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By Gus Bode

Despite meeting his demise close to two centuries ago, the former French emperor is scheduled to make an appearance at Forest Park in St. Louis this weekend.

On Saturday, the St. Louis Art Museum will be showing the monumental yet rarely circulated “Napol�on,” a French film of the silent era directed by Abel Gance, depicting the early military career of Napoleon Bonaparte as he rose to distinction amidst the turbulent years of the French Revolution.

The showing of this film is a part of a larger exhibition entitled “Symbols of Power,” which showcases the decorative arts of the Empire Style, a design movement during the reign of Napoleon. This exhibit includes bronze, jewelry, porcelain and silver in addition to paintings and sculpture.


This version of “Napol�on,” restored by American Zoetrope, was obtained through the museum’s Education Office from Universal Pictures.

“It fills out the experience of understanding things French,” said Bill Appleton, the assistant director for public programming and education at the museum, in relation to the film. “It’s France’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ or ‘Birth of a Nation.'”

Presenting the film will be Sally Shafto, the executive director of this past year’s Big Muddy Film Festival in southern Illinois. Shafto, who earned an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Film-Art-Aesthetics from the University of Iowa, cites her first experience with the film as a pivotal moment in her life.

“Gance’s film was the first film that showed me film was an art equal to the other arts. It took my breath away,” Shafto said. “I found it astonishingly beautiful, moving and modern.”

Considered by many to be ahead of its time, “Napol�on” featured handheld camera techniques and approaches to editing that would not become institutional for decades. The film is also a pioneering example of Polyvision, an early widescreen format achieved by projecting images side-by-side which create one large image. This technique is shot from multiple cameras.

Appleton touts the importance of the film and the overall exhibition as a display and celebration of the ways in which the arts of the past are still alive.

“It’s a real moment where you can see how the past influences the future,” said Appleton. “The great wonder of this exhibition is it can really touch anyone.”


“Napol�on” will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday and will run for about four hours, including an intermission wherein coffee and sweets will be served. Admission is $5 for the general public and $3 for museum members. For directions and more information, visit

Daily Egyptian writer Devin Vaughn can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or [email protected].