About Glennia Campbell
Glennia Campbell has been around the world and loved something about every part of it. She is interested in reading, photography, politics, reality television, food and travel and lives in the Bay Area of the U.S.
She blogs about family travel at The Silent I and is also the co-founder of MOMocrats Beth Blecherman and Stefania Pomponi Butler, which launched out of a desire to include the voices of progressive women, particularly mothers, in the political dialogue of the 2008 campaign.
She found her way to Democratic politics under the tutelage of the late Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Cora Weiss, and other anti-war activists and leaders in the anti-nuclear campaigns of the 1980's. She has been a speaker at BlogHer, Netroots Nation, and Mom 2.0, and published print articles in KoreAm Journal.
Professionally, Glennia is a lawyer and lifelong volunteer. She has been a poverty lawyer in the South Bronx, a crisis counselor for a domestic violence shelter in Texas, President of a 3,000 member non-profit parent's organization in California, and has worked in support of high-tech and medical research throughout her professional career.
Latest Posts by Glennia Campbell
My husband is fond of telling people that sixteen years ago, he dragged me to California “kicking and screaming”. I don’t remember kicking anyone, but I was pretty vocal about the fact that California was never on my wish-list of places to live, and that it would be a temporary stay. I made my husband swear a blood oath that if and when we ever had kids, we would move back to Austin to raise them. I had family and friends and favorite haunts in Texas; California was a brave new world and I was sure I wasn’t cut out for the lifestyle.Growing up in the midwest, my impression of California was that it was a free-spirited, anything-goes kind of place, full of pot-smoking hippies, actors, and surfers. I didn’t know how I might fit in, even though I had previously made myself at home in Ohio, New York, Chicago, and Texas. I was willing, however, to try, as long as I had some assurance that if I hated it, the stay would be temporary.
Sixteen years and a house, a child, and a career later, I’ve grown to love California for its indescribable beauty and innovative spirit. California is my home now, and I don’t want to live anywhere else. I’ve been spoiled by the temperate climate, beautiful scenery, and opportunities around every bend in the road for some new adventure.
I spent the past weekend in Southern California, and was struck by the beautiful beaches and serene, but glorious technicolor sunsets over the Pacific. The sky turned the colors of cotton candy, reflected in the waves of the Pacific, the beauty is enough to make you weep for no other reason than you are there, and alive to witness something so glorious in its simple beauty.
While Southern California can boast about its beaches, theme parks, and mountains, Northern California has its share of wonders as well. Where we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are no more than an hour from the beach, the mountains, or what I think is the most beautiful city in the world–San Francisco. Lake Tahoe is a 3 hour drive, for gorgeous boating and hiking in the summer, or hitting the slopes in the winter. In Northern California, kids traditionally have a week off from school for “Ski Week”, making up for the fact that there are no snow days due to the year-round mild weather.
I live in the town where Facebook, Google, and Pinterest all got their start, and every cafe is full of young men and women making deals, creating apps, writing code, and dreaming big dreams of making their mark on the internet and on the world. Palo Alto is a fun and exciting place to live and learn and dream. There is an iconic ad for Hewlett-Packard that shows the founders, (Bill and Dave to the locals) peering into a small garage in Palo Alto and seeing the whole world. In Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Francisco and all up and down the Peninsula, companies work hard to innovate and bring new ideas and products to the world.
I also love the diversity of our community here, where you can hear multiple languages on any street corner at any hour of the day. Children at my son’s elementary school spoke 30 different languages at, the most common being Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Hebrew. People from all over the planet gravitate to the Bay Area for work and school, and some never leave. Each culture leaves an indelible mark, and we are all richer for the experience.
I really doubt that I will leave California now, and if I did, you’d better bet there would be kicking and screaming involved. I’m a California girl now.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. Photos by Glennia Campbell, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
My family had the opportunity to see the latest incarnation of The Lion King at San Francisco’s beautiful Orpheum Theater recently, courtesy of SHN. Above Jelani Remy, as Simba in the Lion King. We had seen the show about 7 or 8 years ago, when he was a very little tyke who was scared to death of the big stampede.
