Abel Gance

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nsps
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#151 Post by nsps » Thu Aug 14, 2008 3:08 pm

Saturnome wrote:I finally got the Usernet Napoleon. It seems my dvd player can't play those dvd9 stuff but it plays on my computers, fair enough.
This version is quite excellent, despite being a very old vhs rip it is very watchable, and what a joy to hear Carl Davis' scores, as always. The only thing that bugs me is the untriptych ending. When I saw Coppola's version on rented and faded vhs, that part made such an impact on me! But oh well, it's included as a bonus.
I must thank Kinsayder for posting about this, and his guide to usernet. I even made crappy dvd cover art!
I have a version with the Davis score applied to the Tryptich. The single-screen version definitely doesn't have the same kinetic, visceral impact, or even come close to emulating the three-screen version.

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La Clé du Ciel
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Re: J'ACCUSE

#152 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Tue Sep 23, 2008 12:59 pm

Well, my J’ACCUSE dvd arrived the other day and I have had a quick skip through. Image quality is great and they’ve made the fantastic decision to have the original French titles rather than concoct cheap-looking English ones (as they did with LA ROUE). I am so so happy this film is now out there!!

On the nit-picking side, there are a couple of points that I feel are worth mentioning (forgive me if these sound incredibly petty). I was dismayed to see that they haven’t changed the tinting since the (incompletely tweaked) broadcast stage, so the night-time farandole still gets tinted amber and then suddenly turns to blue (as I said before, this really looks wrong). The Diaz/Laurin reminiscence during the battle scene still switches from red to b/w and back again (anyone else think this sticks out?), and Jean’s night raid still looks odd not being blue. The amber for the fireside scenes in the finale still strikes me as too light… I was incredibly glad to see the original French titles instead of the new English ones (if only they’d been as kind to LA ROUE), but dismayed none of them were tinted – even some of those which showed letters etc being given CUs in the middle of tinted scenes were untinted! I saw on the essay by one of the restorers they’d found an incomplete tinted print in Holland and that’s what their colours are based on, but I wonder if the observations found in various accounts of that original tinted French print should have been followed… (And in some instances, the choices are just plain common sense in terms of continuity.)

The boast if it being the “original 1919 version” on the cover also seems rather misleading. This version is still 2000 metres short of the original cut – only three-fifths of the footage from 1919. Its current length corresponds to about 300 metres longer than the 1921 re-release version. I really don’t think it can differ much at all from this later version. (One other small detail is that they credited the 1922 novelisation of J’ACCUSE as by Gance himself, rather than being the work of Léon Moussinac.)

Oh well – I mustn’t complain. My quibbles are minor indeed – this is a great dvd. I never thought I would see both J’ACCUSE and LA ROUE in official releases on my shelf, but there they are…

Has anyone else got their copies yet? What do people think??

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Re: Abel Gance

#153 Post by foggy eyes » Sat Feb 21, 2009 7:50 am

Kristin Thompson on La roue: blog entry & video essay.

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Re: Abel Gance

#154 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Feb 21, 2009 4:01 pm

Where in flucks sake is La Clé du Ciel??

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La Clé du Ciel
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Re: Abel Gance

#155 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:46 am

I apologise for my absence, but Kristin Thompson’s piece has provoked me to reply. I have been writing something on LA ROUE anyway, so I am thoroughly pumped-up for a stern defence of the film at the moment!

(Reading this all again, I realise I’m about to have a horribly long rant, for which I apologise. However, I hope this is a well-backed-up rant and the film deserves to be defended, so… yea… Oh, and apologies if I will be spoiling bits of the plot for some, but why haven’t you gone and seen the film yet?!)

Thompson’s piece has lots of good things in it. Thankfully, she acknowledges the incomplete nature of the Flicker Alley release (many online reviews seem to take FA’s rather bogus claim of “most complete version since 1923” at face value). Also unlike many others, she doesn’t concentrate solely on the importance of the groundbreaking rapid-cutting as the sole reason to admire the film. Quite rightly, she points to the complex symbolism and the great amount of long shots and deep composition as essential elements to admire.

However! (I’m now going to launch into an unstructured tract – again, I apologise for my rambling.)

She then goes on to criticise the part of the film that has so many examples of deep composition and long shots – the second half. The switch to the mountains really makes this film! It’s so full of ridiculously wonderful location photography, so full of expansive long shots, so expressively rich in its use of landscape… Don’t neglect to mention all the tremendously effective aspects of this section rather than criticise it for being “relentlessly maudlin”!

Some specific instances that Thompson singles out…

That shot of Norma shivering in the doorway, for example, features her nervous tick that recurs in the latter portion of the film. It first appears after Elie falls to his death. This psychological mannerism is something Gance also uses in LA DIXIEME SYMPHONIE, where a repeated hand gesture (Eve wiping clean her dog’s foot) invokes the opening death – an event which dominates the blackmail narrative and haunts the main female character. Such is the same with Norma, who is haunted by a death (one which she has helped, however unwittingly, to cause). Thompson criticises the fact that Norma waits outside and doesn’t “immediately rush in”. But this is the point! She doesn’t come in because she has been avoiding Sisif for what we are led to understand is a long period of time! (If this isn’t made clear in the FA version, it certainly is in the longer versions.) And, as I already mentioned, the nervous tick here in the doorway is very important! Her nervous tick first appeared on the precipice, after which Sisif can’t bear to be with Norma because of the association between her and Elie’s death (and, of course, his own guilt/desire – both Elie and Sisif have rejected her in the past). Now, Norma is desperate to reach out to Sisif and she stands on the threshold of his cabin. Gance shows her paused here for a reason, not just to be picturesquely maudlin and self-indulgent, or whatever vague reason Thompson implies he did it for… The close-up of her face and the reappearance of her tick tell us why she is pausing and what it means! Again, I dislike the way something is breezily dismissed without being properly evaluated.

I will come back to the latter portion of the film later, but I just wanted to pick up on a few points Thompson makes…

Sometimes I feel Thompson concentrates on what she feels is the film’s emphasis on the seriousness of it all. For example, she describes Gance’s appearance at the beginning in detail, but seems to miss the whole point of that shot being there, saying it serves to show us the author is “inspired, serious, and artistic”. I’m sure that’s implied, but the real point of it is surely his personal connection to the film and its plot? The haunting image of his face over the gloomy trainyard lingers for some time – the melancholy tones of the image and the direct gaze of the director at the audience pointing to a personal tragedy unavoidably linked with the narrative of the film. Gance believed in the spiritual qualities of superimposition, able to unify its subjects and spectators. In this shot in LA ROUE, subject and author are interwoven in Gance’s direct gaze at the audience. LE DROIT A LA VIE (1917) was the first of Gance’s films to open with an image of the director himself (that I know of). LA DIXIEME SYMPHONIE ends with an image of the director bowing to the audience. Gance includes his signature and hand-written notes at the opening or close of many other films. In LA ROUE, his appearance is filmed in a way that absorbs him into the imagery of the film. The subsequent shot is a close-up of a hand-written note signed by Gance explaining the film’s dedication to his late fiancée (I’m not sure why he writes “femme”, implying “wife”, as they were not married). The director is both author and victim of his narrative.

