Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: A lot of work, very little actual movie
by Alex Godfrey
One night during the pre-production phase on A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell asked Stanley Kubrick why he was eating ice cream at the same time as his main course steak. “What’s the difference?” said Kubrick. “It’s all food. This is how Napoleon used to eat.”
Well that’s how McDowell tells it anyway. There are lots of near-mythical stories about Kubrick’s comprehensive research. That he was probably the most meticulous of film directors known to man is not open to debate, and Napoleon, the film he tried and failed to make for decades, is the best example of his attention to detail. Kubrick believed nobody had ever made a great historical film, and planned to change this with a three-hour epic, telling the story of the French emperor’s entire life.
Kubrick thought Napoleon was the most interesting man to have ever walked the Earth. He called his life “an epic poem of action”, thought his relationship with Josephine was “one of the great obsessional passions of all time”, and said, “He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come.” Getting to work on the film in the mid-60s, after 2001 was released, he sent an assistant around the world to literally follow in Napoleon’s footsteps (”Wherever Napoleon went, I want you to go,” he told him), even getting him to bring back samples of earth from Waterloo so he could match them for the screen.
He read hundreds of books on the man and broke the information down into categories “on everything from his food tastes to the weather on the day of a specific battle”. He gathered together 15,000 location scouting photos and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery.
He would shoot the film in France and Italy, for their grand locations, and Yugoslavia, for their cheap armies. These were pre-CG days, and he arranged to borrow 40,000 Romanian infantry and 10,000 cavalry for the battles. “I wouldn’t want to fake it with fewer troops,” he said to an interviewer at the time, “because Napoleonic battles were out in the open, a vast tableau where the formations moved in an almost choreographic fashion. I want to capture this reality on film, and to do so it’s necessary to recreate all the conditions of the battle with painstaking accuracy.”
Script Review of Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon
by Scott B
The title says it all: This is the epic story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise and fall, beginning in his childhood, following him through his education as a soldier, then examining the complex social, political and military factors that made him Emperor of France, as well as the reasons for his ultimate downfall.
Napoleon was a long-cherished labor of love for director Stanley Kubrick, who planned the film as his follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, the sheer enormity of the production caused the money-men to get cold feet about the cost of the project – despite Kubrick’s proven box-office track record. The project never happened and Kubrick went on to other films.
However, six years ago, the Napoleon script resurfaced – literally, since it was found by a United Artists executive named Jeff Kleeman in a salt mine near Hutchison, Kansas, where studios have safe-kept their archived materials for decades. Kleeman was quoted, in a Talk magazine article on the discovery of the script, as saying, “The last scene of Citizen Kane had nothing on this place.”
The script wasn’t circulated until after Kubrick’s death last year (it’s unclear whether or not this was at the director’s request). It has recently turned up on the Net – CLICK HERE to read the script and/or print it out for yourself.
By far the biggest strength of Kubrick’s Napoleon script is the maximum clarity with which it handles this most complex subject. A story that could have been nothing but a mess of dates, places and battles is instead vividly rendered in epic terms and precise details. It’s obvious that Kubrick, in his desire to tell the story, literally absorbed everything he could find about Napoleon and his era.
A short scene from the script of Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon. Made with Lego.
The greatest movie Stanley Kubrick never made
by Darryl Mason
In 1968, 40-year-old director Stanley Kubrick had the cinematic world at his feet and one big movie project germinating in his head.
He had started his career as the original independent filmmaker, at a time where it was nigh impossible to make movies outside the studios, and through the previous 15 years he had directed eight films — some of the most acclaimed, debated and controversial ever made. Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) clearly demonstrated Kubrick’s ability to use pitch-black humor and great spectacle to tell tales of the true heart of man as few filmmakers had told them before. His films had been feted by critics as cinematic masterpieces or dismissed as overblown indulgences, and although all were profitable, they were hardly box-office triumphs.
But Kubrick’s latest film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, had proved to be both a critical and a box-office success. Kubrick knew he could now make almost any film he desired, and what he desired most was to bring to the screen his vision of the chaotic, war-soaked life of Napoleon. It was to be no mere Hollywood biopic; Kubrick planned to stage full-scale re-creations of the French ruler’s most infamous wars, and he wanted to do it on the same battlefields that Napoleon had fought on 150 years before.
Since his youth hustling chess games in Greenwich Village, N.Y., Kubrick had harbored a deep fascination with Napoleon’s life. It was, according to Kubrick, “an epic poem of action.”
