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Epic 1927 Napoleon film gets restored theatrical release

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Everett Collection

After 50 years of restoration work, one of the most renowned silent films of all time, Abel Gance’s Napoleon, is coming to theaters.

The British Film Institute announced Thursday that it had completed a new digitally restored version of the 1927 film, a 5 1/2-hour epic that charts the early rise of Napoleon. The restored cut will premiere at the Royal Festival Hall in London in November, where the Philharmonia Orchestra will perform composer Carl Davis’ score, the longest composition ever created for a silent film. After Napoleon makes its London premiere, it will then screen across the U.K. and receive a restored DVD/Blu-ray release.  

Gance’s epic originally premiered in Paris in 1927, and it was renowned for its huge, ambitious scenes and innovative camera work. The final battle scenes had to be shown simultaneously on three separate screens, each with a separate projector, to capture the full scope. 

Historian Kevin Brownlow first saw a 9.5 mm version of the film as a child in 1954, and he dedicated the next 50 years to tracking down surviving prints. He then worked for years with the BFI to restore it, and a partially restored version first premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 1980.

“Several generations of staff at the BFI have worked on this project,” BFI creative director Heather Stewart said in a release. “Napoleon is a landmark in the history of cinema and we are grateful to all of the great talents who have helped us along the way but especially, of course, Kevin Brownlow for his indefatigable championing of the film and Carl Davis for his amazing score.”

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