Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

During the post-production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick began working on his next project, a biopic on Napoleon Bonaparte. The dramatic rise and fall of the French emperor made for a great story, but it was his mind that most interested Kubrick, who couldn't grasp how a brilliant tactician could fall victim to his own irrational temptations--and with devastating consequences.

By Balthazar Malevolent

Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

Stanley Kubrick made no secret of the fact that he was fascinated by the figure of the French emperor. According to Kubrick, Napoleon's private life was worthy of the pen of Arthur Schnitzler, and his affair with Josephine was the greatest love story of all time, our modern world is the result of Napoleon's actions, just as the political and geographical maps of postwar Europe are the result of the World War II.

The director studied several hundred books on the subject, countless biographies of Napoleon were compiled into a colossal index card - 15,000 images, 50 separate profiles of all the historical figures involved in the storyline.

In an explanatory memorandum attached to the script, the director explained to the producers how he intended to reduce production costs. First, he decided to involve the little-known artists. Kubrick saw the young actor Jack Nicholson as a protagonist.

Secondly, instead of building sets, Kubrick decided to shoot in real mansions and castles in France, Italy and Sweden. The director wanted to reduce costs and improve the quality of the movie at the same time, as the buildings of the Napoleonic era had authentic furnishings and decor of the XVII century. He even managed to arrange to rent these historic locations for $350 a day, which was several times cheaper than recreating a similar setting in a studio.

Kubrick was going to use socialist soldiers as extras for the battle scenes and each of them was to be paid about two dollars a day. Romania and Yugoslavia were ready to make up to 30,000 soldiers available to the filmmakers.

When Kubrick was ready to move on from preparations to realise his ambitious vision, Sergei Bondarchuk's Waterloo was released on Western screens. The big-budget Soviet blockbuster starring Rod Steiger was met with critical acclaim and crumbled at the box office ($1.4m on a $25m budget). According to popular belief, the major studios MGM and United Artists took it as a bad sign and refused to finance Kubrick.

Another important reason for closing the project was, most likely, a radical change in the cinematic landscape. Kubrick was a bit late with his "Napoleon". The old Hollywood had fallen and films such as Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider, with previously unseen scenes of violence, were now making the box office.

The legacy of "Napoleon" was later used by Kubrick more than once in his other films. The social pessimism reflected in his screenplay was echoed in A Clockwork Orange. Technical solutions and camerawork ideas were embodied in the shooting of "Barry Lyndon", dedicated to the same historical period. "Eyes Wide Shut" got just a few scenes from "Napoleon". In the first scene, the protagonist meets a generous prostitute, in the second, falls into an orgy in a secluded upper-class decadent circle.

What other movies Kubrick hasn't filmed? For instance, "A.I. Artificial Intelligence", which Stanley Kubrick conceived back in the early 1970s, or "Aryan Papers" - the director always wanted to make a film about the Holocaust. We'll talk about these projects later.

Kubrick's Napoleon
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