“He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come,” Kubrick told Joseph Gelmis in 1968 (for Gelmis’ interview anthology book, The Film Director as Superstar) as he geared up for the film’s production.
When 2001 picked up five Oscar nominations, including best director, Kubrick used the heat to marshal MGM into backing his new film. The studio coughed up development funds and Kubrick hired a team of researchers. He then plunged into a two-year odyssey to bring his Napoleon epic to the screen.
His first step was to view all the other films made of Napoleon’s life so far. There were many, an average of three a decade from the birth of cinema up to the early 1950s. Although Kubrick found many things he liked in the massive 1956 War & Peace, made in Russia, he abhorred Abel Gance’s much-hallowed Napoleon of 1927, which originally ran more than five hours and was shown in cinemas in a triple-screen presentation.
The film “has built up a reputation among film buffs over the years,” Kubrick told Gelmis, “but I found it to be really terrible. As far as story and performance goes it’s a very crude picture.”
Kubrick then hired a renowned Napoleon scholar, Oxford University professor Felix Markham, to serve as overseeing historical advisor, and purchased the rights to Markham’s own biography of the man. Though Kubrick used Markham’s book as a basis for his screenplay, he mainly bought the rights as a legal base to avoid “the usual claims from the endless number of people who have written Napoleonic books.”
The Cinemascope Spectacular of Books
by Tobias Grey
“It’s impossible to tell you what I’m going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made,” Stanley Kubrick wrote to an associate in October 1971. Wily chess master that he was, the director rarely resorted to bombast. But in his third attempt to make Napoleon — a film that, according to his widow, Christiane Kubrick, “swallowed [him] up” like no other — he was willing to make an exception.
The director was on a mission. He was unimpressed by every Napoleon movie ever made, from Abel Gance’s 1927 silent to Marlon Brando’s mumbly Désirée. Kubrick — who by the time of his death in 1999 had assembled one of the world’s largest archives of Napoleon-related material — hoped to offer the most comprehensive vision of the emperor’s life, covering 50 years in three hours. And he had been trying to do that since 1967.
That obsession is laid out in staggering grandeur in Taschen’s new 23-pound tome Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made — a book as epic (indeed, it nearly is a coffee table) as Kubrick’s stillborn film, with a price ($700) to match. You have to see it to believe it, which is appropriate when you consider Kubrick’s obsession. “Stanley was besotted with this story,” says Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law and producer during the latter part of his career. “He was a political beast and fascinated with human folly and vanity. Napoleon was the perfect study object for that.”
MGM had started preproduction on the film in 1967. At that time, Kubrick was the breakout genius behind Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, with 2001: A Space Odyssey just about to be released. The proposed budget? Reportedly, a cocky $5.2 million (equal to about $33 million today; in modern Hollywood, though, the film would undoubtedly cost well into nine figures). Kubrick had his eye on David Hemmings for Napoleon, with Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Charlotte Rampling in supporting roles. But after sinking $420,000 into the project (costumes; location scouting in Italy, France, and Romania; arranging to borrow the Romanian army to stage battle scenes), MGM backed out in 1969, after financial issues and a change in leadership (some things never change). United Artists took it on for a bit, then bailed out. Dino De Laurentiis’s Waterloo stole some of Kubrick’s thunder, then bombed, and that was that.
The book — edited by Taschen’s Alison Castle (who also put together 2005’s The Stanley Kubrick Archives) — offers a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been. The immense shell opens to reveal six smaller books, each with a different theme (costumes, locations, production) plus three small notebook-style volumes. There’s also a reproduction of Kubrick’s screenplay, the first he’s known to have written on his own. “It’s a very good script,” says Castle, “but also frustrating because he had to gloss over a lot of things. He put a huge amount of emphasis on the love story with Josephine.” Given how sexually charged their relationship is in Kubrick’s screenplay (Napoleon meets Josephine at — shades of Eyes Wide Shut — an orgy), it’s hard to picture Audrey Hepburn, the director’s choice to play her, in the role. (Hepburn turned him down.)