Also, I dislike the way Thompson criticises the “cute” cat and dog. I don’t think you see any more of the cat and dog in the shorter FA version, but in the long prints you certainly see the cat and dog fighting whilst the children sleep. The whole night-time sequence is longer and the intercutting between Norma/Elie/cat/dog and the confused rescue operations at the wreck more sustained. It also reminded me of Ingram’s FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, where a young couple are compared to a fighting cat and dog. In both films, I think this is both amusing and telling. Even in the shortened FA edition of LA ROUE, without the scenes of the cat and dog fighting, the appearance of the animals has significance. After all, Gance isn’t saying “Oh look, how cute!” He’s drawing attention to the fact they are not of the same family. This is surely the obvious point here? The whole idea that small dog and small cat don’t know they’re different, but when they grow up… This scene is not about cuteness! Please don’t criticise something without properly evaluating why it’s there!

Thompson never mentions the film’s use of humour, either, which I think is interesting in the way it functions as part of dramatic contrast/ironic juxtaposition/satire etc. (Not as interesting as the comedy in NAPOLEON, but nevertheless worthy of mention.) Again, longer prints have more scenes which make more sense out of things only briefly in the shorter versions…

Thompson also criticises the hand reaching out of the wreckage. She says this is “especially trite” because we’ve seen another scrambling hand in the wreckage before. But… I still don’t get why this more interesting shot of a hand reaching out against the moonlight in silhouette is “trite”? Does it not serve a purpose at all? No possible implications? Nothing about the importance of the wreck in determining the children’s future? Nothing about their ignorance of this, as shown through a striking image and dramatic composition? Nothing about the burial (literal and figurative) of evidence? Nothing about Norma’s mother? (We see a couple of female figures in the wreck, none of whom are identified.) Nothing being drawn between the savage nature of the wreck and something else? No? Not the contrast between this and the innocence of the children? No? Nothing about this? Nothing about, say, the frantic scrabbling of the hand and the stillness of the children sleeping? Nothing about the ironic juxtaposition of images? Nothing about the choice to end the sequence not with an image of safety, but of danger? Nothing about the implications of the children’s future? Nothing about a desperate signal for help and recognition following on from one of unknowing acceptance? None of this is worth mentioning, is it? This all means nothing, huh? Because that shot of the hand is trite, yes? We saw a shot containing a slightly similar hand to this before, so this shot is hackneyed, yes?

(Sorry – I appear to have resorted to sarcasm, but I have got myself worked up…)

To come back to one of the valuable things Thompson says (and I’m sorry if I appear to be entirely negative towards her piece), there is the issue of depth of composition and the combination of interiors/exteriors. Critics (starting with Bazin, who had absolutely no interest in Gance’s films) usually looked to Renoir for deep composition/depth of focus and long takes etc. Yet LA ROUE deserves a great deal of credit in terms of such complex staging. Gance’s construction of sets in the midst of the railyards in Nice allow the realistic and symbolic environment (rails, wheels, smoke, soot etc) to permeate the drama. When we see Sisif spying on Norma from his window, the outdoor set and depth of staging combine the various fields of action (window, swing, rail lines). The interlinked nature of these areas expresses the relationship between Sisif’s gaze, Norma’s innocent allure, and the threat of the engine that slowly looms into frame. Gance’s uniting interior sets and exterior locations was a big influence on Renoir. We can see this in PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE (1936), where the men observe Henriette on the swing through the inn’s window. Just as the same technique does in LA ROUE, the partial set built outside enables the unification of interior/exterior spaces. The image of Henriette on the swing is very similar to the scene in LA ROUE with Sisif and Norma that I’ve just described. (Renoir’s swing-mounted camerawork later in this sequence reminds me of the pendulum-mounted shots of the Double Storm and the swings in the Victims’ Ball IN NAPOLEON.)

Yet you never hear about Gance’s impact beyond editing, especially not on a director usually supposed to be so different (if not diametrically opposed) as Renoir. I’m so weary of some critics dismissing LA ROUE for what seem like such petty reasons. It is a fundamentally important and influential film – please don’t try and nit-pick this latecomer out of its rightful place alongside existing canonical films!

To return to the finale of the film…

I’m sorry (and I dislike the way I feel obliged to apologise for something that doesn’t deserve apology!), but I really feel that the close of the film is genuinely successful, emotionally and cinematically. A couple of moments have always struck me…

When Norma goes out to join the dancing villagers, she puts a bow in her hair. She powders her face, but spots a grey hair and notices the age in her face. She realises she is no longer young, that she is too old to wear a bow in her hair. Her nervous tick seems suddenly to reappear, but she suddenly shakes off her momentary depression and takes off the bow, rushing outside to join the dancers. I find this moment very touching. Her reaction from sadness to optimism passes in the briefest of moments, but it has stuck with me ever since I first saw it.

I read a review of J’ACCUSE and LA ROUE in Cineaste, where the author said the symbolism at the close of LA ROUE was silly, singling out the dissolving smoke rings as particularly ludicrous. No! No No No! It’s a lovely touch! The unending physicality, the sheer weight and obsessive omnipresence of the wheel, is beautifully transformed in this moment. Sisif’s struggling to place his pipe in his mouth, the way in which the train model slips from his hands, the sight of his dog barking behind him… it’s an incredibly touching scene and, I would argue, it works because of the sheer volume and complexity of what has gone before it. Again, like Norma’s quiet (and private) moment of realisation that she is no longer young, the image of Toby barking silently as Sisif dies has stayed with me for years. I’m not quite sure I can adequately explain why this is. It seems something to do with the way we last see Sisif at the back of his cabin, dead but still looking out of the window – the stillness of it, emphasised by Toby’s barking… I don’t know if I can analytically explain it adequately, but I really feel it works…

The way in which such moments are set against the beautiful landscape of snow and clouds and mountains are truly wonderful… Those final shots of the dance beneath the snow-covered mountains. Can I just point out the (again, what I think is an obvious point!) staggeringly impressive location shooting? This film deserves praise! Don’t keep nitpicking it to death, it’s too bloody important and its great qualities utterly outweigh any flaws!!

As I’ve said before, the obsessive emotion and desires really pulse through the first half in a way which has an almost physical force – a result of the editing and camerawork, the way in which the environment is captured and displayed, but also the physicality of Séverin-Mars’ performance.. The “symphony in white” possesses a different character. The switch from urban railway yards to the vast, open mountains marks a profound change in tone. The geographical shift allows the film’s transcendent themes to emerge. The characters’ acceptance of life’s eternally repeating cycle is made possible through the space of the setting. Sisif’s slow descent into old age and blindness is still powerfully moving because of Séverin-Mars’ performance. The way he is positioned in the landscape is such a contrast to his brutish presence in the “symphony in black”. The idea of overcoming desire (in its various forms) to find spiritual release is central to the philosophy Gance draws on in LA ROUE (I’m thinking particularly of Schopenhauer, as well as dharmic religions, Nietzsche etc). The film’s obsession with the burden and destructive power of sexual/emotional desire is reflected not only in Gance’s numerous quotations and literary references, but also in the body of the film itself. The extraordinary evocation of release in the film’s finale (the smoke-rings melting away from Sisif’s pipe, the broken train model, Norma’s circular dance in the mountains, the close-up of wheels reversed in negative over the clouds) dissolves the closeted, fractious atmosphere of the first half into a beautiful sense of resigned peace in the second.

