Think about all the big cinematic ideas Stanley Kubrick realized — Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange — and then imagine the ones he didn’t. You can do better than imagining, actually, since, the director left behind enough evidence of aborted works for Wikipedia to put together an entire page called “Stanley Kubrick’s unrealized projects.” He wanted to adapt Calder Willingham’s Natural Child and Stefan Zweig’s The Burning Secret, but the material proved too controversial for the content restraints of the Hays Code. He wanted to make a Holocaust film with Isaac Bashevis Singer, who declined; he wanted to make another Holocaust film with Julia Roberts, but Steven Spielberg put out Schindler’s List first. (He ultimately deemed the Holocaust cinematically unapproachable, as he did The Lord of the Rings when the Beatles presented him that idea.) He wanted to adapt Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, “toyed” with Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, considered reinventing pornography… the list goes on.
Napoleon casts a shadow over all of these fragments. Though Kubrick never made his life of Napoleon Bonaparte, he never seemed to forget the idea, either; he claimed to have read over 500 books about the man in years of preparation for a shoot that never came. David Hemmings was to play his Napoleon, Audrey Hepburn his Josephine. The project’s ever more intimidating budget — vast, location-filmed battle scenes presumably having something to do with that — and the release of Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace and Waterloo sank the project, but you can still read its screenplay online. Taschen, publisher of lavish, visually intense tomes, produced the video above on the process behind Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, their book — or rather, their enormous hollow book filled with smaller books — that distills the nonexistent film’s remains. Don’t have enough room on your shelf? Then take a look at Vice magazine’s “Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: A Lot of Work, Very Little Actual Movie” instead.