Harlan contends that the script was “a reader,” not a final draft, and that it would have been rewritten daily during rehearsals. “Stanley was not a great writer,” says Harlan. “He had no false pride in this area and hired writers to help him.” Perhaps, then, a central question would have been resolved. “Reading the screenplay, it is impossible to tell whether Kubrick likes Napoleon or loathes him,” says Jean Tulard, France’s leading Napoleonic historian, who contributed the essay “Napoleon in Film” to the collection. Several Kubrick biographers have written of how closely the New York–born director identified with his subject, including Full Metal Jacket co-screenwriter Michael Herr, who noted the defining traits they share: Both were largely self-educated outsiders who beat the system on their own terms, and both shared an aversion to so-called polite society. How tempting to imagine Kubrick’s empathizing with this passage from Napoleon’s memoirs: “It is very difficult because the ways of those with whom I live, and probably always shall, are as different from mine as moonlight from sunlight.”
This article from eight years ago, Mar 12, 2000, describes the storage facility where a copy of a draft of Kubrick’s Napoleon script was found.
by Roxana Hegeman
The original film negative for The Wizard of Oz. A collection of New York newspapers dating to the assassination of President Lincoln. Secret U.S. government documents. Thousands of medical research biopsies encased in wax. All these — and so much more — are buried 645 feet beneath the Kansas prairie in a vast underground salt mine warehouse teeming with treasures and oddities from across the nation. “It’s a kind of Noah’s Ark — without the animals,” says Lee Spence, president of Underground Vaults & Storage, Inc.
The Hutchinson company has built a thriving business in the mined-out sections of the salt mine, where temperature and humidity stay at near ideal conditions for preserving paper and film brought here from around the world. The caverns, accessible only by a rumbling mine elevator, are safely beyond the reach of tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. These salt deposits — formed 230 million years ago as the inland sea that once covered Kansas evaporated — are now being wired with the latest technology to give companies around the world high-speed data access to records stashed within a prehistoric formation underneath Kansas wheat fields.
Wearing a hardhat and carting his requisite canister of oxygen, Spence steps onto the mine elevator — actually, more of a hoist with an aboveground operator to run it — for the minute-long ride. He flips off his flashlight for a few seconds, and blackness engulfs the lurching contraption. “See how black it can get,” he says. It is clear he enjoys showing off his realm to visitors. The flashlight back on, he aims the beam at a mass of wires running alongside the hoist. These link the world below to civilization above. This is how they run the lines down to link the computers, he explains. The elevator slows to a stop at the bottom, the equivalent of 60 stories below ground. The salt bed — discovered in 1889 while drilling for oil — is 100 miles long by 40 miles wide, and 325 feet thick. A miner greets him. “How’s the weather up there?” It is common question for those who spend their waking hours deep in the bowels of the earth. The temperature here stays at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is between 40 and 45 percent year round.
For the next 30 minutes, it is the warehouse’s turn to use the elevator, and the mine’s conveyor belt and rock crushing equipment are mostly quiet now as he passes them. Spence quickly reaches a doorway below the sign for Underground Vaults and steps inside. The low salt ceiling and antique mining equipment greet visitors for a few feet, before opening up to 10-foot ceilings and a friendly receptionist answering the phones. For a moment, you could almost forget you were sandwiched inside a salt formation. The rough rock walls and ceilings are painted white to keep the salt dust down. The cement floors are level. There is a lunchroom with a refrigerator and microwave for workers. And bathrooms. The storage vaults use only a few of the caverns left behind from salt mining activities. The company has available 800 acres of mined-out space, but so far has used just 12 acres of it. Another 26 acres are under development now, Spence said.
Creative Differences to resurrect Kubrick’s shelved Napoleon film
by Kevin Ritchie
Forty years after Stanley Kubrick abandoned his ambitious plan to make an historical epic about the life of Napoleon, U.S. production company Creative Differences has secured the rights from the late filmmaker’s estate and MGM to resurrect the project — in documentary form.
Produced in association with the Kubrick estate, Kubrick/Napoleon will examine why the legendary director of classic films like Lolita and A Clockwork Orange was compelled to spend three years exhaustively researching the French emperor’s life and will bring his annotated Napoleon script to life through CGI-commissioned storyboards.
An outline for the film promises “a multi-faceted look at the intertwined life of two tactical geniuses — Stanley Kubrick and Napoleon Bonaparte.”
The film will be executive produced by Jan Harlan, the producer of Kubrick films Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut; written by Alison Castle, editor of the 2009 Taschen book Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, and directed by Creative Differences president Erik Nelson.
“This is an epic story of one of the most important world historical figures as interpreted by not just one of the greatest filmmakers, but one of the greatest minds of the 20th century,” says Nelson. “So this is not just for Kubrick fans; it’s for anybody who has any kind of interest in history, human emotion and the creative process.”