Eesh… I’ve gone on and on and on – sorry!

I can’t tell you just how many times I have read the same thing said about Gance again and again. Content = primitive hokum; style = radical progression. This is far too simplistic a judgement. The absolute necessity of examining how form and content function together in Gance’s films is something that needs to be addressed. People sometimes become such prudes about Gance! Are other canonical silent films allowed to rely on high, even “old-fashioned” (such a vague phrase) melodrama, but not LA ROUE? Of course there are clunky elements in this film! But please be more careful in your reasons and arguments when you pick things out for criticism. If you happen not to like it even after working out precisely what it’s doing and why, then fair enough – I’m really sorry you can’t engage with this film! But please don’t ignore everything that it’s doing and then try to claim it’s hackneyed or simplistic… This film has been neglected for so SO long, its return should be welcomed!
Last edited by La Clé du Ciel on Sat Sep 03, 2011 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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La Clé du Ciel
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Re: Abel Gance

#156 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Thu Mar 05, 2009 2:58 pm

I felt I should post a brief follow-up to the above. I apologise for the tone of my emphatic response and wanted to clarify the target/direction of my frustration!

Firstly, if I say “people” or even “you”, I am only referring to those certain critics who have a rather disparaging and (I firmly believe) misleading opinion of Gance and particularly LA ROUE and NAPOLEON. I have been writing about Gance for some time and dealing with the critical literature on him is often deeply aggravating. If it felt like I was just shouting at everyone who didn’t agree with me, I apologise – this was certainly not my intention. The urge to vent against another example of a certain type of critical response was too much! Not being able to argue in person with well-known names that get to voice their (in my view misplaced!) judgements, I sense my last post was almost randomly lashing out…

So often, there is a maddening unwillingness to evaluate the strengths of Gance’s films. Having been terribly marginalised from, if not completely forgotten by, film history, some critics seem either unwilling or unable to fit Gance into their established canons. The case of Kirstin Thompson is a case in point. The formalist approach to film history sometimes can’t cope with the incredible array of styles/techniques/ideas of Gance’s great silent films – not to mention their sheer size and scope! Rather than adapt their views to incorporate these weird and wonderful works, critics sometimes dismiss out of hand films which need a more considered approach to offer a genuinely useful analysis. Whilst not trying to be anything even approaching a full study of LA ROUE, Thompson’s piece nevertheless illustrates a pervasive attitude in some quarters regarding Gance’s worth. Part of the reason I feel so strongly about Gance is that his name still struggles to be known and his greatest films still struggle to be seen. When LA ROUE was finally commercially released, over 85 years after its making, reading lukewarm responses is enough to provoke me into a fierce response. (For example, read the recent reviews in Cineaste for a typically double-edged review, never offering a compliment without an equally dismissive, if not downright patronising and superior, rebuke.)

Part of the problem is still, alas, availability. The fact that the FA dvd of LA ROUE is not by some way as complete as it could be (or is claimed to be) can only add to the incomplete/inadequate appreciation of the film. Further to the fundamental problem of incompletion, there is a similar lack of really thorough evaluation. The vast array of ideas that inform the film – philosophical/religious/literary/formal – don’t get discussed in anything like the detail they should. Critical reaction to Gance is another topic entirely, and I don’t want to launch into another debate here… Indeed, the lack of resources (either in terms of film availability or of critical work) makes it difficult to have a thorough debate at all! How can we even provoke discussion if most people either haven’t or simply cannot see the films? The criminal neglect of Gance’s role in film history makes the importance of restoring and evaluating his creations a matter of supreme urgency. This is what maddens me about reading bite-size reviews that bypass the richness of the films they discuss.

Gance said, “It is impossible to make a great film without enthusiasm”; so, I might suggest, it is impossible to write about a great film without it. Gance believed enthusiasm was the fundamental necessity to create great art. I believe enthusiasm should inform our approach to his great films – to seek out and restore the best versions we can and to understand Gance’s work in all its size, oddity, and beauty.

[Exhales]

Well, there we are. Sorry again if my tone has put people off from replying or frightened them away… Please come back!

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zedz
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Re: Abel Gance

#157 Post by zedz » Thu Mar 05, 2009 4:39 pm

Thanks (as ever) for your valuable contributions. I watched La Roue late last year, it having been something of a holy grail for about twenty years, and I find it hard to understand how anybody even vaguely cine-literate could come away unimpressed, whatever the flaws of the film overall.

I actually considerably preferred the second half of the film, with its stunning location work and dramatic intensity. The narrative development in the first half seemed rather lumpy to me: between the set pieces you really noticed that some important linking scenes were badly butchered or missing entirely (but none of that can necessarily be blamed on Gance.)

As a film it overreaches extravagantly, and its stylistic ambition far outweighs its narrative and thematic depth, but that's entirely the point, and it's what we should be celebrating about the film. And that very 'flaw' is a characteristic of so many great films that it's extremely petty to beat La Roue up with it. I mean really, doesn't the formal splendour of The Band Wagon completely overshadow any profound insights its plot has to offer? La Roue is a cornucopia of innovation, and a lot of subsequent film culture owes a huge debt to it (starting, but not stopping, with the Soviet avant-garde and the French Impressionists, including Renoir). It's hardly above criticism, but the intensive nit-picking that often greets it seems more like resentment that certain critics might have to rearrange some of their film-historical preconceptions and revise their precious canons.

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HerrSchreck
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Re: Abel Gance

#158 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:45 pm

La cle'--

remember that in the end, when you come right down to it, the Thompson's of the world are just folks sitting in front of their televisions watching a movie like anybody else, with an opinion no more or less taste-driven than any of us. Gance, and La Roue in particular, is about urgency and passion, a feeling of discovering something sublime, even within the mundane, and the urge to communicate this, spread this, put it wholesale into others ... for Gance this was thru the medium of film. And that something sublime was for him I'd wager right there out in the open in the simple act of living, loving, being, etc. Some know this Something, and can connect with the exuberance of his films. Others don't and thus can't.

I'd also wager than Gance's films found willing receipients of what it was he was trying to do-- they didn't "make" them. Some out there are predisposed to share Gance's exuberances, most probably arent. As Gance's formal innovations probably sprung from this exuberance, to discuss his films purely in terms of melodramatic arrangement and formal construction is like critiquing a book about a branch of philosophy that you personally never understood or seemed to like. Valid on the surface but in reality not the best of ideas. Much of criticism is like that and always has been. Folks are assigned and-- worse yet-- assign for themselves critical projects that they have little appreciation of, or time for, or desire to understand.

So in other words-- don't let em getcha! It's just a review... And keep posting furchrissakes.

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Re: Abel Gance

#159 Post by MichaelB » Thu Mar 05, 2009 5:48 pm

For what it's worth, this is what I published in Sight & Sound in the July 2008 issue as part of a full-page feature on three Flicker Alley releases (the first sentence is a segue from the Georges Méliès set):
Another great French film-maker bridging the 19th and 20th centuries is Abel Gance, whose monumental La Roue (1922) finally gets its world premiere on a domestic video format. Aside from very occasional screenings at major city cinematheques, it has been practically invisible for decades, leading to assumptions that its awesome reputation (according to Jean Cocteau, “There is cinema before and after La Roue as here is painting before and after Picasso”) might wilt under scrutiny.

