“Napoleon”


“Napoleon”
(unproduced screenplay, 1969)
   Of all the many projects never finished by STANLEY KUBRICK, arguably the most sorely missed by his devotees and certainly the most legendary is “Napoleon. ” Kubrick harbored a longtime fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte that naturally led him to attempt to bring the great emperor’s life to the screen—an endeavor that would occupy Kubrick off and on for several years.
   Kubrick found all other filmic depictions of Napoleon’s story to be inadequate. This assessment applied even to Abel Gance’s 1927 epic; although Kubrick did admire that film for its cinematic technique, he felt that it fell short as a treatment of Napoleon’s life. Stanley Kubrick’s first full-swing attempt at the project was in 1968; he intended it to be his next film after 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. After immersing himself in Napoleonic history (having had several hundred books on the subject delivered to his office), Kubrick engaged one of the world’s leading English-language scholars on Napoleon, Professor Felix Markham, as a historical consultant. Furthermore, Kubrick purchased the rights to Markham’s biography of Napoleon, in order to ground the screenplay legally in a specific work and thus to thwart any potential lawsuits by other Napoleonic scholars. Kubrick also enlisted a number of graduate students in history at Oxford University to assemble a detailed master file on the lives of the dozens of principal characters, enabling him to determine where any one of them was and what that person was doing on any particular date.
   Stanley Kubrick’s 1969 screenplay traces the life of Napoleon Bonaparte from early childhood, through military school and his rise to military prominence; to his passionate love affair and troubled marriage to Josephine Beauharnais; his brilliant military strategies and resultant victories and eventual ascension as emperor; Napoleon’s tenuous alliances with former enemies, notably Emperor Francis II of Austria and Czar Alexander of Russia; his divorce from Josephine due to her inability to produce an heir; his subsequent marriage to Marie-Louise,Archduchess of Austria; the birth and early life of their son, the king of Rome; and finally Napoleon’s overreaching attempt to conquer Russia, leading to his downfall and exile. At 148 pages, the script was supposed to translate to roughly 180 minutes of screen time. This length did not worry Kubrick, as films such as Gone With the Wind (1939) had shown that audiences could remain captivated by a commercial film for well over three hours.
   Given the extent of Kubrick’s sheer determination as a filmmaker and his careful attention to planning, it is easy to see why he was so enamored of “Napoleon. ” Indeed, in a few passages in the screenplay, it seems that the speaker might just as easily be Kubrick himself, rather than Napoleon, as in the following two instances:
   NAPOLEON (V. O. )
   There is no man more cautious than I am when planning a campaign. I exaggerate all the dangers, and all the disasters that might occur. I look quite serene to my staff, but I am like a woman in labor. Once I have made up my mind, everything is forgotten, except what leads to success. . . .
   NAPOLEON (V. O. )
   Duroc, I have a bill here for 600,000 francs from Tirot, for building the Imperial throne and six decorated arm-chairs. The amount is absurd—and, at least twice too much.
   Furthermore, at certain moments Kubrick seems to use Napoleon as a mouthpiece to articulate his own worldview. The following passage clearly echoes and attempts to justify Kubrick’s pessimistic opinion of humanity, which would find its clearest articulation in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but which surfaces throughout Kubrick’s oeuvre. [addressing dinner guests]
   NAPOLEON
   The Revolution failed because the foundation of its political philosophy was in error. Its central dogma was the transference of original sin from man to society. It had the rosy vision that by nature man is good, and that he is only corrupted by an incorrectly organized society. Destroy the offending social institutions, tinker with the machine a bit, and you have Utopia—presto!—natural man back in all his goodness.
   [Laughter at the table. ]
   NAPOLEON
   It’s a very attractive idea but it simply isn’t true. They had the whole thing backwards. Society is corrupt because man is corrupt—because he is weak, selfish, hypocritical and greedy. And he is not made this way by society, he is born this way—you can see it even in the youngest children. It’s no good trying to build a better society on false assumptions—authority’s main job is to keep man from being at his worst and, thus, make life tolerable, for the greater number of people.
   MONSIEUR TRILLAUD
   Your majesty, you certainly have a very pessimistic view of human nature.
