Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Stanley Kubrick Never Made

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange

James Cameron Revis­its the Mak­ing of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Ter­ry Gilliam: The Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick (Great Film­mak­er) and Spiel­berg (Less So)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.