines and their
    encounter with a native woman as a dry run for PATHS OF GLORY; others see it
    as the original to the second half of FULL METAL JACKET. A Kino Lorber
    release.

  5. #20
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    I have Fear and Desire on VHS. It is a horrible movie.
    You have a great point: Kubrick's first efforts were amateur compared to Gance.
    But Kubrick improved by leaps and bounds and then grew balls with regards to the complexity of his subject matter.

    Albert Dieudonne has bad hair, and I think a more charismatic actor would have been better- someone who could really give us the AURA of a man with the Leadership temperament of Napoleon.
    I read that they wanted to avoid a "Douglas Fairbanks on a horse" movie. They wanted to avoid that kind of thing at all costs.
    Silent film does have it's limitations, agreed. And this one has it's limitations.
    One thing that annoys is that we know there is TONS of missing footage and that it's not a complete film, so your mind is always thinking:
    "Do I have to fill in any blanks with these cuts?"
    "Are these sequences in the proper order?"
    "Is this coherent?"

    Kevin Brownlow did the reconstruction, and he knows the story on this film better than any man breathing. I trusted his 4 hour cut and I trust his 5 hour 45 minute cut. I would also trust his 8 or ten hour cut, if there were such a thing.
    Last edited by Johann; 04-02-2012 at 01:28 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  6. #21
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    I haven't read much by or about Kevin Brownlow, but I saw a photo of him with Gance in 1967 when he was quite young. He has apparently devoted his life to Gance's Napoleon. It is his great project. So we have to trust him. But the film evidently has a checkered history. Didn't it come to the US first in a 80-something minute version? So it has been chopped up a lot. Nonetheless the grandeur and ambition (and avoidance of conventionality, of Douglas Fairbanks stuff fluff) must be acknowledged, and the multiple overlapping and use of extremely rapid cutting are adventurous for any time.

    Keven Brownlow by the way was reportedly at the first showing at the Paramount in Oakland weekend before last. But my friend in London said he saw this version withh the new music in the BFI earlier. So this was not the debut, just the US debut, if that's right.

    I'm glad you say Fear and Desire is "a horrible movie." So I didn't have to say it. The writer may have gotten a Pulitzer, but the script is corny and dated. It reads like some Fifties TV drama, and not one I'd be likely to long remember. However some of the portrait and closeupps of the general I thought reflected a Kubrickian intensity. On the other hand the cutting is nothing much. Yeah, it's just awful. He was no Nouvelle Vague genius. A slow developer. But they can be the most impressive, and he certainly is.

  7. #22
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    Another note. An article from Senses of Cinema on the occasion of the two 2004 showings of Brownliow's edition of Gance's Napoleon at the Royal Albert Hall is by Dean Bowman, then an MA candidate at Edinbugh University. It has come good critical comments on the film as history and on the "doubling" of Browlow, Gance, and Napoleon. He also goes into the legal aspects involving conflicts over rights to the film with Francis Ford Coppola. Claude Lelouch also resisted showings of the Coppola film due to his controlling the rights to the 'unsuccessful' version by Gance himself done in 1970.

    http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2006/f...cles/napoleon/

    Coppola, so it goes, is opposed to the Brownlow restoration being shown without his father’s score, and Lelouch has resisted screenings of it in France for fear that it would overshadow Bonaparte et la Révolution, which he has apparently been marketing as the definitive version.

    It was in this atmosphere of legal intrigue that Brownlow dramatically labelled the screening at the Royal Festival Hall a “showdown”, thus infusing the event with almost as much excitement as the film itself. The audience were duly praised as daring cinéastes or as cultural dissenters, willing to see the ‘illegal’ film at all costs. Brownlow’s introduction thus succeeded in turning the Festival Hall into a simulacrum of the revolutionary convention, which is so dramatically presented in the film itself. This, of course, added to the experience, Brownlow and Gance being both agreed that film should be a spectacle.