Nothing could be further from the truth: despite a core of pure Victorian melodrama (a love triangle involving a railway engineer, his son and his adopted daughter), the film has a pulverising force like the locomotive that the protagonist Sisif (i.e. Sisyphus, one of numerous literary and classical allusions) regularly pushes to its limits when he can’t express his inner anguish in words. It’s a metaphor as contrived as anything in Gance’s later Napoléon (1927), but quibbles shrivel against the sheer physical excitement of viewing.

A marvel of visual composition and unprecedentedly inventive cutting (it was screened in Moscow and Tokyo, influencing the silent Soviet and Japanese masters), La Roue grips like Sisif’s mole-wrench from the opening all-stops-out train crash to the final haunting scenes in the snow-blasted Alps. Séverin-Mars is magnificently mulish as Sisif, his piercing eyes in the film’s first half gradually dulled by encroaching personal tragedy, while the casting of English actress Ivy Close as pre-Raphaelite beauty Norma establishes a direct link between La Roue and Britain’s own great (if far less flamboyant) train romance Brief Encounter: she was the mother of David Lean’s film-making partner Ronald Neame.

Flicker Alley’s four-and-a-half-hour restoration of La Roue is derived from several sources including a superb 35mm tinted nitrate print and a grainy 9.5mm home movie reduction (the latter is only briefly pressed into service). Robert Israel’s full orchestral score is a most unexpected bonus, as is an eight-minute newsreel with footage of Gance on location. The only cavils are that the original French intertitles have been replaced with English ones, and non-US purchasers should be warned that the discs are coded for Region 1, despite the box claiming otherwise.
I can't believe that put anyone off.

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La Clé du Ciel
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Re: LA ROUE

#160 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Sat Jun 06, 2009 11:51 am

Forgive the lack of posts, but I have been rather immersed in a LA ROUE-related project. What started out as an exercise in curiosity became something rather more time-consuming and obsessive. Essentially, I wanted to find out how long a version of LA ROUE I could get if you collated all the versions of LA ROUE that I could get my hands on (the 3-hour 1924 cut, the 300-minute French 1980 version, the Flicker Alley dvd). I began assembling my own version from these copies, using original titles whenever possible. (As many were in poor quality on the French-language copy I had to design a font to match the original. This also meant I could add new titles that exist only on the English-language Flicker Alley edition in the proper font.)

It’s been fascinating to see the differs, major and minor, between the prints…

One thing I have noticed about the FA edition is that the intertitles are compiled from different versions. This means that sometimes titles are included from the 1924 version, which often have to stand-in for excised footage. However, sometimes the FA version includes not only these exposition titles, but the scenes which the titles are explaining! Thus, we not only see Hersan taking credit for Sisif’s inventions, but have this explained in a title which was not meant to be seen in addition to some earlier scenes.

In terms of tinting, I had hoped to view the long tinted/toned print in the Swiss archives. However, they informed me that the print is now too fragile to be seen. This is deeply frustrating, as it contains much fascinating use of colour (as illustrated by an article Roger Icart wrote about that print in 2000). Due to the variety of prints used in the FA version, the tinting can be rather unreliable. For example, why is there a single shot of a wrecked carriage in b/w in the midst of the opening red-tinted montage when this same shot is used more than once and is red on every other occasion? Why is the scene either side of Norma/Elie’s first fantasy in amber when the sequence chronologically continues in b/w? When we are shown the blue-tone-pink exteriors the evening of Sisif’s confession, are the later exteriors meant to be in b/w or should they continue the earlier continuity and also be blue-tone-pink? Without consulting the long tinted print, questions of intent and missing footage can’t adequately be answered… (They may never be, due to the huge amount of missing footage, but they can at least be answered using all available evidence rather than just one available print.) Alas, I can’t write and ask Icart himself, as I was sadly informed that he died in June last year. A sad loss…

[There is a similar issue with the tinting in the FA release of J’ACCUSE – a foreign tinted print (one surely tinted by foreign exhibitors, presumably without Gance’s consultation or in reference to existing French prints) was the only version available from which to base ideas about colour Yet there was evidence for some colours of an original French print, thanks to accounts of those who saw it before it vanished (Kramer/Welsh, Brownlow, Richard Abel all give accounts). Where there is a conflict between an existing (foreign) print and reliable evidence of an original (French) print, I still believe that the evidence of accounts from those who saw the original should take priority. Two or three accounts detailing the original French print say the finale should switch between red tint (fireside) and purple tint/tone (exteriors of the dead soldiers) – not the light amber (fireside) and blue-tone-pink (exteriors). The same with the farandole – red tint and not light amber (it is a nighttime scene after all, so shouldn’t be amber for the sake of basic convention and continuity anyway)… But I digress…]

In the FA LA ROUE, numerous shots are missing opening or closing frames (or sometimes much more), either to deliberately exclude pieces of continuity (presumably the later work of Gance or others wishing to cut-down the original) or for reasons of damage or other, more impenetrably mysterious, reasons. Sometimes, the FA version imposes a digital fade where footage has simply run out. A good example of this is the end of what would be the Prologue. We see the young Elie and Norma drinking milk – there is a very quick digital fade and we cut to “Fifteen years pass”. Not only do we miss about 15 minutes of other scenes (Sisif’s argument with the railway officials, his return home, the children’s recreation of the train wreck with a model railway), but we miss the closing sequence that marks the end of the Prologue and introduces the first “chapter”.

On one occasion, a title has been rearranged to alter who we think is speaking. This is the case when, in the FA edition (a little before Sisif’s confession), Hersan appears to ask Sisif “What is the matter?” In the longer print, there are further shots. Instead of the mid-shot of Hersan and Sisif and Hersan speaking before the title, the shot continues and we then cut to a CU of Sisif from behind, who turns almost directly into camera in his chair. This shot has a fantastically confessional aspect to it… Sisif turns as much to the audience as to Hersan, we are in a more dramatic CU framing, and then Sisif speaks rhetorically: “What is the matter?” The scene is less conventionally set-up and it is Sisif, not Hersan, who speaks – thus altering the dynamic of the sequence which leads to his confession… This is not some vastly dramatic change, but it is subtly and interestingly different. There are endless examples where extra shots or shots in a different order improve continuity, alter the rhythm and feel of a scene, or give more information.

