IMAGE COURTESY OF TASCHEN.
Whether it's an intimate look at the human psyche or a voyage into the outer reaches of the solar system, Stanley Kubrick was known to be an obsessive researcher on the subject of any film he was making. But he may have arguably been the most neurotic with a project he never got in the can, a film on French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Now for the first time ever Kubrick's immense research material behind the project has been opened exclusively to art book publisher Taschen for a book they're dubbing The Greatest Movie Never Made.
Created with the idea of being part book, part art exhibit, this limited edition (only 1,000 copies will be printed) tome created by French designer M/M (Paris) looks like a hardbound historical volume on Bonaparte from the outside but when you open it the center is cut out and inside are 10 smaller books dedicated to different aspects of Kubrick's research. "It was a pretty tough job because making a book about an unmade movie is not obvious," says Alison Castle, who edited the book. "You have a lot of visual material but you don't have any cinematic result, so you have to imagine everything."
Collaborating with Kubrick's brother-in-law and longtime producer Jan Harlan, Castle compiled the material beginning in 2002, which at that point had been sitting around Kubrick's vast Hertfordshire, England estate in boxes scattered around the main house and in steamer trunks for when he would travel back to the States. Taschen first published a book on Kubrick's entire archives in 2005 titled The Stanley Kubrick Archives before embarking specifically on the Napoleon material (the archives have since been moved from Kubrick's estate to the University of the Arts London). "It didn't make sense to dedicate a large portion of the Archives book to [Napoleon]," says Castle, who also edited the Archives book. "So we kind of gave a sneak peak in the Archives but the idea from the start was that we were going to do a huge project just on Napoleon next."
Most of the material in the Greatest Movie Never Made books is what Kubrick compiled from 1968-70 for a script he handed in to MGM (the studio paid all expenses he incurred). Though they green-lit the project the second-guessing started after another epic on Napoleon, Waterloo (1970), bombed at the box office for Paramount. The grand scope of Kubrick's Napoleon pic didn't help either, as it would have required thousands of extras as well as the Romanian cavalry for the huge battles scenes. He also wanted to shoot parts of the film in front-projection as he did with the "Dawn of Man" sequence in 2001. MGM eventually pulled out and Kubrick brought the project to United Artists, which also balked. "He had shelved Napoleon after MGM and UA dropped the project," Harlan recalls. "He was very sad since he was so well prepared and in full swing to do the film in Romania, France and England. But three weeks later he was back on track with various ideas," like A Clockwork Orange, which he would make next. Harlan says the Napoleon research is one of the largest endeavors Kubrick did for any of his films (outside of an adaptation of Louis Begley's Wartime Lies novel that he also tried to put together to no avail).
Along with a 32-page book of correspondence Kubrick traded with Napoleonic expert Felix Markham, there's also the "final" script (Kubrick would have inevitably made changes to it throughout filming), a book of essays on the project and books ranging from stills of locations to costumes (to stay on budget, Kubrick was going to use paper thin clothing for the uniformed extras farthest from the camera). There were so many photos, in fact, that Kubrick was planning to create his own computerized database (unheard of at that time) through the help of IBM. "If you searched 'Joséphine' you were going to get possibly every portrait that was made of her at the time," says Castle, who adds that all 17,000 Napoleonic images complied by Kubrick's team will be available on the Taschen Web site for those who buy the book.
Though Castle believes any filmmaker who would attempt to pick up where Kubrick left off is on a "suicide mission," Harlan is more optimistic and notes Ridley Scott and Ang Lee as two directors that he believes could take on Napoleon. But for now, Harlan thinks of The Greatest Movie Never Made as a historical artifact. "This will be an imperative study on how films are planned and how this has changed and developed during the past 40 years."
Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made will be released Nov. 9.