The Multireel Spectacle

Épopée napoléonienne (Life of Napoleon)

Lucien Nonguet, Pathé-Frères, France, 1903

Initially released in 1903, the first of the company’s historical spectacles was so popular that it was still circulating in 1905 and available for purchase in 1907. Originally, the film was distributed as a single subject in two reels (making it one of the earliest two-reel films). Pathé also sold both parts separately, focusing its advertising on Part I, which celebrated Napoleon’s rise to power. Moreover, the whole film could be purchased tableau by tableau and arranged according to the exhibitor’s desires. In the United States, Edison distributed duped prints under the title The Rise and Fall of Napoleon the Great, and the film was so well known that in late 1904, when Kleine Optical publicized legally available prints, it advertised one of “the [most] successful films . . . duplicated in America.” As the postcard on the right shows, the tableau entitled “Passage du Pont d’Arcole” was among those filmed on real locations; other exterior scenes were filmed against painted backdrops.

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