He was so scared, in fact, he hid under the seat until the wildebeast stampede was over. As a jaded, world-weary 12 year old, I wasn’t sure how he might respond to what had been one of his favorite, yet most traumatic, stories of his childhood. At twelve, he was as enthralled with this production as he was with the one he had seen at age 5, and more impressed than ever with the showmanship, the dazzling costumes, puppetry and sheer magic of the production.
Prior to the show, we had a chance to meet the stars of the show, Syndee Winters and Jelani Remy, who play the adult Nala and Simba, respectively. Both are hugely talented singers and dancers, and are destined for great things on the stage or movies and television, wherever they chose to land. They were wonderful with all the moms and kids, answering questions and posing for pictures with everyone.
The Lion King is not a show that is easy to write about; so much of it is visual and defies words. From the waving grass on the savannah represented by dancers posing and contorting themselves on the ground, to the African-inspired songs sung in Swahili, to the visual schtick of comic relievers Timon and Pumbaa, the show is chock-full of stunning imagery and auditory delights.
This is a show I can recommend for the entire family, although, be forewarned that some scenes may be intense for the youngest children. There were a 3 year old and 5 year old sitting in front of me who took the whole thing in stride, but my son was a little more sensitive to loud noises and the death of Simba’s father, Mustafa when he was 5. Know what your child’s sensititivies and tolerances are for loud noises, the idea of a parent’s death, and a tremendous amount of visual stimulation and plan accordingly. Older kids will definitely love the music, costumes and jokes.
It is playing in San Francisco until January 13, 2013.
Photo Credit: Top photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of SHN/Disney. Used with Permission. Bottom Photo by Glennia Campbell, The SilentI.com, All Rights Reserved.
Disclosure: We received three complimentary tickets and some Lion King promotional products from SHN Orpheum, but no financial or other compensation for this post. As always, the views expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of SHN Orpheum or the Disney Corporation.
Inside, we learned about the history of Toyota in America. Toyota Motor Sales, USA was founded in 1957 in Hollywood, California. The first Toyotas to hit American soil were called Toyopet and were sold in a handful of dealerships beginning in 1958, along with the Land Cruiser. The Toyopet, which I thought was completely adorable, was smaller and more expensive than most American-made cars and didn’t really fit the US market. Toyota decided to pull the line in 1961 and focus instead on the sturdy, all-terrain Land Cruiser until 1965, when the Corona arrived. Toyota introduced the economical Corolla in 1967, which has become the world’s best-selling passenger car of all time, with over 27 million sold in 140 countries around the globe. The rest, as they say, is history.
Inside the Toyota Museum, you can see examples of all of these models from the past, and some special, futuristic eco-friendly cars as well. One car was so small that it looked like my eleven year old son could drive it. In fact, I think I have purse larger than that.
The Lexus branded concept car from the movie “Minority Report” is on display, along with some memorabilia from the move. The car was all sexy rounded shapes and slick design, in a dark red tone that I’m sure I have a lipstick to match. I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, but regardless of who would be driving it, this is one hot-looking car.
Along with a hundred or more cars, there are displays on Toyota’s advertising history, with some familiar slogans like “You asked for it, You Got It…Toyota!” and “Oh, What a Feeling” with the famous “Toyota jump” in the ads.
About large bookcases line one wall of the museum and display row after row of quality and service awards that Toyota has won over the years, including JD Power & Associates Quality Awards. It was an impressive sight to see so many trophies lined up in one place.
After viewing all of these fine vehicles, displays, and awards, I was sorry that my husband and son didn’t have a chance to join me at the Toyota USA Museum.
Maybe on your next trip to Disneyland to see Cars Land, you can stop in at a real land of cars and enjoy the view.
Note: The Toyota USA Automobile Museum is open by appointment only. If you are planning to be in Torrance, California, it’s worth planning a trip to view the cars.
