Following Abel Gance’s J’accuse (1918), the first ever anti-war film, which included original footage from the front lines, Musikfest Berlin 2019 will present its next Gance-feature: La Roue, a film about a railwayman who, after an accident, takes in and raises a little girl, and about the love tribulations that surround her.
If you look it up, you will find that the opus is stated to be around 270 minutes long. The restored version that will celebrate its world premiere at Musikfest Berlin, is significantly longer – around seven hours. For the 1923 premiere, Arthur Honegger and the Gaumont Palace’s cinema bandleader, Paul Fosse, compiled a score, drawing on more than 100 existing pieces of music. Honegger complemented it by composing the overture and five short pieces. The performance of this second Abel Gance-film is the result of a cooperation by many partners: Firstly, there is the film’s restoration, produced by the Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathe. Equally important is the reconstruction of the premiere’s score, which was undertaken by composer Bernd Thewes from Mainz. He achieved the feat of finding a coherent synchronised arrangement for the 117 pieces of music and to create a congenial orchestration that brings them back together to form a great work. And not to forget the musical realisation by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester under the direction of Frank Strobel. Together, they have performed several film scores already, unearthing one or two treasures of the era of silent films in the process.
La Roue is a pioneering film of virtuoso cinematography and shot changes. Together with Honegger’s music, it is a model for cooperation among the best in their fields in the service of this then fledgling medium.