I’m just back from a six hour presentation of Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon with music by Carl Davis and the Philarmonia Orchestra. (Reviewed here)
The silent film made several advances in cinematic technology: coloured tints reinforced the moods, short clips threw the audience into the middle of the action and a mobile camera was used for dynamic parts. There were superimpositions and once the screen split into nine images. You got to know the characters with a lot of long facial close-ups. Most famously the finale has a triptych that makes a wide-screen image, an invention Gance called Polyvision, fusing the physical, mental and emotional elements of the subject.
Carl Davis compiled this score from works of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and others, added his own links, and first performed it with the film in 1980.
Meanwhile, film-buffs talk of the changes in the techniques of photographic laboratories between the 1920s and today, and how the replacement of carbon-arc lighting with xenon lamps give a different affect. The slower early methods of cinematography did let an audience get to know the characters much better than modern ones. Napoleon hardly left the screen for the duration of the film and just compare these facial expressions to feel his compassion and determination.