(Text in greek)
“NAPOLEON” by Stanley Kubrick.
The greatest movie never made.
“I will make the greatest movie ever made” Kubrick wrote once in one of his notebooks, who rarely spoke about himself. He had just left Hollywood in favor of London, making his new beginning with the memorable “Lolita” (1962) and his goal was to make a big production for a great historic personality: Napoleon.
“My life is such a romance!” this political and military genius once said and I'm sure he would say “My life is such a movie!” if movies had been discovered in his time. That’s exactly what Kubrick stated in “Times”. He had decided it. He would transfer the life of this great general in the big screen starting from the poor micro eugenic Corsican, continuing with the French Revolution and all the Napoleonic wars, making a stop at his stormy relationship with Josephine de Beauharnais and reaching the exile of St. Helen. Penetrating half a century, “Napoleon” by Stanley Kubrick would be a three-hour epic work. With a budget of an unreal, for its time, amount of $ 5.2 million, the shootings would take place wherever Kubrick wanted. And he wanted from Lisbon to Moscow and from Channel to the Mediterranean Coasts. The leading role would be played by the British actor David Hemmings.
The perfectionist creator was preparing the film just as Napoleon would design a battle. From 1967 to 1971, having also the guidance of an Oxford historical group and costume designers, he would go to auctions to buy and to museums to take photos of, among others, 17,000 lithographs, portraits, letters and objects from the 18th and 19th century. Everything was planed down to the last detail. But like the hero in Waterloo, Kubrick lost.
For almost 40 years, the fans of the enigmatic director and “film fanatics” were wondering about the mysterious “masterpiece” that was never filmed. The material had all those years been locked in one of the buildings of his mansion in Hertfordshire. Hermetically sealed in boxes with the “Napoleon” label, in this secret Aladdin’s cave where there is material from all his films, there was hiding perhaps the biggest private file for Bonaparte.
But at some point the boxes would be opened. And indeed, a part of the content took the form of an original version by the Taschen Publications: “Napoleon by Stanley Kubrick: the greatest movie never made” is the title, a pun with what was announced by Kubrick about the film.
“Publishing a book about a film that was never made is an unusual challenge”, Alison Castle admitted, the editor of the version which was released in only 1000 numbered copies. The editorial work certainly provokes since, just like the film, is not compatible with the data: ten books with thousands of photos, comments, the script, the correspondence, even the appointments. In this composition of elements chosen from 88 boxes, one looks at what he would see in the film but never actually saw: the love, glory, vanity and genius of Napoleon through the eyes of Kubrick.
“It is impossible to love and be wise,” says one of the notes of the enigmatic director, referring to Francis Bacon. On another note he says: “He was numb from power. I do not consider him as one of the best or the most remarkable people in history, just one of the most interesting.” Regarding to the genius of Napoleon he had doubts. Maybe it is so. The greatest teacher of chess cannot beat the worst player with less than a certain number of moves. The very same Kubrick was an excellent chess player and perhaps he saw Napoleon as a… gambler. And regarding to the woman who marked the life of the great Corsican, the uncompromising creator does not seem to hesitate to “smear” the reputation of Josephine, whom, in the scenario, Napoleon meets in an orgy. Kubrick always supported that what interested him in humanity is that we are not dominated by our intelligence but by our emotions. At least that’s what Jan Harlan remembers, brother-in-law and right hand of the director and also one of the witnesses of the adventure that never became a movie.
The attempt of Kubrick to shoot Napoleon looks like an epic adventure that could become a film itself. The starting point would be 1967 when “Napoleon” of Kubrick entered the phase of pre-production. Andrew Birkin was the assistant director, who had clear instructions: to go wherever Napoleon had been and to take photos. Starting, then, in June 1968 and with Kubrick’s reputation at the peak, especially after “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Birkin had been permitted by the French culture minister to go anywhere and photograph anything. In the same year, Jan Harlan managed to convince the governments of Romania and Yugoslavia to place 10,000 cavalries and 40,000 infantry soldiers for the battle scenes of Austerlitz and the legendary departure from Moscow. At the same time back in Britain a group of Oxford graduates worked under the guidance of Dr. Felix Markach, whose biography of Napoleon was something like the Bible for Kubrick at the time. Within some months MGM had already disbursed $ 420,000 for the pre-production needs. More actors started getting announced, from Peter O 'Toole and Alec Guinness to Charlotte Rampling and Jean-Paul Belmondo. And despite the fact that Audrey Hepburn rejected the role of Josephine, everything was perfect for the shooting that was planned to take place in between 1970 and 1971.
Until everything got blurred. “I got a message when I was in Vienna saying “come back””, says Birkin in “Times”. He had bought a Christmas gift for Kubrick, a copy of Napoleon’s death mask. “He opened it and was upset as this thing was looking at him.” He lost his color. He said: “Did you hear the news? MGM canceled the movie”. With an announcement in January 1969, “Napoleon” was officially ended.
A few years earlier, in 1963, “Cleopatra” was the great economic catastrophe of Hollywood. The budget for “Napoleon” was very high; today we would say $ 100 million. Kubrick fell into depression for two weeks, then put the idea aside and continued his way, as Jan Harlan will explain to “Domenica” of “La Repubblica”. Having the need for a quick turnaround, Kubrick decided to do something less ambitious. He turned to the book of Anthony Burgess, in order to present the much-discussed “Clockwork Orange”.
Along the way the defeat of “Napoleon” was resurrected briefly thanks to the tantalizing possibility of Jack Nicholson in the leading role, but with the second failure, the idea finally was sealed in boxes that saw the light ten years after the death of the great director through the Taschen Publications. Who knows, maybe this version is a future movie prophet. “It's a film. It is available” as Kubrick’s brother-in-law says giving hope. “We talked with Spielberg. We agree that the only ones able to shoot “Napoleon” today are him and Ridley Scott”, Jan Harlan adds.
Finally, how good would “Napoleon” by Kubrick be? Andrew Birkin adds: “I believe that the scenario of “Napoleon” says so much about Bonaparte as well as about Stanley himself. As a piece of cinema it would be dazzling. Would it bring money? Only God knows.”