Disclosure: I was selected for participation in the TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, or payment in exchange for participating. The opinions expressed herein are mine, and do not reflect the views of Toyota.
Photo Credits: All photos are © Glennia Campbell 2012.
Last week, I took an overnight business trip to Nashville, Tennessee for a meeting. It’s not the most glamorous or exciting way to travel, especially when you’re in and out in one night. My office is very mindful of budget issues and we try to save money whenever possible. So, how do you plan for a trip that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and provides the creature comforts that you need to work?
Room 77 is a new hotel search website that allows users to find excellent deals gleaned from the top hotel search functions, narrowing the searches by specific parameters set by the user. Need wifi? No problem. Room 77 finds the cheapest options in the locations you want with free wifi.
Want a free breakfast? Narrow your search to only include those that include breakfast in the price (a great feature for families who travel). You can also search for special rates, like AAA or senior discounts if you want to. You can narrow your search by the amenities you want, the star-rating of the hotel, and the Trip Advisor score.
What I really liked about Room 77 is that all the information is displayed on one page, and shows Room 77 deals along with deals from other vendors like Expedia and Orbitz. Instead of searching through ten different sites for the very best deal available, Room 77 does all the work for you, showing the best deals first. I have used other search engines that do this, but open ten different windows at a time, which was way too much seizure-inducing activity on my screen. I liked Room 77′s clean, easy user interface.
In addition to narrowing searches by amenities and price, Room 77 also allows users to research hotel layouts and room views, and availability of parking and shuttle service as well. They also offer an exclusive room concierge service with fast checkout on 4 to 5-star hotels or stays more than $400.
Whether you’re planning an extended family vacation or a quick business trip like I was, Room 77 will give you all the tools you need to plan your trip and choose a hotel that is right for your needs and within your budget. Room 77 also has an iphone app so you can make plans right from your phone.
Never wonder whether you’ve gotten the best deal on your hotel room
again. Check out Room 77 when planning your next travel adventure!
Disclosure: I was selected for participation in this campaign and while I received compensation for the post, all opinions are my own.
St. Lucia offers a variety of food options to suit just about any palate, from the gourmet to the gourmand or the mac-and-cheese-addicted child. Freshly-caught fish and seafood abound, combined with locally-grown seasonings, vegetables and traditional Caribbean preparations, making for healthy, delicious, and unique culinary experiences. Some popular dishes are found in different forms on other Caribbean Islands, but St. Lucia puts its own twist on food. Even if you think you know what Callaloo or Shark & Bake tastes like, you haven’t tried it until you’ve tasted it here.
Green Figs & Salt Fish
The national dish of St. Lucia is the dynamic duo known as “green figs and salt fish”. The “figs” are actually unripe bananas, peeled and sauteed with garlic, onions, celery, and peppers. If the combo of bananas and garlic don’t sound appealing, never fear. Unripened bananas are not sweet and taste more like potatoes than the yellow bananas we’re used to putting in cereal and eating as an on-the-go snack. Unripe, the bananas are much starchier and harder, with less banana flavor.
Green Figs & Salt Fish also features salt fish, rinsed thoroughly to drain out most of the salt, then flaked and sauteed with the bananas and vegetables. It is a hearty, filling meal for lunch or dinner, but I even ate it for breakfast while I was there. Bananas, green and ripened, are abundant on St. Lucia and are the island’s primary crop for export.
Floats & Bakes
“Bakes” are a popular form of bread in St. Lucia, made with a round of plain flour dough that is bake or fried. When baked, it has a taste similar to English muffins, not sweet, but dense, chewy and hearty. You can eat them on their own, or with a variety of fillings to form a handy sandwich-like snack. Add a little powdered sugar or jam, and you have a breakfast treat. Much of the street food sold at markets and stands in St. Lucia has a bake filled with a meat or fish filling.
