by Allan Fish
We’ve all read the stories of the ox-car knot at Gordium, the one that Alexander the Great came across in 333BC and, seeing the knotty problem at hand, proceeded to split the knot in two with his sword. Simples, as those confounded Compare the Market meerkats might say. Then again, it was, for back then lawyers didn’t really exist, not in the leech, lowest of the low status we know today.
Other Alexanders came and went, from Hannibal to Julius, from Charlemagne to Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Boneparte. The most egotistical Frenchman to have ever lived, Boneparte was the dictator’s dictator, and the sort of man who has inspired many movies; good, bad and downright indifferent. Kubrick wanted to do it, he gave up. Maybe if he’d been able to see Abel Gance’s version from 1927, he’d never have tried, but that was presumed lost in the early seventies. And it was, except that one Englishman, film director and historian Kevin Brownlow, had been on a mission to resurrect this cinematic phoenix from the ashes since his teens. He was nearing the end of his journey, and doubtless thought he was on to a good thing when enlisting the help of Francis Ford Coppola in promoting his baby to a generation of film fans who were to be blown away by the film. Two versions were prepared; one running just under four hours and speeded up from 20 to 24 fps, would be issued in the US and have a score by Coppola’s dad, Carmine. The other, proper version, running five hours, would be accompanied by a score by Carl Davis, incorporating not only portions of Arthur Honegger’s original score, but snippets of Mozart’s 25th Symphony, Beethoven’s 7th and numerous other classical mainstays. The film was a hit around the world in the early eighties, and Gance himself lived long enough to see his baby reborn again. It’s perhaps thankful that the ugly post-script that has since ensued happened too late to send him destraught to his grave. (more…)