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Napoleonic preproduction

posted by Tim Carmody   May 02, 2011

Stanley Kubrick’s unfinished Napoleon project was supposed to be (in Kubrick’s words) “the greatest film ever made.” At the meticulous-yet-epic scale Kubrick imagined it — think 30,000 real troops (from Romanian and Lithuanian Cold-War-armies) in authentic costume on location as extras for the battle scenes — it was unfilmable.

So instead of the film, we have Kubrick’s gigantic preproduction archive of notes and drawings and photographs, which (on top of the complete screenplay and drafts for the movie) is one of the largest scholarship-grade Napoleonic archives in the world.

Two years ago, Taschen put out a ten-volume de luxe edition of this material that cost $1500, which was by all accounts definitely awesome, but so expensive and unwieldy I don’t think even Kubrick superfan John Gruber bought it.

Now there’s a one-volume, 1100-page edition that lists at $70 but is running for $44 at Amazon. Brainiac’s Josh Rothman breaks it down:

The book, in a deliberate echo of the film, is rough around the edges. Rather than providing a seamless, synthesized account of Kubrick’s vision, the editor, Alison Castle, has focused on the raw materials: the photographs, clippings, letters, and notes that Kubrick kept in binders and a huge, library-style card catalog. There are interviews with Kubrick, and a complete draft of the screenplay, with many marked-up pages from earlier drafts. Here and there you’ll find introductory essays by Kubrick experts, or a historian’s response to Kubrick’s screenplay — but the emphasis is on the small gestures, as in the collection of underlined passages and marginal notes that Castle compiles from Kubrick’s personal library of books about the emperor. A special ‘key card’ included with the book gives you access to a huge online library of images.

While I was wondering how/if we’d remember Kubrick differently if the Napoleon movie had come together, I came across this snappy transition from Kubrick’s Wikipedia page:

After 2001, Kubrick initially attempted to make a film about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. When financing fell through, Kubrick went looking for a project that he could film quickly on a small budget. He eventually settled on A Clockwork Orange (1971).
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