Shark & Bake
The same dough recipe can be deep-fried to create a “float”, a popular base for St. Lucian street food like Shark and Bake. Shark and Bake, as the name connotes, is a mixture of fish and stewed vegetables eaten as a sandwich. I’m not sure if the fish meat was actually shark or something else, but it tasted good. Other islands may have originated and popularize this version of the fish sandwich, but St. Lucians have adapted a version all their own.
Callaloo is a dark green leafy vegetable that comes from the leaves of the taro plant. St. Lucians use it in place of spinach or kale, and when cooked up, it produces a smoky-flavored addition to fish or seafood dishes. Combined with mashed dasheen (taro root), the leaves form a thick, green, flavorful soup base for crab or other seafood.
It reminded me of the Seaweed Soup my mom makes, both in taste and texture. My travel companion, Julia, tried the Callaloo crab soup, which was a little hard to eat since the crab meat had to be extracted from the tiny crab legs. She said it was worth the effort, even though some of it ended up on her lovely white dress. I had Callaloo and Snapper at one meal, which was a mixture of snapper sauteed with callaloo leaves. The leaves were similar in taste to cooked chard or kale, with none of the bitterness.
Places to Dine
Throughout St. Lucia, there are open-air stands selling a variety of ready-to-eat local delicacies, like shark and bake, roast pork, and bakes. Grab a foil-wrapped Shark & Bake for an inexpensive, hearty meal on the go. On Friday nights, Trios Restaurant at Bay Gardens Beach Resort offers up their parking lot to a food and music festival called “Calaloo Fridays” with food stands featuring typical street food, the ubiquitous Pitons Beer, music and Carnival bands showing off their elaborate costumes and dance moves. This is a fun and inexpensive way to try out a variety of St. Lucian delicacies.
For a fine-dining experience with a pan-Caribbean flair, check out Trios Restaurant at the Bay Gardens Beach Resort in Rodney Bay. Featuring locally grown fresh vegetables and fresh fish dishes from the sea, Trios offers excellent seafood, jerk-style chicken, and hearty vegetarian dishes in a romantic, tropical setting frequented by locals and visitors alike. I enjoyed the Crab Chowder served in a coconut shell bowl, with large chunks of crab and vegetable in a coconut-based broth. The Trios Snapper was served with three sauces that all complemented the fish and mashed sweet potatoes well. For dessert, try the Fruitcake, which is more the color and consistency of gingerbread than the Christmas doorstop that we think of as fruitcake.
Pumpkin seem to be a favorite ingredient among St. Lucian chefs, who use it for a spicy soup, a base for vegetarian dishes, and for dessert treats like pumpkin pie.
St. Lucians share a long history of trade with India, and nearly 40% of St. Lucians have some Indian ancestry. It’s only fitting that one of the top new restaurants in St. Lucia is the acclaimed Spice of India. Spice of India offers tradional Indian food served with a dramatic flair. We had what seemed like a suptuous 90 course meal at Spice of India, and no one at the table could stop eating.
From the luscious, creamy butter chicken to flavorful deconstructed samosas to perfectly-grilled tandoori chicken to the deep-fried chocolate cake at the end, every bite was a new twist on some familar Indian dishes. This is not your mother’s chicken tikka masala, and you might not ever want to go back to it after dining at Spice of India. This restaurant was voted #1 by TripAdvisor, and for good reason: the food is simply out of this world.
If you just can’t take all this exotic goodness, and have a hankering for some good old American fast food, there is a KFC, a Domino’s and even a Subway in Rodney Bay. McDonald’s, however, has not made it into St. Lucia yet, so you’ll have to wait to get to the airport in Miami or New York to get your Big Mac on.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful.”
Disclosure: Food and accommodations for my trip to St. Lucia were paid for by Bay Gardens Resorts. I did not receive any additional financial incentive or compensation for writing this post. All opinions expressed are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Bay Gardens Resorts.
Photos: Copyright Glennia Campbell/The Silent I. All Rights Reserved.
