Netflix continues to forge ties with every film industry in the world, including France. This week, the streamer announced it would be financing a new restoration of Abel Gance's 1927 silent epic Napoleon. This is part of Netflix's new partnerships with the French National Film Board (the CNC) and the Cinémathèque Française, a non-profit group devoted to preserving and promoting French cinema culture.
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, the plan is to restore the so-called Apollo version of the movie, considered Gance's definitive and most complete cut of the movie, which runs nearly seven hours, by May 5, 2021, the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death. Gance never realised his ambition to make six movies covering the entire story of Napoleon's rise and fall.
In a statement, Netflix suggested Napoleon could be the first of many international cinema classics it helps restore. The streamer had previously financed the completion of Orson Welles' unfinished movie The Other Side of the Wind. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix also announced it would collaborate with the Cinémathèque Française on a series of screenings, conferences, and masterclasses. Last year, Netflix and the Cinémathèque Française held a virtual French premiere for David Fincher's Mank. They hosted an online masterclass with Damien Chazelle, Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi, and Alan Poul on the making of their French-set Netflix series The Eddy.
Abel Gance's epic Napoleon was considered the Apocalypse Now of its day. Running 7 hours, it was intended to have 3 different screens showing scenes simultaneously with a live orchestra playing the score. Called "PolyVision," this was the earliest version of widescreen in movies before Cinemascope came along after World War II. It's still considered one of the most innovative silent movies of all time, a masterpiece of World Cinema. Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios released a 3-hour-and-43-minute restoration back in 1980, and the British film historian Kevin Brownlow released a 5-and-a-half-hour version with colour tints and the triptych PolyVision restored in 1983. That version has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK. The new Netflix and CMC restoration will be the most complete version to date.
Netflix currently has two French shows that are worldwide hits: the heist thriller Lupin starring Omar Sy and the satire of French show business Call My Agent!. The new restoration of Napoleon will almost certainly end up streaming worldwide on Netflix.