2020 marks the 40th anniversary of a major landmark in Silent Film: the unveiling of Carl Davis score to Abel Gance’s epic 1927 silent film Napoléon. The impact on the audience was overwhelming and Live Cinema – the fusion of film and live music – was reborn. The same team, Kevin Brownlow, the late David Gill and Carl Davis, subsequently worked together on over thirty restorations of silent films, initially financed by Thames and later by Channel Four Television. Their efforts have resulted in a worldwide revival of this lost art form.
Napoléon is a tour-de-force of experimental filming techniques using multiple cameras, the mounting of cameras on sleds, horseback and overhead pendulums to achieve stunning visual effects ahead of their time, the visual culmination of the film being the triptych in the last 20 minutes when three screens are used to show Napoleon leading his army into Italy. Davis’s suitably epic musical accompaniment uses quotations from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Corsican folk tunes and a variety of other musical allusions and leitmotifs. All in all, this is an awe-inspiring live cinema experience.
Watch a trailer of Napoléon here