Artistic Director Anita Monga was literally just running out the door to attend the dress rehearsal that Friday morning when this reporter called. "We anticipate about 40 people to attend," she said. From 10: AM to after 4:00 PM, the press and others were invited to watch the movie in "a dress rehearsal" with conductor Carl Davis leading the Oakland East Bay Symphony that provides the music for the film.
For weeks Monga and others with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival have been diligently getting the word out about the premiere of the epic "Napoleon" from 1927.
The legendary masterpiece by Abel Gance has been painstakingly restored to its full glory by the efforts of the award winning film restorationist Kevin Brownlow,
the film festival in association with American Zeotrope, The Film Preserve, Photoplay Productions and BFI.
"I know some people are disappointed that we did not have this screening in San Francisco, said Monga, yet we specifically chose the Paramount Theater because it had all the perfect elements to enhance an epic film like "Napoleon," she said.
While the Castro Theater in San Francisco
has been the home of the SF Film Festival, the neighborhood theater does not have the type of grandeur and seating capacity that the Paramount Theater has to accommodate a sweeping production like "Napoleon."
The Paramount Theater
on Broadway near 19th Street in downtown Oakland near its City Center
is a work of art in and of itself. Built in an Art Deco style that seats 3000 the architectural treasure has all the trimmings and accents that help transport moviegoers to the silent film era.
Yet, like the SF Silent Film Festival motto, "true art transcends time." This epic was a marvel in its day and according to film critics like the SF Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, there is nothing else like it.
Even when it was made the ambition, scale and use of the available technologies of that time were beyond what was expected for a motion picture.
Writer and cultural anthropologist Thomas Gladysz n
oted that the San Francisco Bay Area is home to more film festivals than anywhere else and that moviegoers are so fortunate. Many of the films presented are seldom screened and are not available on video or DVD.
LaSalle noted that for decades much of the film was in fragments and that to see the film in its entirety as it was meant to be seen was rare. Gladysz noted that Brownlow and others considers "Napoleon" among the greatest films ever made.
"Many of the films of the silent film era are great films and works of art," said Tim Vigil. He attends the SF Silent Film Festival every year. "I am not surprised 'The Artist' won for best picture at the Academy Awards
this year," he said.
"'The Artist' has really helped garner attention," said Monga. "Yet we (here at the SF Silent Film Festival) already know that silent film classics are great and withstand the test of time," she said.
"Napoleon" will have only four performances, March 24, 25, 31 and April 1. "Tickets have been flying out the door," said Monga. This is a rare opportunity. For more information visit the SF Silent Film Festival web site.