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Abel Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow is the dubbed version of Abel Gance, hier et demain, produced by the Office de Documentation par le Film and directed by Nelly Kaplan. In the 1960s the motion picture rose to pro-

minence as a key medium of expression. A newly focused and invigorated interest in the movies manifested itself both in new styles of filmmaking and the study of cinema’s history. This generation questioned current cinematic conventions, watched old motion pictures, and identified with forgotten filmmakers and cinematic icons. An important outcome of this renaissance was a new appreciation for the art of the silent cinema. This audience was particularly receptive to Abel Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow, which championed a rediscovered genius and his neglected silent masterpieces. Nelly Kaplan, the director of Abel Gance,

was in the vanguard of this new generation of film enthusiasts. Born in Buenos Aires in 1934, Kaplan abandoned her studies in economics at the University of Buenos Aires because of her fascination with film. She went to Paris as a representative of the Argentine Film Archive, and found employment as a film journalist writing for Argentine newspapers. Shortly thereafter, in 1954, the 20-year-old

met Abel Gance and worked as an actor, assistant director, and collaborator on a number of his film projects. A second unit camera operator on Gance’s feature film, Cyrano et d’Artagnan (1963), Kaplan used footage of the 74-year-old filmmaker taken on the set to frame the flashback of his life and career in Abel

Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow, which was made that same year. In this dubbed version of Abel Gance, hier et

demain, an English speaker provides a firstperson account of the filmmaker’s story. Recognized as a great technical innovator as well as an artist, Gance tells us that he invented prototypes of Cinerama and stereophonic sound. As his cinematic achievements are identified, film clips support his claims. We see examples of Gance’s use of montage in his La Roue (1921). Yet, despite the quality of his cinematic innovations, Gance claims that the studios were initially reluctant to support his style of filmmaking. With the advent of sound in film, the director was no longer encouraged to make silent films, which he preferred to make. When asked to work for Adolph Hitler during the war, he fled to Spain. Gance did not make another film for over ten years. Abel Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow ends

with Gance discussing his later work as a director, his disappointment with the current cinema, and his dreams of once again making sensational motion pictures in the future. Abel Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow pre-

sents its subject as a living treasure still capable of great work, one of the cinema’s great innovators. Although her motives are understandable, Nelly Kaplan’s narrowly focused concern that Gance be recognized as a hero of the cinema has its drawbacks. The constant emphasis on Gance’s cinematic accomplishments to the exclusion of everything else hinders us from knowing him as a person. The limiting effect of offscreen narration, which could have been relieved by having Gance occasionally speak on camera, particularly accentuates our feeling of being distanced from the subject and prevents us

from experiencing some sense of intimacy with Gance as a human being. One way in which the interested viewer can

get a better sense of Abel Gance as a person is to watch the other important documentary on the filmmaker from this period. Kevin Brownlow’s 1968 production of Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite centers on a trip that Gance made to England in 1965. This documentary uses extensive interviews with the filmmaker to underscore the importance of his films. Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite also documents the beginning of Kevin Brownlow’s lifelong pursuit of reconstructing Napoleon, a quest that confirmed Napoleon as one of the major accomplishments of the silent cinema. Both Abel Gance: Yesterday and Tomorrow

and Abel Gance: The Charm of Dynamite capture a 1960s cineaste’s excitement in recognizing the art of a neglected major silent filmmaker. These documentaries also put Abel Gance in the select company of such maverick geniuses of the motion picture as D.W. Griffith, Erich von Stroheim, Sergei Eisenstein, and Orson Welles. Lauded today for his innovative cinematic achievements, Gance ultimately was denied the freedom to make motion pictures the way he wished, as his iconoclastic vision could not be supported by the film industry.