Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Open Letter to Francis Ford Coppola

Dear Francis Ford Coppola,

I am compelled to write this letter because it has recently come to my attention that your American Zoetrope company owns the rights to Abel Gance's 330 minute, triptych employing epic "Napoleon"(1927), which many would claim effortlessly takes it's place along side Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans”, Robert Weine’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” as one of cinema’s undisputed silent masterpieces. Sadly, a masterpiece that I, and countless other fine film lovers, have never had the chance and, one can only assume, the pleasure of seeing. All I can ask is: why?

From my research, I have gleaned that film historian/preservationist, Kevin Brownlow’s 1981 235 minute restoration was provided a musical score by your father, Carmine Coppola. But a man named Carl Davis composed a score for Brownlow’s full length restoration in 2000 and the subsequent screening by the British Film Institute. You legally opposed this screening, and every proposed screening since, because it didn’t include your father’s score, which happens to be 95 minutes too short. I have not listened to either score, but, even if I had, would not be so bold as to say which is the better piece of music, but surely, since your father has passed on, you would agree on the impossibility of Carmine’s score being amended to fit the more complete version of the film. And yet, that logic seems to make very little impact upon you, and the film remains in a certain type of limbo.

And so, Mr. Coppola, my confusion stems from this fact: your career seems to me to be the definition of passion for good story telling, and likewise the telling of good stories. You have either written, produced or directed(all three at times) some of my very favorite films, and evidenced by those films you seem to have a wonderful sense of value for the place that the art of cinema holds in history. But your stubbornness on this issue seems to prove otherwise. Personally, I can’t imagine living in a future world where films like “The Godfather”, “The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now” or one of your recent efforts “Youth Without Youth” were not available to the public for a silly reason like this. I would consider it a cultural disservice, in fact, and I am sure that you would be against the notion as well.

With “Napoleon”, Abel Gance pushed the limits of the technology available to him at the time. He pioneered the use of hand held cameras, montage editing(along with Eisenstein), colour tinting and he invented the cinema triptych, a pre-Cinemascope triple camera/triple projector/triple screen way of getting a widescreen image aspect ratio of 4.00:1(nearly double the width of the widest modern widescreen films!!!) for the battle sequences of the film. Not to mention the most in-depth cinematic character study of Napoleon Bonaparte that has ever existed. Or so I have heard.

Again, I ask the question: why? Why must you hold such a film hostage? A film without an audience is much like the old ‘tree falls in the forest’ adage, it probably exists but nobody can prove it. But if it really is about the music, and you truly, and understandably, don’t want the world to forget your father’s score, release/preserve it on compact disc/MP3/vinyl/ for everyone to hear, and save the world from forgetting about another major piece of it’s artistic history as a result. Because where would art be without it’s history? And where would the world be without art?

So, in conclusion, I implore you to make Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 restoration of Abel Gance’s “NapolĂ©on” be available to the public of the world. For this film without an audience is a ridiculous, unnecessary purgatory, and an un-indictable crime. If you don’t, well, I would hate to have to boycott buying your wine(particularly the Claret), because it is quite wonderful.

Matthew Gordon Levandoski(on behalf of all art lovers)

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