Sunday, December 01, 2013

Abel Gance on Napoleon

Abel Gance's address to his cast and crew as production began on Napoleon: June 24th, 1924.

"This is a film which must – and let no one underestimate the profundity of what I'm saying – a film which must allow us to enter the Temple of Art through the giant gates of History. An inexpressible anguish grips me at the thought that my will and my vital gift are as nothing if you do not bring me your unremitting devotion.

Thanks to you, we are about to relive the French Revolution and Empire...a unique task. In you, we must find the passion, the folly, the power, the expertise and the self-denial of the soldiers of Year Two. Personal initiative will be all. I want to feel, as I watch you, a swelling force sweeping away your last rational defences so that I can no longer tell the differences between your hearts and your red caps!

Fast, foolish, furious, gigantic, raucous, Homeric, punctuated by organ-pauses which will make the dreadful silences resound all the more – that is what will be dragged out of you by the runaway horse of the Revolution.

And then there will be one man who looks it in the face, who understands it, who wants to use it for the good of France and who, in a flash, leaps onto his back, seizes it by the reins and slowly masters it, turning it into the most miraculous instrument of glory...

It is up to you, then, to recreate the immortal figures of the Revolution and its death-rattles, the Empire and its giant shadows, the Great Army and its rays of glory.

The world's screens await you, my friends. From all of you, whatever your role or rank, leading actors, supporting actors, cameramen, scenery artists, electricians, props, everyone, and especially you, the unsung extras who have to rediscover the spirit of your ancestors to find in your hearts the unity and fearlessness which was France between 1792 and 1815. I ask, no, I demand, that you abandon petty, personal considerations and give me your total devotion. Only in this way will you serve and revere the already illustrious cause of the first art-form of the future, through the most formidable lesson in history."