Kubrick Napoleon

Four months from now another big Stanley Kubrick coffee-table book called Stanley Kubrick: The Napoleon Film will be published by Taschen, running 1900 pages and costing I don’t know what….just under $300 quid? Written by Allison Castle and edited by Christiane Kubrick (i.e., Kubrick’s widow), it will focus entirely on the famous Napoleon biopic that Kubrick began working on in ’68 and bailed on four or five years later — i.e., “the greatest film that Kubrick never made.”

In a 1969 interview for his anthology book, The Film Director as Superstar, Joseph Gelmis asked Kubrick to define his passion about making a Napoleon movie.

“That’s a question that would really take this entire interview to answer,” Kubrick replied. “To begin with, he fascinates me. His life has been described as an epic poem of action. His sex life was worthy of Arthur Schnitzler. He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come — in a very concrete sense, our own world is the result of Napoleon, just as the political and geographic map of postwar Europe is the result of World War Two.

“And, of course, there has never been a good or accurate movie about him. Also, I find that all the issues with which it concerns itself are oddly contemporary — the responsibilities and abuses of power, the dynamics of social revolution, the relationship of the individual to the state, war, militarism, etc., so this will not be just a dusty historic pageant but a film about the basic questions of our own times, as well as Napoleon’s.

“But even apart from those aspects of the story, the sheer drama and force of Napoleon’s life is a fantastic subject for a film biography. Forgetting everything else and just taking Napoleon’s romantic involvement with Josephine, for example, here you have one of the great obsessional passions of all time.”

It was said by Mystery Man after quoting the preceding passage that “Napoleon’s obsessional passion for Josephine is second only to Kubrick’s passion for Napoleon.”

Here‘s a PDF of Kubrick’s Napoleon screenplay, dated 9.29.69. And here’s an IGN script review that ran in 2000.

241 thoughts on “Kubrick Napoleon

  1. At the very least, he was Kubrick’s pick for the role; I don’t know that it ever got far enough along that anybody was set to play anything.

  2. Nicholson would have been too tall. Not French enough. Casting the role of Napoleon would have been damn difficult if you ask me. No actors are coming to mind, and I’m usually good at casting….

  3. Yes MilkMan, he would be an excellent choice. But I meant if the movie had been made back in 1969. The closest I can think of is Warren Beatty, and that’s not that great of a choice.

  4. I think the real question is whether we’d be willing to give up A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon for Napoleon?

    I’m perfectly happy with the way things turned out.

  5. Gittes has got it. Pacino would have been perfect if anyone had heard of him by then. This never happening breaks my heart. But at least we got BARRY LYNDON out of the frustration.

  6. If I recall correctly, WB chose not to do an HD restoration when they upgraded the other Kubrick videos in 2007.

    Somebody should start a petition…

  7. Sounds cool, but for me, not quite as cool as Sam Fuller’s much dreamed of Jesse James pic which would include Jesse’s career as a transvestite bushwhacker of Union troops. Now THAT’S entertainment!

  8. that’s true, I forgot Warner Bros. did the high-def Kubrick treatment on ’2001′, ‘Clockwork’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ ‘The Shining’ and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and stamped disgusting cover art on the boxes.

  9. There’s a rumor that came to me recently that states that WB made up the whole “Kubrick’s final cut” of EWS and that the person who is claiming this is Jan Harlen.

    Anyone else heard this?

  10. I heard Spielberg was interested in shooting this screenplay, but he wanted to cast Tom Cruise as Napoleon and change the Josephine character to Napoleon’s son Joseph and cast Shia LaBeof, so it never went anywhere.

    Seriously, how great would it be if a director like Paul Thomas Anderson could talk Kubrick’s estate into letting him take a crack at this? I’m sure Spielberg would be interested, but he’s all about the father/son dynamic rather than the husband/wife, so he’d just screw it up.

  11. “I’ll have to check it out of the library.”

    Them days is long gone, son. The few libraries able to afford this tone are likely to put it in special collections anyway.

  12. I don’t think anybody ever bought the notion that EWS was Kubrick’s final cut. But, from what I’ve been told, what was released was simply the edit at the time of his death. And while the sound and color timing and so on was done after his death, the edit itself was left untouched.

  13. I read the screenplay and I agree with William Goldman’s comments:

    “I once met Stanley Kubrick and we got to talking about what he hoped he would do next. Napoleon, he said. I asked what part and this was his reply: ‘Everything. I want to do the whole sweep of a man’s life.’

    “Problem: movies don’t do that well.”

    Kubrick’s screenplay reads more like a history textbook than a movie: one fact following the other. It doesn’t really tell a STORY.

    The Goldman comment is from his book WHICH LIE DID I TELL?

    Also, Kubrick’s production notes at the end of the script state he wanted to AVOID casting a movie star, so I’m surprised at the comments above that he wanted to cast Jack Nicholson. If so, it was probably him buckling under to the studio’s demands

  14. ……In a 1969 interview for his anthology book, The Film Director as Superstar, Joseph Gelmis asked Kubrick to define his passion about making a Napoleon movie…..

    …..I still haven’t made a final decision, although there are several promising possibilities. Unfortunately, there are very, very few actual Napoleonic battlefields where we could still shoot; the land itself has either been taken over by industrial and urban development, preempted by historical trusts, or is so ringed by modern buildings that all kinds of anachronisms would present themselves — like a Hussars’ charge with a Fiat plant in the background. We’re now in the process of deciding the best places to shoot, and where it would be most feasible to obtain the troops we need for battle scenes. We intend to use a maximum of forty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry for the big battles, which means that we have to find a country which will hire out its own armed forces to us — you can just imagine the cost of fifty thousand extras over an extended period of time. Once we find a receptive environment, there are still great logistic problems — for example, a battle site would have to be contiguous to a city or town or barracks area where the troops we’d use are already bivouacked. Let’s say we’re working with forty thousand infantry — if we could get forty men into a truck, it would still require a thousand trucks to move them around. So in addition to finding the proper terrain, it has to be within marching distance of military barracks. …….

    source: http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0069.html

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  17. Ten books inside this massive green behemoth tell and illustrate the story of how Kubrick attempted to make this period epic for MGM right after 2001: A Space Odyssey

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  22. nice post! what was released was simply the edit at the time of his death. And while the sound and color timing and so on was done after his death, the edit itself was left untouched.

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  27. I think I have probably seen absolutely everything that Kubrick has filmed. He is – without a shadow of a doubt – one of the best directors that has ever been. Full Metal Jacket was brilliant. Not only that, the second half of the film was made not four miles from where I used to live in London.

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