Gance, Abel


Gance, Abel
(1889-1981)
   Actor, director, and screenwriter. Born the illegitimate son of a Jewish doctor and a working-class girl, Abel Gance rose to prominence as one of the most visionary directors of the silent-film era. Until the age of eight, Gance lived with his grand-parents in rural France. At the age of eight, he moved to Paris to live with his mother, who had married Adolphe Gance, the man whose name Gance ultimately took. Although officially the son of Adolphe Gance, Gance's natural father, Abel Flamant, continued to support him. This support allowed the young Gance an education well beyond the reach of his working-class family (Adolphe Gance was a mechanic).
   It was clear from an early age that Gance was attracted to literature and theater. He read voraciously and, in 1908, went to Brussels to become an actor, defying his father's wish that he become a lawyer. In 1910, he was hired on as an actor by Gaumont and was cast by Léonce Perret in his 1910 film Molière. He also wrote several screenplays for films directed by Perret, including Le Portrait de Mireille (1910) and Le Crime du grand-père (1910).
   In 1911, Gance left Gaumont to form his own production company, Le Film français, which produced many of Gance's first films, including La Digue (1911), a costume drama set in Holland, which Gance both wrote and directed. This was shortly followed by several other films, both written and directed by Gance, including Le Nègre blanc (1912), an antiracist drama, and Le Masque d'horreur (1912), a short narrative film. He continued also to write scripts for other studios, and some of these were turned into successful films, one example being Un tragique amour du Mona Lisa (1912) directed by Albert Capellani.
   Gance's vision of cinema, however, stretched beyond that medium's developed capacity, and his experimentation, particularly with light, can be seen even in his early films. As his career developed, this ambition to push the cinema beyond its limits began to find greater form in his work. Experimentation with special effects, for example, characterizes his 1915 film La Folie du docteur Tube. His film Barberousse (1917), a serial made for Studio Film d'art, brought Gance much audience acclaim, if not critical acclaim, and also demonstrates experimentation with camera angles, shot distance, editing, and narrative style. He is often called one of the fathers of the close-up.
   Gance's experimental style matured in 1917 in what is considered his first great work, Mater Dolorosa, a psychologically and socially oriented film about an unhappily married bourgeois woman. The subject matter and Gance's stylized cinematography, particularly his use of lighting, garnered the film much attention, and it was a huge success both in France and internationally.
   In 1919, Gance went to work for Pathé, where he made another of his great works, the serial film J'Accuse, a war epic that prominently features the carnage of the so-called Great War and which literally calls upon the living to answer for the deaths of those killed. The film's deeply traumatic subject is beautifully rendered in Gance's ex-perimental cinematography, which includes tracking shots, rapid cuts, close-ups, and his typical play with lighting. The film was an enormous success, both domestically and internationally, and it cemented Gance's reputation as one of the great directors of his day.
   Gance's second great epic work, La Roue (1923), was begun shortly after the release of J'Accuse. The story of railroad workers in France, La Roue has elements of the poetic realism that would follow a generation later, but it retains the element of artistic self-consciousness that Gance's earlier films demonstrated. La Roue, which Gance once called "a white symphony fading to black," was filmed on location in Provence. Gance makes of the natural landscapes of the Southern Alps living symbols, and of the steam engines around which the narrative centers, contrasting symbols. To his growing repertoire of cinematographic and editing tricks, Gance, in this film, adds montage, which functions to highlight the already symbolic stature of the images on the screen. A long poem on film, La Roue remains one of the great films of all time.
   It is perhaps because of the success of films like La Roue and J'Accuse that Gance was given the freedom that he was in making his next film, the famed (infamous) Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (1927), a historical epic that sought to recreate the early political career of Napoléon Bonaparte and that took three years to make. The film was produced by Henri Diamant-Berger, through the director's own, small production company. The cost of the film nearly bankrupted the studio.
   The technical innovation that Gance brought to Napoléon, perhaps the greatest technical innovation of his career, was a superexpanded screen that he called polyvision. Polyvision allowed for the projection of enormous panoramic shots and series of tryptich images, in which three screens were visible at once. Both techniques were created by filming simultaneously with multiple cameras, and both pushed filmmaking well beyond anything that had been seen up to that time. Napoléon also draws on the earlier innovations in Gance's films, including montage, rapid cutting, tracking, and experimental lighting. Although the original, which premiered in Paris in 1927, did not do well at the box office, it remains one of the masterworks of cinema, albeit a controversial one. This may, in part, be due to the fact that few audiences of the day ever saw the full, six-hour version, as the film was often shown in pieces because of its length. Gance made several attempts to redeem the film, which he considered a master-piece. He added sound to the film in 1934, and he reedited and rereleased it in 1971 under the title Bonaparte et la révolution. However, it is widely believed that it is only the most recent rendering of the film by film historian Kevin Brownlow (done in 1981) that truly brings Gance's vision to the screen.
   The enormous production costs of Napoléon (the most expensive film made at the time), coupled with its commercial failure, undermined what had previously been Gance's reputation as a cinematic great. Gance received backing for one more epic film, La Fin du monde (1931), his first sound film, but producers intervened during production and editing, fearing another Napoléon. The version that was released was a mere shadow of Gance's vision for the film, and it, like its predecessor, did not do well. As a result, Gance earned a reputation as an eccentric with overambitious ideas, and he had trouble finding the financial backing to make films for a period of twenty or so years.
   Gance continued to make films, including La Dame aux Camélias (1934) starring Pierre Fresnay, Lucréce Borgia (1935), Le Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre (1935), Le Grand amour de Beethoven (1936), Paradis Perdu (1939), Le Capitaine Fracasse (1942), Quatorze juillet (1953), Austerlitz (1960), and Cyrano et d'Artagnan (1963), his final film. However, none of these ever achieved the acclaim won by his silent-film era epics. His fame during this period came more from previous achievements than contemporary ones, as he was awarded an international prize for invention for his technical contributions to cinema in 1954, and was named first laureate of the French national cinema in 1974. He was also given an honorary César in 1980.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gance, Abel — (1889 1981)    Actor, director, and screenwriter. Born the illegitimate son of a Jewish doctor and a working class girl, Abel Gance rose to prominence as one of the most visionary directors of the silent film era. Until the age of eight, Gance… …   Guide to cinema