    The London screening was, fundamentally, an experiment designed to test the legal waters, which is why it had to be so high-key in its scale and venue. Indeed, Coppola responded to the screening by taking out an injunction against it, which was thankfully thrown out of court. With this victory under his belt, the next step for Brownlow is to release the film on DVD. However, the future of the film is uncertain and, when I asked Brownlow whether it will ever be released, he replied, “If you see the DVD it will be a miracle. But it will be the only way to break the American Embargo.” (3) The ball is in the British Film Institute’s hands and only it can bring the project to fruition.

    --Dean Bowman, Senses of Cinema
    Bowman quotes Geoff Andrew's book, The Director’s Vision: A Concise Guide to the Art of 250 Great Filmmakers: "As hagiography, the film, for all its length and detail, is dramatically conventional, psychologically simplistic and politically suspect, celebrating Bonaparte’s relentless rise to imperial power. Cinematically, however, it remains a triumph of audacious technique."

    Great description of the 1979 Telluride showing of Napoleon with Gance present:
    Brownlow’s first restoration of Napoléon, now much expanded upon by his latest version, though still forming the basis of the version held by Coppola, resulted in an audacious open air screening at the 1979 Telluride Film Festival, which was attended by Gance at the age of 89. Gance watched from his hotel window and acknowledged the shocked crowd “like the emperor” (28) himself. Brownlow says of the event that “the overriding feeling was of being a part of returning an astonishing work of art to the man who made it, in the midst of an extremely appreciative audience.
    --Bowman, based on Browlow's book on the film.
    This 5,000-word piece seems like a great introduction to the film and the issues surrounding it. Really excellent piece.

  8. #23
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    Great stuff. Thanks for all those items.

    That's true about Claude Lelouch- that info can be found in Brownlow's book too.
    There was a little 'war' over the screening of this film in it's various versions and soundtracks in the 1980's.

    I don't think this film has ever been on DVD, has it? It's been tied up in legal mumbo-jumbo for years. But Criterion say they are interested in releasing it. The film definitely focuses on the RISE on Bonaparte- it's all about his rise.
    The politics may be suspect, thrown together on the fly, written rather hap-hazardly. I wondered how accurate the speeches were- were those sentiments things these folks WOULD HAVE said? Did it exactly go down like that? Probably not.
    Most definitely not. But Gance was being daring. It was over 100 years after the man lived. Even Kubrick with all of his research and knowledge, would have had to use creative license. This is cinema after all.

    It is a triumph of cinematic technique. That is it's true merit.
    Historically it's a document of how early silent filmmakers were finding their way with a formidible subject.
    We can sit here and say "Why didn't they do to Napoleon what David Lean did for Lawrence?"
    But the medium was still in it's infancy.

    Context.... remember the context......
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  9. #24
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    A version of Napoleon was made available on DVD. Amazon listed one copy, for sale for $400! 3 hours and 40 mins., Japanese, all region format. It's gone now. Somebody with money to burn, probably prompted by the Oakland showing, has snapped it up so it's "currently unavailable." A DVD of Gance's La Roue is available for $36.

    http://www.amazon.com/Napoleon-Abel-.../dp/B0013FDO4K

    I'm sure most of this information is in Brownlow's book, but this Senses of Cinema piece provides an excellent wide-ranging summary, obviously the fruit of the Bowman chap's researches at the time as a budding film scholar. There is a short "Art Beat" video interview with Brownlow prior to the Oakland event that gives a general picture.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMlnRP3qOYE

    There's a short much earlier video of Brownlow by himself talking about Gance's innovations in filming and editing. The Russians, Eisenstein, owed it to him, and came and thanked him for what he'd taught him. It has several clips showing camerawork on horses and waves, and editing of a sequence with the Terror, Dantan speaking at a blacksmith's shop, and Napoleon at a window intercut rapidly.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ2kRzJajyo

    Of course there is a lot of stuff and there will be more now in print following up on the Oakland showing.

    Even Brownlow says that a lot of Gances's films were bombastic or melodramatic, but he claims Gance was the greatest filmmaker in Europe from 1916 to 1927.

