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The Six (Hour) Napoleon
The other week, Joyce and I took off for not-so-sunny California, the Bay-Area to be specific, where a severe rainstorm greeted us. We flew into San Francisco and then hopped on to BART for a quick ride over to Oakland. This is where Russell Merritt, our host for the weekend, met us. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival was presenting Able Gance’s 1928 silent classic, Napoleon. Russell and I made plans for this once in a lifetime event during Sunday Brunch in January during the Baker Street Irregular/ Birthday Celebration Weekend in New York City. Because Russell is a professor of film at UC Berkley, who better to spend nearly 9 hours with watching one film?
Russell met us up at the BART as we detrained and whisked us off to his house in the Oakland Hills through the pouring rain. Our schedule allowed us about 90 minutes before we needed to be at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland. The film began at 1:30, featured two, 20-minute intermissions and a 90-minute dinner break before wrapping up just shy of 10:00, bringing the total running time of the film to 6 hours and 20 minutes. Kevin Brownlow has spent his adult life, restoring and re-restoring this film. This is the only time the entire film is to will run in the United States. Carl Davis wrote the score and conducted the Oakland East Bay Symphony. It was truly a stunning evening.
The grand finale featured three screens with three projectors running in what many believe the innovation for Panavision movies many years later. Abel Gance’s masterpiece is just part of a six film series. The remaining five eventually were shelved and never made. The Paramount Theatre was completed in 1930 and recently restored to its original grandeur. The theatre, the film, and the company mad the most extraordinary evening. Joyce and I crammed a week’s worth of sensory stimulation into a single evening.
On Sunday, we headed for the Castro area of San Francisco. We ventured around many historic sites including the site where Harvey Milk’s camera shop once operated. We met up with fellow Sherlockian, Jim Cox and began visiting the sites from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Jim is an expert on Dashiell Hammett and Russell and expert on Vertigo; we combined the two tours into dueling experts. On one block, we saw the plaque where Miles Archer was murdered and the next block the flower shop where James Stewart spied on Kim Novak. Eventually we wound up at Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, trying the recreate one of the classic frames form the movie.
It turned out to be the perfect weekend. By Sunday, the rains were gone; spending the entire day exploring new places with friends was great. Plans were made for us all to get together again before too long. Now we are working on those plans.
Don, Joyce, Jim, and Russell at Fort Point
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