Regarding the superimposed shots, I’ve noticed that most of the FA edition’s attempts to match the original image with new superimposed English text involve only approximate substitution. When no matching shot could be found, the replacement often looks very different from the original. Given the handicap of making an English-language edition of a film where text is so often welded to images, this evidence only reinforces the problems of this choice. It means approximation, not restoration…

The whole structure of the film, as presented in the premiere version of 1922 (prologue and six chapters) or the general release version of 1923 (prologue and four parts), is lacking in the FA version. The opening and closing quotations (a huge part of the literary frames of reference that the film uses) are not present. The feel of the film is so different – there is something about the division into parts that creates a feeling of emotional weight, of a fatalistic inevitability, of predetermination (both artistic, in terms of the film’s design, but also emotional, in terms of the characters in the world of the film)…

I am also fascinated by the aspect of repeated scenes, more apparent in longer versions. More than once we see the same scenes or memory of scenes. Not only does this serve as a system of self-reference (useful in such a long film to refer back to earlier episodes), but creates intriguing patterns of psychological repetition/memory/fantasy… Also, for example, the sequence of images of wheels etc (that closes the first “Part” in the FA version) appears in variation three times (that survive). The sense of cyclical repetition is of course immensely important to the symbolism of the film – the religious/philosophic concerns of the Wheel are embodied on a structural as well as a visual level, something more apparent in the longer prints. I am reminded of Kristin Thompson’s bafflement at aspects of the way Gance doesn’t seem to resolve certain issues the way she expects (i.e. in a more conventional fashion) or doesn’t make his characters apologise and explain themselves etc (I forget her exact comments)… The structure and symbolic nature of the film follows a very different logic than what we might be used to, a kind of cyclical progression that reflects the Eastern philosophy at its heart. Perhaps there is something profoundly different about the way the film wants to resolve itself than might be expected…

…

I’ve used the Canudo novelisation to help me along, especially with the division into parts. This 3-volume adaptation was published in January 1923, but the preface is dated December 1922 (the month of the premiere). Thus, it is the only existing document to follow the structure of the premiere version (a prologue and six “chapters”) and give an impression of what the missing material might contain. (Although the novel is slightly differently structured than even their front-covers suggest and I’ve had to do my best to reconstruct where the division into parts takes place, given so much missing evidence.)

I’ve not made any “missing scene” titles, simply because the novelisation is not wholly reliable – it differs from even the more complete prints and misses many scenes/sequences. Although it may give an impression of what the missing scenes may have contained, it isn’t sufficiently close to the film for anyone to be sure of what Canudo may be altering or adding. (Plus, given how much missing footage there still is, the number of explanatory titles needed would almost inevitably break up the film too much.)

In dividing the film into six chapters, I’ve tried to replicate the chapter headings and used evidence from the long print for how they were introduced. (I can’t find titles for two of the six chapters [nos. 3 and 4], so have used evidence from the novelisation to make new ones. I’m afraid I’ve had to be slightly creative in this way, but this is a necessity given the circumstances.) I’ve also replicated the division over three evenings into three “Epoques” – again, using the division of the novelisation as my basis. (Once again, this is the best I can do given the limited information on exactly how the film was originally shown.)

I’ve compiled a new score, which I hope matches the film well and approximates the kind of music that audiences might have heard in 1922. Honegger’s Overture for LA ROUE is the only piece of music that exists from the original score (there is at least one recording of it), but Pacific 231 was based on music written for Gance’s film. I’ve started my version with the overture (3m 40s) and incorporated other bits of contemporary Honegger, including Pacific 231. However, it’s mostly music by composers whose works are known to have been used in the original, compiled, score alongside pieces I thought worked best.

Including the Overture, this homemade version is 372 minutes…

It’s taken far longer than I expected and I’ve probably made lots of little mistakes, but I hope my wholly amateur and inadequate attempt at reconstruction just proves how much more could be done with LA ROUE. Given a definitive search has yet to be conducted, comparing and collating every single surviving print or print fragment, there may yet be more shots or evidence out there… It’s great to have LA ROUE on dvd, but more work can and must be done!

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Re: Abel Gance

#161 Post by Revelator » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:49 pm

For those who've seen it, what did you think of Austerlitz? I haven't watched it but see it's available for downloading online. I'm not expecting another Napoleon, but the screencaps look compelling.

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Re: Abel Gance

#162 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Mon Dec 14, 2009 9:32 pm

Oh, AUSTERLITZ. It’s too late and I haven’t the energy to describe quite how depressing an experience I found watching that film was…

I plan to post something soon, but I am too tired right now. I was coincidentally here in Paris when the screening of NAPOLEON took place – by the time I even heard about it, it was sold out. A post from someone who attended the screening (on the NAPOLEON thread) suggests it was a washout.

I am at the end of a second research trip in Paris and I need to gather my thoughts – I have a vast amount of paperwork and notes to sort through…

I am also revamping my version of LA ROUE (my deepest apologies for disappearing for so long after prematurely parading evidence of my efforts). I am correcting errors that I spotted when I watched it through a while ago, but am also now doing a more extensive revision of the structure and titles. I have discovered lots of material in the archives (paper, not celluloid, alas) that has helped me fill in some info on structure, missing scenes, missing titles etc. If I can amend my version over Christmas, I can try and work out a way of letting others see it…

One of my last acts in Paris was to revisit Gance’s grave in the rather unatmospheric cemetery of Auteuil. I went before, on his birthday on October 25th, and was pleased to note that someone else had added two new flowers since then… Someone out there still cares!

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Re: Abel Gance

#163 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Sun Jan 03, 2010 10:05 pm

Well, I am still reeling from the wealth of material I went through on my archive research trips. I am also staggered and appalled by the amount of material there is which I had no time to go through – in total, there are about 120 boxes of material at BiFi and over 220 boxes at the BnF. Regarding LA ROUE, I feel a little more secure about my homemade reconstruction thanks to some original evidence that has enabled me to correct and amend my errors. I have now just about finished revamping my version…

Firstly, a few points to clear up thanks to the archives…

There IS a manuscript screenplay for LA ROUE, but it accords with the version published in 1930. A lot is different from the final film (even in sections that otherwise agree shot for shot) and some characters have different names (Hersan and Machefer). Whilst fascinating and useful (I won’t go into details), it can’t give a definitive answer about missing footage. There are lots of scenes which were clearly replaced or shot differently, so yet again it offers no easy solution for a potential restorer…

There are also innumerable ideas and notes written on the hotel paper from Gance’s stay in America in 1921, which give occasional glimpses into his thoughts (he had only completed a rough cut before leaving France). However, in terms of handy title lists or scene lists there is nothing definitive – just fragments of info like lists of the credit titles, notes on possible quotations to use etc…

However, there is a handy list of titles for the short (4200m) version that was to have been exported to the UK (but I believe the version that actually made it over was much shorter). Ironically, this seems to be the most complete list of titles for any version – and it’s notes made by an English friend of Gance’s who (along with her mother, apparently) translated them all in preparation for an export print. Yet again, the evidence leaves as many questions as it gives answers. I found all sorts of valuable clues to missing scenes and titles, but it was also often confusing. There are scenes and titles in different positions to any print I know and this adds to the problem of figuring out which titles were added to fill in the gaps left by the excision of over half the film from the original version. Sequences seem to have been excised, abbreviated, altered, and rearranged for this short version. This confirms that not even the supposedly more “complete” short version prints conform to the standard 4200m version – there are clearly sequences that are missing from all prints which were also included in the 1924 version.

Thanks to all the various pieces of evidence, I have added many new titles since my first draft version. I have tried to be careful in figuring out which titles belong to which version. I’ve only included a couple of “Missing Scene” titles, as I can never be sure which written documentation is referring to actual scenes or just planned ones. I have used all the material I could see: the manuscript screenplay from 1920, the 1923 novelisation, various manscript notes, the list of English titles for the 1924 version, plus snippets of info from contemporary press articles from 1922 onwards... I suspect that Roger Icart possessed a lot of material, but what has or will become of it all now that he has sadly passed away I cannot say…

Going back to the film again and trying to fit new titles into existing scenes, I sometimes find the exact places in which to insert them. This is because in many cases where a title has been removed (at whatever stage) there is a tiny skip in continuity and you can still see the cut mark where the two frames either side of the missing title were spliced. Finding this evidence for the exact point of the titles was exciting, as I could be sure of confirming my hunches and know I wasn’t inserting rogue titles. (I’m sure it sounds hideously boring to everyone else, but I found it highly pleasing at any rate.)