  10. #25
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    Thanks for all the good supplements!

    I'm glad it's being discussed. Interest in this film is good.
    The Oakland events are shining more light on it and I'm very glad.
    I'm not even looking for reviews of the new cut. I don't really want to know.
    If you reviewed it Chris I would have listened. I want to see it with my own eyes before drawing conclusions from someone else's impressions if I can help it.
    I'm sure we'll see some new books and scores of essays on the new release.
    Nothing wrong with that. I wish more people cared.

    Gance has shortcomings- don't think I'm just putting him on a pedestal here.
    His importance in cinema history can never be downplayed. He influenced some big names.
    Believe it or not I've never seen La Roue- on vhs or DVD or otherwise.
    That one might be more important than Napoleon.
    I should find it.
    Napoleon was a logistical nightmare- even a logistical holocaust, if you count how Kubrick eventually gave up. (He couldn't get the Romanian army to play his soldiers- it fell through on him). And then Waterloo with Rod Steiger popped up....perfect storm against Kubrick's production.

    Gance's Napoleon will always be the first epic on Napoleon and right now, it's the last.
    We STILL don't have anybody willing or capable of Frankensteining this for all times?
    WE NEED IT.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  11. #26
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    I was surprised to learn that basically the same presentation was made of this enlarged Brownlow version with the Carl Davis music in London at the Royal Festival Hall so long ago as 2004. Is it Coppola's opposition or lack of interest that took them seven years to put it on in the US? I didn't realize that Kubrick was going to do a Napoleon movie. That explains why he was so critical of Gance's -- competition. I think Brownlow said La Roue was just as innovative, all of Gance's films were. I have never seen or even heard of it, but I have never pursued silent films. They are shown at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, CA, which is not that far from me, but which I go to only rarely, sometimes for showings of SFIFF films if I can; it's hard to park but easier to get to than the main SF venue.

    However I went over to SF today to the new SFFilm Society Theater (an achievement of the late Graham Leggett, on his watch anyway), which is a very nice spot where they show their own weekly presentations of new films, really close to the Kabuki Cinemas (the main venue of the festival) and has a cafe with excellent coffee and maybe the best cinema seats I've seen yet. I'll be seeing four of six press screenings for the festival there. Today's was a very fine French documentary called Entre les bras, AKA Stepping Up to the Plate (weird, culturally out of tune translation), about a son taking over from his father as chef at the family's Michelin multi-star restaurant in the Hautes-Pyranees. I'm not really into fancy food. I rely heavily on steak-frites or sandwiches when I'm min Paris by myself. But the family tightness, the creativity, and the immense dedication to standards of excellence made me cry. Beautiful film.

    What they are showing to the public at this theater this week is House of Pleasures, the French period flick about a brothel that actually existed at the turn of the century in Paris. I reviewed it in October in Paris. Its international title I thought was House of Tolerence. Its French title is L'Appollonide (souvenirs de la maison close). Beautiful, partly disturbing film.

    http://www.filmleaf.net/showthread.p...6924#post26924

    They showed Kill List which I'd liked to see; I missed it in NYC earlier. It ran there in early Feb. House of Pleasures ran commercially in NYC last November. So it goes. They get everything. The new SFFFS (and some Landmark Theaters in the Bay Area) briefly make available some of these films that don't get out here otherwise.

    SFFilm Society Theater coming presentations to the public are This Is Not a Film and The Turin Horse.

    What did you mean by "Frankensteining it," bringing back the Napoleon bio to life?

    .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2012 at 06:18 PM.

  12. #27
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    A couple more links to information that sheds some more light on this fascinating topic:

    The recent Criterion thread/forum on Napoleon occasioned by the Oakland showings:
    http://www.criterion.com/current/pos...poleon-returns

    The issue of a Criterion release of the film comes up, but it's unanswered.