Walking into the Bay Gardens Resort & Spa, you immediately know one thing: You’re on vacation. One of St. Lucia’s premiere luxury resorts, Bay Gardens Resort is situated on lovely Rodney Bay, not far from the capitol city of Castries, but in a world all of its own. If you’re planning to visit St. Lucia, Bay Gardens Resort should be on the top of your list of accomodations for a fun family vacation, romantic getaway, or a honeymoon trip for memories that will last longer than most marriages.
Step inside, where you’ll be greeted by the friendly desk staff, a huge tropical flower arrangement (more like a giant, colorful bush), photos of the flora and fauna of the island, comfy wicker furniture, a gift shop stuffed with island memorabilia and gear, and a delicious island breeze wafting through, and you will quickly realize that it’s exactly the way a tropical vacation ought to be. In fact, it would be nice if life were like this all the time. Ever.
I was part of a trio of bloggers and journalists invited to visit Bay Gardens hotels last week as part of a press familiarization tour. I am not sure how I got so lucky as to be invited, but I’m not one to look a gift horse or a trip to a luxury resort in the mouth, so there I was, a little dazed and confused from the flight, but excited nonetheless.
We were met at the airport by Richard, Activities Manager and Jack-of-All-Trades for the hotel. Richard had us fill out cards in the van so we didn’t need to check-in, gave us our keys so we could go directly to our rooms when we arrived. He had icy cold bottles of water and fruit for the 1 hour drive to the hotel, located on the opposite end of the island from the airport. Our friendly driver, Charles, stopped along the way to let us stretch our legs and enjoy the scenic views, and gave a running commentary of what we were seeing along the way.
Bay Gardens Resort is a 4-star, all-suite luxury resort that is part of a trio of hotels owned and operated by the Destang Family, but this is no mom-and-pop operation. The Destangs are local St. Lucians with a long history of investment and involvement in St. Lucian business enterprise. Mrs. Destang was honored by Queen Elizabeth II and named as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her service to the tourism industry, an honor slightly below Knighthood. St. Lucia is a British Commonwealth and very few people have this distinction. After an hour or two at any of the Bay Gardens properties, you understand why these hotels would be fit for a queen.
Upon arrival, I was escorted up to my room, a large one-bedroom suite that would have fit a family of four or five comfortably. The suite featured a full kitchen, complete with stove, full-size refridgerator, and all the equipment you would need for an extended stay. I was very pleased to find a blender, which I thought would be great for tropical smoothies for kids, or adult beverages with some local rum and freshly squeezed lime. It must be margarita time somewhere, right?
Both of the main rooms of the suite rooms were adorned with flowers, including two swans sculpted out of bath towels. There were flowers in the enormous bathroom as well, offering a sweet and romantic touch, as well as a delicate fragrance throughout the room. The flowers are grown all over the property, and fit well with the decor and ambience of the rooms.
The bathroom was larger than my livingroom at home, and had a complicated shower with jet-sprays, a full bathtub, and twin sinks. I wasn’t sure how to work the jet-spray system, and found myself pushing random buttons until one of them squirted me in the face. I was glad no one was around to see this, although I thought it must have looked like some bit out of a Three Stooges movie when I got shot in the nose by the water. The only suggestion I would have for the hotel would be to provide some kind of instruction sheet, for those of us who only have two settings on our showers at home: “on” and “off”. I think I would have had a most excellent shower massage if I’d known how to work it properly.
I had an ocean view room (a little pricier than garden or pool views, but SO worth it). I enjoyed sitting on the balcony in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, gazing out over the sailboats moored in Rodney Bay. It was a perfect escape from my otherwise stressful life of full-time work, child care, volunteering, writing, and whatever other projects I have going on at the moment. It was wonderful to just sit in a quiet place, overlooking a peaceful bay, and dream a little. The staff at Bay Gardens Resort is completely committed to customer service and hospitality. When I slept through my wake-up call, I heard a persisting knocking on the door. I thought it was housekeeping, but when I finally answered, it was the bellman. He said the front desk had tried to call me several times, and when I didn’t answer, they were concerned that the phone was not working (more like, the bed was so comfy I was in a coma). I thanked him for his concern, but was a little embarassed that I hadn’t heard the phone ringing.