Thanks to a reviewer who wrote week-by-week about the film in December 1922, I have restructured my version (of a prologue and six chapters) a little better than previously. Unfortunately, I still can’t find any definitive answer to exactly where some of the breaks should go (the reviewer is often frustratingly vague in his synopsis). I have had to use my own judgement for many decisions, but everything has some basis in existing evidence and I hope there is very little pure “guesswork”.

What is immediately apparent is that much missing footage must come from the two final chapters (from after Elie’s death to the end of the film) – these are the shortest chapters in my reconstruction. The English title list contains evidence for more scenes that would have been here and it’s frustrating to think that so much footage has been lost forever. For example, there was a title from a sequence that one contemporary critic marks out as being memorable (the search for Elie’s body by rescue parties – something entirely absent from any existing print), along with some more details of Norma’s gradual acceptance by Sisif in the final chapter… I now have several titles left over that must have been from scenes included in both long and short versions of the film which I cannot even include in “missing scene” titles as they are completely lacking context…

Including the 4-minute Honegger overture, my version is now 378 minutes long. This is still a long way short of the (approximately) 517-minute original or the 443-minute general release version. And, of course, it’s still horribly compromised by poor image quality for many sections and I’m sure it possesses numerous other faults that are due to my limited resources, but it’s the best I can do. I am hoping to fit it onto 3 discs…

Anyway, I am conscious of my starting blather, so I shall stop.

(I was going to write something on AUSTERLITZ, but every time I think of that film I get depressed… Maybe tomorrow…)

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Re: Abel Gance

#164 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Jan 04, 2010 2:08 pm

Great to see you back, LaCd-C, and your informative posts are never blathering. Even with your quarterly stopins, you're without doubt one of our most valuable members here... quality trumping post-count-- because you're always so thorough when you do post.

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Re: Abel Gance

#165 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Mon Jan 04, 2010 8:44 pm

Herr Schreck, thank you for your kind words – such has been the scarcity of info around Gance, I fear have an overcompensatory urge to churn out a huge wordcount when I do post…

Well, I have plucked up the courage to say a few words on AUSTERLITZ. I had avoided seeing the film until a couple of years ago, as I had read the following paragraph in Brownlow’s book on NAPOLEON:
My loyalty to Gance had just undergone the severest possible test; I had seen AUSTERLITZ, which Gance had released in 1960, his first feature after LA TOUR DE NESLE. Despite this return to the subject of Napoleon, despite the presence of such great stars as Orson Welles and Michel Simon, and despite the co-operation of the Yugoslav army, AUSTERLITZ had all the sweep and dash of moving day at Madame Tussaud’s. The waxworks were wheeled in, there followed interminable stretches of dialogue about where to go and what to do, and they were wheeled out again. It made me feel terribly sad.
I didn’t want to feel “terribly sad” when watching a Gance film. However, finally, I had a stab at watching AUSTERLITZ. I was deeply disheartened by everything I saw. I’d seen stills of the film which hadn’t inspired much hope (even the lighting seemed to flatten everything out), but having to sit through a film that runs to nearly three hours was all the worse. I thought KB’s description was very accurate – endless dialogue explaining everything, interspersed with chaotic and confusing rushes of troops. Groups of characters seemed to stand around (or even sit around!) in groups of half-a-dozen and wait for someone to explain something to them or to explain something themselves.

Despite the ridiculous cast list (Pierre Mondy, Martine Carol, Claudia Cardinale, Leslie Caron, Vittorio De Sica, Jean Marais, Michel Simon, Orson Welles, Jack Palance…), Gance and Nelly Kaplan (who worked as assistant on the film) had a lot of production trouble and budget problems. Having assembled an international cast of stars (presumably through reputation rather than financial lure), I understand that Gance and Kaplan had continuous problems with extras and studios. Equipment and personnel were never as plentiful as promised and I’m sure many corners had to be cut.

Speaking as a child obsessed with Napoleonic uniforms, one of my first annoyances was that the film contains endless inaccuracies. As with the first part of Bondarchuk’s WAR AND PEACE, the French infantry depicted at Austerlitz were wearing the wrong headgear (they had not yet started to wear the shako, but were still in bicornes). In Gance’s film, the Russian infantry all seemed to be Pavlov grenadiers. (I shan’t bore you by listing the other errors!) No doubt such a criticism seems pointless and minor, but one of the many qualities of the 1927 NAPOLEON is great costuming and great integration of faces and uniforms etc, which AUSTERLITZ simply doesn’t have. Cheap uniforms and cheap sets and cheap effects (the musketry sounds like firecrackers being let off in a cupboard, such is the acoustic quality) make for a horribly lacklustre Napoleonic experience…

That said, I think the film’s problems have far more to do with Gance’s apparent lack of concern with the repercussions of production conditions rather than the conditions themselves. He doesn’t have the same eye, the same control, the same deftness of touch, the same… artistry.

I simply don’t like the way this film looks – the large array of bright colours seem to lack all lustre and I felt the lighting was often flat and uninteresting. There seemed to be very little imagination put to manipulate sound, music, or even images… (I also found some of the music, or at least its use, a little irritating) When Gance used some white iris-masking as Napoleon’s coronation is recalled (the only time he used the device in the whole film), I immediately thought of LOLA MONTES (a few years earlier – also with Martine Carol; I presume Gance would have seen it?). I absolutely love Ophuls’ frequent use of masking to alter the shape and size of the widescreen in that film and was surprised Gance didn’t really attempt to do it at all. This is especially so, given that Gance’s background was of course from the silent period when such devices were part of film language, whereas Ophuls started his career in the early 30s. Indeed, Gance pioneered widescreen and splitscreen, writing vast, enthusiastic tracts on how widescreen could expand the language of cinema… So why does this widescreen film feel so overwhelmingly… unimaginative, so… ordinary – as if he were picking up a camera for the first time?

Having a childhood love of Bondarchuk’s WATERLOO (1970), I was longing to see some Bondarchuk-style battles, but the film was light-years behind WAR AND PEACE or WATERLOO. Though Bondarchuk’s editing and stylistic choices can sometimes feel rather rough, he at least has such fun with his battles! One of the things I still love about Bondarchuk’s Napoleonic films is his relish when directing out in the open. All those astonishing camera movements he pulls off… I can recall so many incredible images from the Borodino section of WAR AND PEACE that are memorable simply for their use of smoke!

Of course, Bondarchuk had the advantage of most of the Soviet army and the nation’s entire budget – Gance had a few hundred shivering Yugoslav students… Whereas Bondarchuk’s battles are always out in huge and navigable spaces, Gance’s Austerlitz seemed to be fought in one field (the same cavalry rushing in disordered flurries in one direction and then another) and two studio sets. I thought the transitions between studio and location mid-scene during the battles in AUSTERLITZ were mortifying. Napoleon walks from a dawn-misted Yugoslavian field in one shot into an echoing studio surrounded by painted skies and hills and a few handfuls of earth on the floor in the next. Apart from the horribly obvious studio-bound shots and the confusing location troop movements, for a film that had so much explanatory dialogue I was still unsure to what was going on and where it was happening. Given there was no shot wide enough to encompass more than a field or two, the overall location of the disorderly troops in relation to each other or to the overall layout was a visual mystery (no matter how much dialogue tried to explain!).