    And a review of the film by an IMDb commentator who calls himself Quibble that discusses the Coppola version:
    http://www.imdb.com/user/ur2282543/comments

    Quibble had attended the London 2004 presentation which was more or less the same, I assume, as the 2012 Oakland one. He discusses what Coppola was up to in 1980-81, the faults of his (anyway much shorter) version of the film, as well as the Australian DVD of his version. This is an excellent comment.

  13. #28
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    Thanks for the heads up on Entre les bras, House of Pleasures and Kill List.

    Yes, I meant bringing Napoleon to life in an Awesome way by "Frankenstein"
    It would be a big production. It could be the next great film epic, if someone had the drive.
    Even single BATTLES are worthy of one movie. It doesn't have to be a straight bio-pic.
    It could single out one day in his life if you wanted. It could be a week! Whatever would make exciting cinema.
    I mean, a lavish EPIC is in the making here.
    The maps are all there. You could even shoot the script Kubrick wrote. All kinds of options for this to be done right...

    The comments on the Criterion site are cool. Kindred folks there. They know what it's all about.

    As far as Francis Ford Coppola, I don't know the exact extent to which he has ownership.
    Claude Lelouch had the world rights to the film as of 1983, and he had plans to re-release it and it all got snafu'd
    So that would be something to find out: who owns the rights, to this new cut or any cut.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  14. #29
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    It seems that Coppola allowed Brownlow and the Silent Film Festival to put on this Carl Davis-scored longer reedit in his own bailiwick, so to speak, of Northern California, so he may be subsiding. It's a long time since the early Eighties. Maybe Sofia said Cool it, Dad.

  15. #30
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    I have finished going over the Taschen mammoth book Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: THE GREATEST FILM NEVER MADE, and I now have 95% of the info I need on that film. It's 95% there in that book. It even has a key card that gives you exclusive access to Kubrick's picture file of 17,000 Napoleonic images.

    It's huge, this book, weighs over ten pounds, I think. It's a reprint of the original limited edition, which had 10 books concealed in a Napoleon history book. Although it explains why the film was shelved, "frozen in time, circa 1971", I am not satisfied with that. That is the 5% I am missing. There was a management change at MGM and Kubrick and the executives decided to part ways. That is not enough information for a Kubrick fan like me. The success of 2001: A Space Odyssey should have ensured his next picture a green light, at any cost, yet it didn't happen.
    And that silly film Waterloo shouldn't have fazed the production one bit. But it did somehow.

    I suspect powerful people just told Stanley point blank that he could not make a film about Napoleon. Anything but the Man himself.
    I happen to think that if people started investigating Napoleon as a result of seeing Kubrick's film, the world order would unravel.
    And they could not have that. AT ALL. "Make anything else, Stanley, PLEASE!" I can just hear them saying.

    This book has a Napoleon scholar give his insights on Napoleon on Film, in detail, and Abel Gance's Napoleon is one of them, it's described as a costly failure, with invented scenes and characters. All true.
    37 reels were chopped to 14. The film still has a high place in my mind, despite the facts.
    Kubrick said that Napoleon has everything a good story should have:
    A Towering Hero
    Powerful enemies.
    Loyal and treacherous friends.
    A tragic Love story.
    Cruelty.
    Sex.
    Armed combat.
    Bravery.

    What was the source of Napoleon's fall? This was Kubrick's aim, to flesh out this man, this shaper of history.
    Was it egotism? vanity? He made extraordinary errors when he was usually cautious. The book says the seed of his downfall was a blockade against Britain. It was sheer arrogance, that he could not be defeated that began his downfall. The wily Brits realized what Napoleon was doing and they flipped it on him. And got extremely rich in the process. The rest has shaped the world we live in, right down to TODAY, kids.

    There still hasn't been a good film made of Napoleon Bonaparte. And I don't think there ever will be.
    The real power structure of this planet will not allow it. People must not know what transpired there.

    Napoleon said:

    Conquest made me who I am. And Conquest alone will keep me there. Kubrick added in the margin: AN ENDLESS TASK.

    I miss you Stanley. I know what happened. And I love you.
    Last edited by Johann; 01-21-2013 at 08:18 AM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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