It’s tempting to want to just stay in your room at Bay Gardens, what with the fancy jet sprays, gourmet kitchen, room service, flat-screen TVs, gorgeous view and all. If you happen to venture out, there is quite a bit to do at the resort, including a full menu of water activities (boating, snorkeling, swimming, fishing), a fabulous round pool with hot tub, a full-service spa, and two excellent restaurants featuring international and local fare. Daily activities led by our friend Richard include yoga, Tai Chi, water aerobics, and personal training. Check the daily activities board to find out what’s available on any given day, depending on the weather and guest interest.
If you’re even more adventurous and want to venture off the property, a quick boat trip across Rodney Bay will take you to Pigeon Island for a lovely and educational hike up to an old British fort with a spectacular view, or glide across the sky on a parasailing trip among the frigate birds. Walk out the front door of the resort and find a plethora of restaurants to suit any palate, including the fanciest Domino’s Pizza I have ever encountered anywhere else in the world. There’s even a locally-owned coffee shop with Starbucks-ian lettering, if you need your daily fix of caffeinated beverages.
Bay Gardens Resort is a perfect place for families with kids of all ages. They offer babysitting provided by the staff, so all the sitters are vetted and part of the Bay Gardens family. The beach next to the hotel offers first-come-first serve lounge chairs, shady trees, and umbrellas to help you keep the little ones from roasting. Teens and tweens will love the water activities, including a rubber raft pulled by a speed boat that darts around the bay and a swim-up trampoline. There are kids programs available when there are enough kids on the property, so ask when you arrive what might be available.
Ready to go? Right now, Bay Gardens Resort is offering some fantastic summer rates, with as much as 70% off peak rates. Normally, during peak season a full suite at Bay Garden Resort runs about $250-$400/night or $200/night for a deluxe room. You can add on an all-inclusive meal plan, or just breakfast, for an additional charge.
Disclosure: Airfare and accommodations for my trip to St. Lucia were paid for by Bay Gardens. I did not receive any additional financial incentive or compensation for writing this post. All opinions expressed are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Bay Gardens Resorts.
Photos: Copyright Glennia Campbell/The Silent I. All Rights Reserved.
My husband, Frank, discovered that Abel Gance’s epic silent film, Napoleon, was playing with a live orchestra in Oakland last weekend. When I found out it was 5 1/2 hours long, I told him, “You’re on your own, bub.”
This is his account of a classic movie-going experience that may not be repeated.
I had the good fortune to get a ticket last weekend for the final showing of Napoleon, Abel Gance’s silent movie masterpiece. I recall hearing about the version released with a score by Francis Ford Coppola’s father in the early 1980’s, but I skipped it then, and always wondered what I’d missed.
Now, for the first time in 30 years, a new, more complete restoration was on offer as part of the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, It was being shown with a live performance by the Oakland East Bay Symphony, playing an original score conduced by the composer Carl Davis. Billed as a once-in-lifetime experience, I snapped up a ticket online and headed to Oakland on Sunday, April 1.
This French movie was made in the 1920s, and was first shown in 1927. The director, Abel Gance, got funding to make 6 films to chronicle the whole life of Napoleon. He blew the entire budget on just the first installment, which only carries us through Napoleon’s early life, but even with this limited material, the film is over 5 hours long.
At first, we see him as a teen at boarding school, commanding a snowball fight among his peers. We watch the French Revolution and Napoleon’s imprisonment and the effect this has on him. We see his military talent (and defiance of authority) at the Battle of Toulon in 1793, his romance and marriage to Joséphine, who turns out (at least according to the movie) to have been imprisoned with him (and was saved by a judicious bureaucrat who literally ate – yes, tore up and swallowed – her paperwork rather than letting her be guillotined). The film finally ends with Napoleon’s invasion of Italy in 1796.