I was amused to see a badly dubbed Orson Welles pushed into a couple of scenes – I wondered quite why he was in it at all. I heard that Welles thought Gance had lost his touch by the time he made AUSTERLITZ… I’m not surprised, so long had it been since he made a great film. Perhaps he had forgotten how? He was 70 when he made AUSTERLITZ – not that age is such a barrier, but having been isolated for 30 years from wielding the kind of resources and projects he was once able to command must have been incredibly tough…

Actually, there is an interesting Welles connection in the form of Yvonne Martin, the daughter of Marguerite Beaugé (Gance’s editor for all his silent films from DOCTOR TUBE onwards). Martin edited AUSTERLITZ, but went on to be the editor for Welles on THE TRIAL (1962). (Is my memory failing me, or isn’t there some nifty quick-cutting in at least one sequence in that film? Isn’t Perkins being peered at by some children in a strongly lit cage or something at one point, and the editing gets pretty rapid?) Martin was 12 when Gance and her mother were editing NAPOLEON and there is a nice account of hers in KB’s book about her witnessing the process…

What else don’t I like? I can barely remember everything else that saddened me… I just remember desperately trying to avoid fast-forwarding through huge chunks of waffle… I think I remember liking one or two moments, but they were so instantly and overwhelmingly swamped by a sense of despair and dazed boredom that they hardly seem worth remembering…

Anyway, I’m stumbling out things I didn’t like about the film, so perhaps I should stop before I go on too long. I do hate feeling embarrassed when watching a film, but I was nearly blushing watching AUSTERLITZ.

Someone do please tell me I’m wrong – I’d love to revisit the film and find it had some genuine element of surprise or imagination or vision, but I fear it will always retain the aura of an inexorable disappointment…

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Re: Abel Gance

#166 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jan 05, 2010 7:26 am

I have a checkdisc of Austerlitz from two or three years back, when Optimum was planning to release it and the Coppola Napoleon in Britain. The latter got pulled for rights reasons, and so they dropped Austerlitz too, as they obviously thought it would struggle on its own. I keep meaning to watch it out of curiosity, but your account absolutely tallies with the impression I've already picked up.

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Re: Abel Gance

#167 Post by YnEoS » Mon Nov 29, 2010 2:03 pm

Really fascinating to hear about your work on La Roue, La Clé du Ciel. La Roue is absolutely one of my favorite films of all time, when I first watched it I had no idea who Abel Gance was, and my knowledge of silent cinema was next to 0. The film really blew me away, both in terms of being a completely immersive and intense emotional experience, and also in completely changing my perception of film history. Because of La Roue I've been studying silent films for the past year or so now, and it continues to remain my favorite silent film. I had assumed the cut on the Flicker Alley release was the most complete with the materials available today. Hearing that there is much more footage around, and there's the possibility of seeing a much longer more complete version in the future is perhaps some of the best news I've heard in a long while. Keep up the great work!

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Re: Abel Gance

#168 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Mon Jan 17, 2011 8:12 pm

Hello again.

I’ve been resisting posting for a while, as I felt I had no news that wasn’t important beyond a personal sense. (Please forgive me if that’s what I proceed to deliver, anyway…)

Firstly, I have completed my manuscript for a book on Gance – specifically on NAPOLEON and LA FIN DU MONDE. It’s rather large and I fear for my chances of finding a publisher. (I also happen to be a Nobody.) Not wanting to (mis-)use this topic as some kind of personal update page, I will now attempt to post something vaguely new. It’s not a discovery, as such, but something no one seems to have mentioned before…

At the end of 2009, I was doing research in Paris when I thought I’d better see if I could watch a couple of prints of early Gance films I’d not seen. I re-checked the FIAF database and was struck by one entry which was rather obscure. “ECCE HOMO (FR, Abel Gance, 1915)”. I knew the date was inaccurate – the film was started and abandoned in 1918. Two drafts of the script exist in the archives and it’s fascinating to see the connections it has with the productions of J’ACCUSE and LA ROUE. Anyway, given that huge chunks of Gance’s major, completed, films have been lost, I wondered what possible material could survive of a film he didn’t even finish. The database didn’t have any other info – just the name of the relevant archive, the Cinémathèque française.

When I received a reply to my inquiry, I was stunned. “ECCE HOMO, 35mm rushes, 3,888m”. I’ve been obsessing over Gance for years, but I’d never heard that anything from ECCE HOMO had survived – never mind two-and-a-half hours of pristine 35mm rushes. The project started out being called SOLEIL NOIR, but was renamed ECCE HOMO by the time production started in April 1918. The original cast included Albert t’Serstevens (Jean Novalic), Maryse Dauvray (Geneviève d’Arc), Sylvio de Pedrelli (Rumph), and Dourga (Oréor).

Before I go on, it’s probably easier to give you a quick outline of the plot (as conceived in 1918 – Gance rewrote the script and tried to resurrect the project in 1919):

Jean Novalic has returned from the Indies, where he has learned the knowledge of Eastern philosophy and many secrets concerning the attainment of happiness. He sets up the “Temple of Beauty” and preaches to the poor. He has a female disciple, Geneviève d’Arc, who aids him in his work. However, the common people react with scorn and disinterest. Eventually, he is so despondent that he goes mad and is committed to an asylum. There, he preaches to the inmates, who understand him. Geneviève and Rumph, Novalic’s half-Indian son, slowly help bring him back to sanity. His reason returned, he preaches to new audiences through a medium they cannot ignore: cinema.

Needless to say, I leaped at the chance to see the surviving footage. It’s really rather stunning. Judging by the script, I’d say about a third of the film got shot before Gance abandoned it. Burel’s photography is magical, and the locations (around Nice) are gloriously sun-soaked. There are some fabulous shots of Novalic preaching in the asylum, wearing a billowing white robe and Christ-like beard and long hair. These look as though they were influenced by scenes from INTOLERANCE, though I think that Burel’s photography and Gance’s careful framing and back-lighting are even better.

The other most striking shots were those of Oréor’s exotic dance. These include one superb superimposed dissolve, so that Dourga becomes an apparition as she begins her display. There are also some beautiful low-key lighting shots of a moonlit jungle clearing with the half-naked Dourga posing with her veil.

I can’t begin to describe how special it was to watch these images. The material had been struck from the original camera negatives and the quality was eye-poppingly sharp. This film is begging to have something done with it. It’s far from complete and, of course, there are no titles (the script is not in shot-by-shot detail and there are few exact titles mentioned). However, I think with some judicious “missing scene” titles and precocious editing, it could be a fantastic fragment. My dream, of course, is a box set of all Gance’s surviving early films (everything pre-J’ACCUSE, perhaps). ECCE HOMO would make a stunning extra.

I also watched three other films. Two were directed by Gance: LES GAZ MORTELS (1916) and LE DROIT A LA VIE (1917). The first of these was lots of fun, if rather silly, climaxing with a gas attack on a village and a race to the rescue. LA DROIT A LA VIE was missing all its titles, so was a bit difficult to follow (though I was later delivered a list of titles). It had some beautiful photography, but it was a rather uninteresting story and featured some eye-bulging acting.