  • Gance, Abel — (October 25, 1889, Paris, France November 10, 1981, Paris, France)    The illegitimate son of a physician, Abel Flamant, he was educated by his mother and his stepfather, a mechanic named Adolphe Gance. He had to work as a lawyer clerk to earn… …   Encyclopedia of French film directors

  • Gance, Abel — orig. Eugène Alexandre Péréthon born Oct. 25, 1889, Paris, France died Nov. 10, 1981, Paris French film director and screenwriter. He worked in the cinema from 1909, finally winning acclaim with Mater dolorosa (1917) and Tenth Symphony (1918).… …   Universalium

  • Gance, Abel — ► (1889 1981) Director de cine francés. En 1934 inició el sistema sonoro que hoy conocemos por «sonido estereofónico». Películas: Mater Dolorosa (1917), Yo acuso (1919) y La rueda (1921 24). * * * orig. Eugène Alexandre Péréthon (25 oct. 1889,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Gance, Abel — • ГАНС (Gance) Абель (25.10.1889 10.11.1981)    франц. режиссёр. Творч. деятельность начал как поэт и драматург. В 1909 снялся в ф. Мольер (реж. Л. Перре). В 1910 11 писал сц. для реж. Фёйада и А. Капеллани. Первая реж. работа ф. Плотина (1912).… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Gance, Abel — (1889 1981)    French film director. Born in Paris, he was initially a stage actor and dramatist. His films include Lafolie du Docteur Tube, Mater Dolorosa, J accuse, La roue, Un grand amour de Beethoven and Bonaparte et la Revolution …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Gance — Gance, Abel …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Abel Gance — (París, 25 de octubre de 1889 ídem, 10 de noviembre de 1981) fue un cineasta francés, pionero del cine mudo, autor de obras emblemáticas como Napoleón. Su carrera se prolongó durante 60 años …   Wikipedia Español

  • Abel Gance — (* 25. Oktober 1889 in Paris; † 10. November 1981 in Paris) war ein französischer Filmpionier. Leben Abel Gance wurde als unehelicher Sohn des wohlhabenden Arztes Abel Flamant geboren. Er wuchs auf bei seiner a …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gance — Abel Gance (* 25. Oktober 1889 in Paris, Frankreich; † 10. November 1981 in Paris) war ein französischer Filmpionier. Abel Gance wurde als unehelicher Sohn des wohlhabenden Arztes Abel Flamant geboren. Er wuchs auf bei seiner aus der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.