Spring 2018


Kubrick's Napoleon Complex


Courtesy Taschen

Back in 2009, Taschen published a lavish, limited edition of Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made, which consisted of 10 volumes—including Kubrick's final script, notes, correspondence and more than 30,000 illustrations. It was all housed in a carved-out tome the size of a vintage suitcase and carried a $700 price tag.

Now the art book imprint has taken mercy on the more frugal-minded devotees of Kubrickania by offering a more modestly scaled package with all the same elements but at a tenth of the cost.

As Jan Harlan—Kubrick's executive producer on his last four films—emphasizes, there were no half measures for the notoriously obsessive, meticulously perfectionist filmmaker. Beginning in 1967, Kubrick read almost every book on Napoleon that existed in the English language and amassed a monument of visual references that covered the period of 1769 to 1830. As Harlan points out in the book, Kubrick's "never-ending interest in observing human folly was the well-spring of nearly all his films," and thus Napoleon—a figure who lent himself to the kind of grand, sweeping epic for which Kubrick became known—"was the ideal study object."

Of course, the pathos of this absorbing chronicle lies in how close Kubrick came to making his dream project. Budgets were drawn, costumes made, locations scouted, actors approached (Oskar Werner, David Hemmings and Ian Holm were considered) and the armies of Romania and Yugoslavia were enlisted for the requisite "cast of thousands" accuracy that Kubrick demanded in his battle scenes, which he described as "vast lethal ballets."

But alas, circumstances conspired against the visionary director. Historic costume extravaganzas had gone out of vogue, and with a competing feature in the works, the ill-fated Waterloo (1970), MGM pulled out of the project, followed by the financially strapped United Artists. And yet Kubrick remained the eternal optimist.

When asked why Napoleon? Kubrick said at the time: "He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come." One could say the same about Stanley.

(Top to Bottom) Location film roll identifier; Residence of Joséphine de Beauharnais, France (location scouting); Costume study of a French Grenadier uniform (1968). (Photos: Courtesy Taschen)


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