Napoleon: a look at the book about the film behind the man; Napoleon: Abel Gance's Silent Classic, by Kevin Brownlow. New York: Albert A. Knopf. 1983. 310 pp. $25. (cloth) $14.95. (paper)

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This handsome volume describes the mixed fortunes of the legendary 1927 film recently restored and shown in, as they say, selected theaters around the world - as its creator-director originally intended: with images projected on three adjacent screens simultaneously (a triptych), and accompanied by a full symphony orchestra.

Film historian and enthusiast Kevin Brownlow (he's the author of ''The Parade's Gone By'' and other books about the movies' early years) is becomingly modest about his own crucial role in the ''reconstruction'' of the film - which was ''butchered'' when its original distributors decided to re-edit it for a mass audience. But he's a bit effusive when recounting Abel Gance's career and crises and perhaps presses Gance's claims as a technical innovator too insistently.

Brownlow's story includes descriptions of his meetings with the elderly Gance (he died recently at age 92), but concentrates on the master's cinematic strategies (battle scenes ''covered by as many as 25 cameras''; an early 3-D process) and stubborn integrity - if that's the word (Gance's demand for ''absolute dedication'' from all who worked with him included his expressed belief that ''one could hardly expect to shoot battle sequences without risking real accidents and real wounds'').

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The book is illustrated with dozens of photographs, many of them still shots from the film.

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