Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made

Preface by Alison Castle, Paris, 2008

This book is a labor of many (obsessive) loves—Napoleon’s for Josephine, Kubrick’s for the story of Napoleon, and ours for Kubrick. The unmade Napoleon epic has long been a topic of intrigue for Kubrick followers, though none of us can ever hope to know just what he would have done with the film in the end—and it’s doubtful that Kubrick knew this either. We have on our hands a set of clues to a mystery that can never be solved, and what is incontestable is that these clues—Kubrick’s Napoleon archives—are endlessly fascinating. We are fortunate to have this vast collection of material representing the state at which the project, begun in 1967, found itself when it was abandoned for good—almost literally stopped in its tracks, frozen in time (circa 1971, more or less). The Napoleon items were stuffed in boxes, transported from house to house, and finally stored away for the last two decades of Kubrick’s life at his estate near St. Albans. Fans who have been curious all these years about the project have been largely unsatisfied in their quest for information about it; not until The Stanley Kubrick Archives was published in 2005, with a chapter on the project, had any of the material been shared with the public.

When I began my research for the Archives book in 2002, I was astounded by the sheer amount of Napoleon material that remained at Kubrick’s estate; in volume, it surpassed what had been preserved for many of his completed films. Clearly Kubrick knew the value of the information he had amassed and did not want to separate with it, even long after he had given up hope of making the film. My task, in returning to the Napoleon material for the present publication, was to find a way to portray Kubrick’s project and its wealth of research material without betraying his intentions. Depending on how one looks at it, this is either unrealistic or just plain blasphemous. Yet in the opinion of many, present company included, it would be bordering on criminal not to share this treasure trove with the world; it is with this in mind that I present you this attempt to do justice to Kubrick’s “Napoleon.”

Herein, readers can peruse a selection of Kubrick’s correspondence, the various costume studies, location scouting photographs, research material, script drafts, and more, each category of material in its own book. Kubrick’s “final draft” (it is rather euphemistic to say “final” since Kubrick was known to relentlessly rework his scripts up to—and even during—shooting) is reproduced in facsimile while the other texts are tidily kenneled into one volume where they dare not interfere with the visual material. All of these books are tucked inside of—or shall we say hiding in?—a carved-out facsimile of a genuine Napoleon history book. (This ingenious solution to a most peculiar challenge, that is to say a most uncommon synthesis of the historical testimony and the art object, was the brainchild of the French design team M/M Paris.)

As book editor, student of Kubrick, and archive excavator, I feel reticent to take it upon myself to attempt to provide an explanation of the project. Yet for all the readers who crave to know as much as possible, I have collected a selection of items that best represent Kubrick’s work on this massive project and commissioned texts that help us navigate our way through this material. Film historian Eva-Maria Magel explores Kubrick’s near-endless quest to realize the film as well as his dramatic interpretation of Napoleon’s life, Oxford historian Geoffrey Ellis carefully scrutinizes Kubrick’s historical accuracy and decodes his Felix Markham interview transcripts (which are reproduced in their entirety), and Napoleon expert Jean Tulard gives us a delightful overview of a century of Napoleon films to which Kubrick could have added his contribution.

Now, dear reader, your present task is to decipher all these various artifacts as you please, and I hope that you attack it with gusto.

Alison Castle
Paris, 2008
Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon. The Greatest Movie Never Made
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Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon. The Greatest Movie Never Made

M/M (Paris), Alison Castle
Hardcover with 10 smaller books inserted, image database, 11.6 x 14.7 in., 2874 pages, $ 3,000