Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON gives us five-and-a-half hours on France’s smartest, bravest, sexiest, tallest man.

I’m not sure if star Albert Dieudonné was actually tall — in one of two shots there are other actors who out-heighten him. But more often, Gance gives him screen prominence that makes him seem to tower over his surroundings, and his bony, sharp features and slender frame create an impression more of tallness than its opposite. Basically, nothing about him really evokes the historical figure he impersonates, but like Chaplin, Napoleon can be reduced to a hat and a stance, and so anybody can stand in for him.

Dieudonné’s great advantage is his intensity, which he seems to carry with him at all times and which makes itself felt even if he just sits there. You believe he must be a military genius because of his presence and how Gance frames him. Kubrick believed Jack Nicholson would make a good Napoleon because he felt intelligence was the one quality that can’t be acted. I’m not sure that’s true. If the actor is bright enough to understand something, they can play the person who invented it. While there are certainly cases like Denise Richardson playing a nuclear physicist which seem to insult OUR intelligence, for the most part, a moderately sentient thespian can play a brainbox by hard work. John Huston was ultimately impressed by the way Montgomery Clift convinced us in FREUD that he was having original thoughts, when in fact the poor man’s brain was basically burned out. What convinces us of genius is the one quality Nicholson and Dieudonné both share — that mysterious quality called presence.



8 Responses to “Napster”

  1. The only actor I know of who can look like he’s thinking is Jean-Louis Trintignant

  2. He’s really good at it. But it’s about projection, you just need a blank expression and the right kind of framing and the right kind of eyes. It’s the audience that does the thinking for you.

    It seems to be a matter of essence rather than talent, and the actor being intelligent doesn’t necessarily help: see Keanu and Leo, who are not dumb, but aren’t good at thought onscreen.

  3. Albert Dieudonné looks very like Olivier as Richard III in your top picture.
    Another missed opportunity for Kubrick.

  4. Kubrick got the Olivier experience on Spartacus, and probably didn’t care to repeat it.

  5. …or perhaps Olivier didn’t care to repeat the Kubrick experience.

  6. Possibly, but the one we KNOW had a bad time was SK. His job as director largely consisted of maneuvering between the giant egos of Douglas, Laughton and Olivier…

  7. Fwiw, Kubrick did appreciate the professionalism of the British actors. He saw them mumbling to themselves, and, worried they were grousing about him, snuck up behind them … only to discover they were practicing their lines.

    I believe Olivier was in consideration for Humbert Humbert.

  8. Interesting! Kubrick did show a preference for Brits, latterly, even when casting Americans (Alan Cummings in Eyes Wide Shut, in the role I like to call Mr. George Swine Jr.)

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