Gance, Abel

Gance, Abel, 1889–1981, pioneering French filmmaker. He acted on the stage in the early 1900s and appeared on the silent screen. From 1911 he wrote and directed several films; his first important film, the pacifist J'Accuse (1919, remade with sound, 1938), introduced montage. In La Roue (1923), a melodrama of railway workers' lives, he refined montage, quickly cutting from scene to scene. Gance's Napoleon, originally released (1927) as Napoléon vu par Abel Gance [Napoleon as seen by Abel Gance], used many experimental techniques to portray the sweep of Napoleon's life and of history itself, and took several years to complete. His innovations included a perfected use of montage, close-ups, and tracking shots, sequences in color (produced by hand-tinting the film) and with a three-dimensional perspective (later cut), superimposition, enormous battle scenes filmed with three cameras and shown with three projectors on a curved screen (prefiguring Cinerama and other wide-screen processes), and stereophonic sound (added in 1934). Originally more than six hours long, the film was edited and reedited over the years; in the early 1980s four hours of the original were reassembled and shown with orchestral accompaniment. Gance's later sound films include the sci-fi flop La Fin du monde (1931), the ambitious Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (1936, The Life and Loves of Beethoven), Paradis Perdu (1940), La Tour de Nesle (1954), Austerlitz (1960, The Battle of Austerlitz), and Cyrano et d'Artagnan (1963).

See studies by S. P. Kramer and J. M. Welsh (1978) and N. King (1984).

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