Abel Gance

Profile

Abel Gance (1889 – 1981) was a French film director, actor, producer and writer. In 1909 he acted in his first film, playing Molière; two years later he directed his first film, La Digue (ou pour sauver la Hollande), about a dike in the Netherlands. In his scenarios and his films Gance conveys a very personal and romantic vision of historical figures, including Beethoven, Lucrezia Borgia, Cyrano de Bergerac, Mary Tudor and of course Napoleon. Over a period of sixty years Gance directed or produced some sixty films. He started out with a series of short films for Le Film Français, his film about Mary Tudor was a television production for ORTF. During WW1, Gance worked as a filmmaker for the French army's archives, filming footage of actual battles, which he later used for J'accuse (1919, shown at the Holland Festival in 2009), a film in which dead soldiers rise from their graves and march home to demand the horrors of the war are accounted for. J'accuse had a great impact at the time and received international distribution. Gance's next film, La Roue, was equally successful and impressive, especially due to its use of innovative lighting techniques and fast cutting.

As well as biopics about famous historical figures, other recurring themes in Gance's movies are danger (natural disaster in La Digue and La Fin du Monde, modern technology in La Roue), a glorification of the creative arts (La Dixième Symphonie, Un Grand Amour de Beethoven) and eroticism (La Dame aux Camelias, La Paradies Perdu, La Fin du Monde).

Abel Gance is now regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers in history. On a par with Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Napoleon is often quoted as the most important film from the silent era. Throughout his life, Gance strived for technological and artistic innovation, making him a unique figure in world cinema.