The Los Angeles-and-Washington, DC-based production company is known for its historical documentaries as well as scores of cable series including Discovery Channel’s Time Warp. The company counts the forthcoming Discovery Channel mini-series Reign of the Dinosaurs and four Werner Herzog documentaries, including Cave of Forgotten Dreams and an untitled doc feature due this fall (which Nelson cryptically describes as “Werner Herzog’s exploration of the darkness at the edge of death row à la Bruce Springsteen”) among its credits.
Creative Differences is in the midst of pre-production on Kubrick/Napoleon and has already completed key interviews with the Kubrick family. The producers are looking for additional financing and are aiming for a 2012 release.
Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made
Film Histories Episode 25 – Kubrick’s Napoleon
Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon – The Movie That Almost Was
Lost Kubrick – The unfinished films of Stanley Kubrick
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Yeah, the fires. The house I grew up in in Arcadia is in a ‘prepare for evacuation’ zone. Yikes. ** Bill, Well, maybe you will. Me too. I saw a lot of pix of what SF looked like yesterday, and it was unbelievable. Was it really that Martian looking? Oh, thank you a lot for that link to the Szulkin movies. I didn’t know that. That site looks incredible! Will do (re: thoughts) once I’ve watched that sucker. Oh, and if you didn’t read Danielle’s comment, she wrote (to you): ‘**Bill, if you want one, email her, she’d love to make up a fancy package for you!’ She’s Maryse’s twin sister. ** Danielle, Hello there, Danielle! I’m happy you returned! I’ve ridden millions and never had a neck problem. Sometimes on the really old or wooden ones you feel like you’ve been to a serial killer chiropractor afterwards, but that’s all. Wow, your husband sounds very cool, or at least a man with a brain after my own brain/heart. Well, come with Maryse when she heads over to Paris post-pandemic as promised, and we’ll go on a theme park road trip because there are sweet ones around Paris and my two favourite amusement parks in the world are only a 5 or so hour drive away. Oh, okay, I jumped the imaginative gun re: the cover. Wishful thinking. Ha ha, you’re very cool. I’ve just magically expunged all the coolness out of Paris if not France at large and am telepathing it to you as I type/you read. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Excellent about your new story. And, sir, you are a most excellent and gifted creator of titles. ** brendan, Hi, B. You need to be hypnotised and take to Magic Mountain or even Knott’s Berry Farm. I must admit I do feel lucky not to be in LA right now basically 24/7, and it’s a sad feeling. Mega-survive, my pal. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Good to see you! Thank you. About my sentence. It was also very heartfelt. Yes, in all my theme park searching, I’ve never seen one in Israel, which seems utterly bizarre to me. Surely it’s a billion dollar idea just waiting for the right multi-billionaire mastermind. Man, I so hope everything turns out okay with your dad. That’s scary. Good pragmatism there on the job front, and no doubt a wise decision for multiple reasons. I think that podcast/blog idea is one of those billion dollar ideas I just mentioned albeit without the billion dollars problem. It does sound like you should seriously go for it. I look forward to Kaufman-ing with you once I know the drill in question. ** Jeff J, Hi. I’ve been on a handful of those coasters, most of which are superb. The only one that doesn’t live up to what its look promises is ‘Thunder Dolphin’. I … think the Kaufman will get a theater release here, but everything’s so weird now with COVID that I don’t know how all that works anymore. Normally it would/will. He’s very respected by the French, no surprise. Mystifying is the word. I like most of Gary’s novels quite a bit, maybe especially ‘Gone Tomorrow’. ‘Do Everything …’ is definitely one of the best. ** Joseph, Hi, Joseph! Good to see you, sir! Um, interesting, no, I don’t think ‘Murphy’ was on my mind when writing ‘The Marbled Swarm’, or not in my consciousness at least. I was trying not to think about other fiction. I was mostly thinking a lot about non-book things, like Alain Resnais’ film ‘Providence’. But that’s interesting. I’m doing pretty good, thanks. You? You sound pretty chipper. Well, ‘Parade’ being on that list was a no brainer, I have to say. Kudos and more kudos to you. ** Right. I thought I would restore this longish dead post made by someone named Web William. I can’t remember who that was. Web, if you’re out there somewhere, thank you again! I hope you all enjoy or re-enjoy the post. And I will see you tomorrow.