The third was Robert Boudrioz’s L'ÂTRE, a film made at the same time as LA ROUE. Gance acted as producer (his company funded it) and supervised some of the filming, as well. Just over an hour of footage survives, though it was clearly much longer in its original form. The plot is very reminiscent of LA ROUE, as well as exhibiting many of Gance’s favourite dramatic tropes (adopted daughter, rival brothers, the practical man versus the artist, Oedipal conflict). Obviously, watching an untinted and incomplete print whir along without any music is hardly an ideal viewing experience, but the film did feel a little dull. Though there some lovely location shooting, nice compositions, and the performances were engaging enough, it didn’t quite have the spark of something special. I think this film was screened at Pordenone at some point, and probably somewhere else as well – did anyone seen it? I don’t know if the exhibition print was spruced up and tinted etc, as the viewing print I watched was looked like a no-frills copy…

I watched these films over two days, always under the eye of Gance himself, who looked over me from a poster on the wall behind the screen. (The archivist was kind enough to let me take it home with me!)

Anyway – I appreciate it’s always slightly annoying to post on films it’s near-impossible to see, but that’s an irksome necessity with Gance. Nevertheless, I thought I would post something again, lest the world forgets Gance for too long.

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Re: Abel Gance

#169 Post by YnEoS » Sun Jul 17, 2011 9:55 am

http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/ ... on-returns" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Cinephiles, man your battle stations: Abel Gance’s legendary silent behemoth Napoleon, which hasn’t been shown theatrically in the U.S. with live accompaniment for nearly thirty years, will be showcased at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This is a major event, as not only has Napoleon been so long unseen, but this will be the American premiere of Academy Award–winning film historian Kevin Brownlow and BFI’s complete restoration—and with more than thirty minutes of additional footage discovered since Brownlow’s original 1979 reconstruction, this is the longest version of Gance’s film shown since its 1927 premiere at the Paris Opéra. Screenings of Napoleon will take place March 24, 25, 31, and April 1 next year. Watch the new trailer below heralding this exciting news:

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Re: Abel Gance

#170 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:05 pm

Though it has very quietly slipped into existence, there is now a dvd of LA FIN DU MONDE. It’s been released by Gaumont on what seems to be some kind of “dvd on demand” series – which is either an insult masking itself as a favour, or a favour masking itself as an insult. Enough effort has been garnered to release the film, but no more than a basic level of effort to make it any good.

I’ve just gone through a few scenes… It looks like a decent transfer of a scratchy, unrestored 35mm print. It’s also the 90-minute version, about 15 minutes short of the print held in the Prague archives (which represents the original French theatrical release). The Gaumont edition seems to be almost identical to the broadcast copy that’s been floating around with Italian subtitles. The image quality is so good that you can see all the damage of the print! (Ironic.)

On the plus side, the back of the case says the disc is region-free, so anyone outside Europe can treat(!) themselves to this release. Another bonus is that it comes with French subtitles for the hard of hearing. I say this is a bonus because the sound is often so appalling that you need subtitles just to understand what’s supposedly being said. Needless to say, there are no English subtitles and no extras. (AUTOUR DE LA FIN DU MONDE being the super-obvious extra, containing as it does the phenomenal test-shot of Antonin Artaud screaming into camera, as well as glimpses of Gance on set and several snippets of the innumerable missing scenes.)

Having said all this, I don’t think even a superlative blu-ray release of the longer print would do anything to make this film truly watchable. Having gone through Gance’s scenario, his manuscript screenplay, the typescript screenplay, and the 1931 novelization, I can say that the surviving film bears only the slimmest resemblance to his original conception. Having also gone through the film’s production papers, I think that even if there was the slightest chance of his original 190-minute (rough?-)cut surviving (and I really don’t think there is) then it still wouldn’t live up to the screenplay. The production never got over its endemic technical, organizational, and administrative problems (not to mention Gance’s personal problems) – it was doomed from the very start.

A great shame.

Stefan Andersson
Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2007 1:02 am

Re: Abel Gance

#171 Post by Stefan Andersson » Wed Nov 23, 2016 4:01 pm

J´Accuse (Gance, 1938) is now on Blu from Olive Films, restored by Gaumont.

Gaumont apparently used a post-1938 reissue print for their restoration.

Robert A. Harris discusses the reissue here:

https://www.hometheaterforum.com/commun" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ... ay.350041/’

”We have some extra footage, and some original footage missing, but it serves the purpose, as the many important bits are generally intact. The downside of the re-issue is a happy ending, and the loss of Diaz rejoining his long-dead allies.”

On Dailymotion I found the 1938 version (now taken down due to "breach of use", apparently taken from the Connoisseur Video VHS:

Here is the end, with Diaz burned at the stake, then rejoining the dead, a scene not on the Olive disc according to the DVD Savant review:
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2cak7" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ... 3_creation

The whole film is uploaded on Dailymotion, in three separate posts, the first post starts with the Connoisseur Video logo.




Harris apparently restored the 1938 version in 1991, through his company Film Preserve Ltd.

A scholarly article about the 1919 and 1938 versions, including mention of the burning:

https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; ... sequence=2


Mods: the different ending for J´Accuse on Dailymotion affects how the story plays out, so I figured it was of interest to post it as part of the Gance discussion as well as in the film restorations thread.

Footnote 35 has info about the reissue version.

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La Clé du Ciel
Joined: Tue Jul 18, 2006 6:18 pm
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Re: Abel Gance

#172 Post by La Clé du Ciel » Sat Jan 14, 2017 2:50 pm

The textual history of J’accuse is more complex than an “original” version and a “reissue” version. The film was cut down (against Gance’s wishes) for the premiere (press screening) in January 1938, and then (from what I can gather) cut further for public screenings thereafter. I’m not entirely sure how many different cuts existed before 1939.

Nevertheless, what Harris calls the “happy ending” of J’accuse – in which a Universal Council declares an end to war – is not an addition exclusive to a later (post-1938) reissue, it’s Gance’s original ending from 1938. This ending is described in the lavish press book distributed at the premiere from that year (featuring Gance’s own texts on the film). The presence of this ending in prints from 1938 is also confirmed by reviews of the film from early that year – it’s even described by a fascist reviewer who mocks Gance’s pacifist naivety. (The ending of the 1938 J’accuse is essentially a remake of the ending of his 1930 film La Fin du Monde, in which a near-identical “Universal States-General” convenes to abolish war.)

I’ve not yet seen the Olive release of J’accuse, so can’t comment on the differences between it and Harris’s previous restoration (as issued on VHS). However, going by the descriptions, both versions have material that the other lacks. Given the film’s history, this isn’t surprising.

Stefan Andersson
Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2007 1:02 am

Re: Abel Gance

#173 Post by Stefan Andersson » Sun Apr 14, 2019 1:17 pm

First news of the new La Roue restoration, showing in Berlin in September:
https://issuu.com/berlinerfestspiele/do ... -04-12_sin

Film seems to run about 7 hours (see showtimes, p. 89)

Music list, see pp.92-93

Also:
https://www.berlinerfestspiele.de/en/be ... 80756.html


A scholarly article on the film:
https://lfq.salisbury.edu/_issues/46_3/ ... _roue.html

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