   NAPOLEON
   My dear Monsieur Trillaud, I am not paid for finding it better.
   Stylistically, the Napoleon script offers a few direct, visual rhymes with other Kubrick projects. For instance, the following description anticipates a scene in BARRY LYNDON (1975) involving young Brian, the son of Barry (RYAN O’NEAL) and Lady Lyndon (MARISA BERENSON):
   EXT. TUILERIES GARDEN—DAY
   King of Rome, now 11/2 years old, riding in a magnificently decorated cart, pulled by two lambs, supervised by Napoleon, Marie-Louise, Duroc and Murat.
   Furthermore, the script begins and ends with Napoleon’s childhood “teddy bear. ” This odd anachronism clearly resonates with the character of “Teddy,” from BRIAN ALDISS’s story “SUPERTOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG,” the basis for Kubrick’s long-standing project, A. I. : ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (which Kubrick was considering as early as 1969). “Napoleon” was the first project on which JAN HARLAN worked as producer for his brother-in-law, Stanley Kubrick. In his 2001 documentary, STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES, Harlan characterizes Kubrick’s interest in the subject: “Napoleon represented for him the worldly genius that at the same time failed. And Stanley was fascinated by the fact that somebody so intelligent and so talented could make such mistakes. ”
   Together, Kubrick and Harlan made considerable progress in the preproduction stages of “Napoleon. ” Romania and Yugoslavia were each prepared to supply up to 30,000 troops to act as extras although Kubrick found it unlikely that he would require more than half that number. Both countries had also agreed to make first-rate costume uniforms at a cost of $40 each, a substantial savings over normal costume costs. Far more significant was a solution offered by a New York company that could print color uniform designs onto a durable paper “fabric,” at a cost of one to four dollars each. These paper costumes would be used for distant shots of 30 yards or more and at that range looked quite believable. For interiors, Kubrick planned to use actual palaces, already decorated to period, that he had found in France, Italy, and Sweden. Additionally, he intended to continue the innovative use of frontprojection, which he had pioneered in 2001:A Space Odyssey. Kubrick (and presumably ED DIGIULIO) researched extremely fast lenses, with the aim of being able to extend daylight shooting hours and to be able to shoot interiors using only the sunlight streaming through windows during the day and only candlelight for nighttime interiors—this as early as November 1968, whereas conventional wisdom has it that Kubrick made these developments later for Barry Lyndon.
   Kubrick had his eye on JACK NICHOLSON to play Napoleon, according to VINCENT LOBRUTTO. Nicholson was extremely interested in the part, and in fact he eventually became just as obsessed with Bonaparte as Kubrick was.
   Despite their advanced stage of development on the project, however, Kubrick and Harlan were unable to get financing in 1969–1970 for “Napoleon. ” This was due largely to the general economic situation in Hollywood, a climate in which investors seemed reluctant to invest in huge, spectacular epics. Jan Harlan and others have suggested that part of the reason lay in the commercial failure of the big-budget film Waterloo (1970), starring Rod Steiger, which effectively scared off the potential financial backers of “Napoleon. ” So Kubrick shelved the project for the time being and made A Clockwork Orange, with the intention of filming “Napoleon” next. After his successful adaptation of ANTHONY BURGESS’s novella, Kubrick suggested that the author write a book based on Napoleon’s career. Burgess had been intrigued for some time by the challenge of writing a novel in the shape of a symphony. Kubrick intimated that Napoleon would be the perfect subject matter for such an undertaking, especially considering that there was already a symphony dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte: LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN’s Eroica.
   Anthony Burgess did write the book Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements (1974), but Kubrick never attempted to adapt it to film. Indeed, Kubrick’s ambitious dream of filming Napoleon’s extraordinary life never came to fruition.
   References
   ■ Kubrick, Stanley,“Napoleon: Production Notes,” unpublished, November 22, 1968;
   ■ ———, “Napoleon” n 263 “Napoleon,” unproduced screenplay, September 29, 1969;
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Da Capo Press, 1999);
   ■ Phillips, Gene D. , ed. , Stanley Kubrick: Interview (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2001).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

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