There is a lot here for the cinema buff. Some of the camera work was revolutionary for its time (1927): Double exposures (all done in camera), multiple exposures, split-screen shots, and ultra-rapid cuts (depicting the chaos and tumult of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror) are all over the place. Some cinematography techniques I think of as a contemporary (like the unsteady camera that always seems to be moving, – think Blair Witch or the Jason Bourne movies) can find roots in Napoleon from 1927.
Gance also used moving cameras mounted on operator’s chests as they walked through crowds, cameras mounted on horseback as they race along, cameras on swings over the crowds of revolutionaries, even a camera in the waves as Napoleon escapes a chasing mob by sea – truly a motion picture that lives up to the name.
He also experimented with color – having the entire image tinted blue for night shots, or red during the rage of the battle scenes, or yellow or sometimes even pink for … well, I’m not exactly sure what all that color coding meant. Since some scenes cut back and forth between camera angles with different colors for the different views, so I suspect it’s the film itself that is tinted, not just a projectionist holding up a filter. I’m not sure it adds much in this day and age, and it must be a nightmare for the restoration, but it must have been something back in 1927.
The final Act IV is the most amazing part of the whole movie. Gance expands the screen with three projectors, showing images side by side as Napoleon rouses his army to invade Italy, and then as the battle unfolds. Sometimes showing landscape panoramas, with troop movements across the continuous landscape of the three screens, sometimes showing a triptych of 3 different images all geared to make a collective impression. At the end, the three screens become the French tricolore, using tinted film for the left in blue and the right in red, with Napoleon in black & white in the middle. Wow! Even now, jaded as we are with IMAX and widescreen and all, this was really an impressive sight.
This is a real challenge, especially with 3 synchronized projectors running at only 20 frames per second (not the usual 24 fps used today), so Napoleon will not be coming to a multiplex near you anytime soon.
So, for film buffs, there is much to love.
For movie goers, though, it’s a challenge. The movie may be only 5 ½ hours long, but the program lasted over 8 hours, with two intermissions between acts and a dinner break as well. And, although restored with all the titles in English, it is an effort to stay seated and concentrate for such a long event no matter what. The silent style, with uneven exposures, grand gestures, and exaggerated expressions on faces making up for the lack of words, is certainly an acquired taste these days.
The subject, just on Napoleon’s youth, seems way too much. Gance makes a great effort to convince you his quotes and facts are “Historical” (the word appears on all title slides when quoting from some record of events), but Gance’s hero-worship for this guy is a bit nauseating. The schoolboy snowball fight is amusing, since we are supposed to see the general-to-be in the boy, but as the film moves on (and on and on), it seems Napoleon could do nothing wrong. He called everyone around him idiots, and from this presentation, they really were! All you need is to let a heroic man of megalomaniacal vision take over and France will be glorious. The French nationalism ad nauseam is a bit hard to take. There is even a long scene where is seems Napoleon was instrumental to Parisian crowds adopting the La Marseillaise as a Revolutionary theme song. Really?
We’ve learned a lot about movies since this first was projected, but just a decade later, they were making movies like Gone With the Wind, with sound and in color, that we relate to essentially as we do today. In contrast, Napoleon seems like a piece from another world, both as cinema and as politics. It is a landmark achievement, yes, and since staging this production, with a live orchestra and a trio of synchronized 20 fps projectors is so difficult, by all means, catch this if they ever stage a screening near you.
But, it is a once-in-a lifetime thing – once is surely enough to sit through the whole thing, and it’s not at all what you expect from a movie today. So, I’m glad I did it, but am also glad I didn’t try to bring the family (our video game loving son would have been bored bored bored).
Napoleon was shown at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. This was the first event I’d been to there, and what a place! An art deco masterpiece, halls decorated with nude or near nude images of figures in vaguely Greek or Egyptian styles, latticework in the ceilings to dazzle and amaze. It’s worth a trip to the Theatre just to see the place.
A view from Menlo Park, California