FRENCH IMPRESSIONIST THEORY AND CRITICISM
The Impressionists' theoretical writings are still less well known, especially to English-language readers, than are those of the Soviet Montage group and more recent writers. There are some helpful basic sources in English, however. For brief introductions to Impressionist theory, see David Bordwell, French Impressionist Cinema: Film Culture, Film Theory, and Film Style (New York: Arno, 1980), chap. 3; and Stuart Liebman, "French Film Theory, 1910–1921," Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 8, no. 1 (winter 1983); 1–23.
An extensive sampling of writings by Impressionists and by critics supportive of avant-garde cinema has been translated in Richard Abel's French Film Theory and Criticism 1907–1939, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988): Abel introduces each section of this book, providing a historical context for the writings. Collections of the writings of three major Impressionist theorists have made their work more accessible: Louis Delluc, Écrits cinématographiques, I, "Le Cinéma et les Cinéastes" (Paris: Cinémathèque Française, 1985), II (in two volumes) "Cinéma et Cie" (same, 1986 and 1990), and III, "Drames de Cinéma" (same, 1990); Jean Epstein, Écrits sur le cinéma, 2 vols. (Paris: Éditions Seghers, 1974 and 1975); and Germaine Dulac, Écrits sur le cinéma (1919–1937), Prosper Hillairet, ed. (Paris: Paris Expérimental, 1994). The complete run of an important film journal to which several of the Impressionists contributed essays has been reprinted: L'Art Cinématographique No. 1–8 (New York: Arno, 1970).
RESTORATION WORK ON NAPOLÉONLike many other types of silent cinema, French Impressionist films are seldom seen by modern audiences. Few prints are in distribution, and some films have disappeared or survive only in truncated versions. For instance, Kirsanoff's first film, L'Ironie du destin (1924), is apparently lost forever, and there is probably no print of Gance's La Roue as long as the original version. Restoration efforts continue, however. In 1987 the Cinémathèque Française completed work on a pristine new print of Dulac's Gossette, of which only fragments had previously been viewable. Several authoritative versions of French Impressionist films have been released on DVD as well.
Undoubtedly the most famous restoration project has been Gance's Napoléon. It is not clear that this epic was ever shown exactly as Gance intended it. The longest version ran about six hours, but showings of it did not include the two side screens for the triptych sequences. Subsequent versions cut the film by more than half, and the triptychs were often eliminated. As the film was edited and reedited, scenes vanished.
Its reconstruction was initiated in 1969 and largely carried out by historian Kevin Brownlow. Jacques Ledoux, curator of the Royal Film Archive of Belgium, coordinated the search for footage preserved in other archives around the world. By 1979, a lengthy version premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. Over the next few years, other gala screenings were held in theaters, museums, and festivals, accompanied by an original score by Carl Davis. Because more footage kept turning up, some of these versions were even longer than the initial one. To complicate matters, Francis Ford Coppola, who had helped fund the restoration, arranged a much-publicized run of the film, with live orchestral accompaniment of a new score composed by his father, at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The event was a huge success financially, but the Coppola release version removed about twenty minutes of footage to fit it into a four-hour time slot. This shortened print was shown elsewhere in the U.S. and released on video.
Brownlow continued to discover more footage and rework Napoléon, in 2000 showing a version that ran over five hours. When in 2004 he arranged for two screenings of an even longer version in London, accompanied by an extended score by Davis, legal difficulties arose. Coppola claimed to own the copyright and tried to stop the screenings, but they proceeded. Brownlow announced that still more footage had been found. The legal stalemate has so far prevented any further screenings or DVD releases.
For an account of the reconstruction work to 1982 (as well as a history of the film's production and exhibition in the 1920s), see Brownlow's Napoléon: Abel Gance's Classic Film, new ed.(New York: Knopf, 2004). The first chapter of Norman King's Abel Gance: A Politics of Spectacle (London: British Film Institute, 1984) discusses the ideological implications of the revival of Gance's work.
Napoléon is an unusual case, but it shows that we should view with caution claims about "restored" or "reconstructed" versions. Sometimes these are simply new prints of the film, not versions that duplicate it as it was originally seen. Many preserved films lack all their intertitles, and new ones may be added that are derived from a source other than the original film (a script or a censorship document, for example) and hence may not be exact replicas. Some restoration work adds colors or assembles surviving fragments largely on the basis of educated guesswork. Sadly, some footage may remain lost indefinitely.
For more on the restoration of silent film classics, see Notes and Queries for Chapter 5, which discusses the rediscovery of Metropolis. For information on variations among original release prints, see Notes and Queries, Chapter 8.