03 March 2013

Kubrick's Napoleon ... the greatest movie never made?

Back in 1968, after completion of "2001: A Space Odyssey", Stanley Kubrick turned to the story of Napoleon with the intent of turning it into a monumental historical costume drama... well, it never happened - but the script exists and it's definitely worth reading.

Kubrick was a perfectionist, well known to immerse himself completely. In the case of Napoleon, he researched for years, visited locations, hired historians who built up a card catalogue detailing every day of Napoleon's life - who was with him and why, who he ate with, who he slept with and and and ... the extent of Kubrick's massive mounds of research is on display in a beautiful book that was published in 2011 (actually, I just may have to get it for myself - sounds like a special treat).

Here's a fascinating Telegraph article that details how Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess (writer of A Clockwork Orange) tried to bring forward a unique telling of Napoleon's life by following the symphonic structure of Beethoven's Eroica (listen in)... alas, it wasn't meant to be. 

What Burgess eventually delivered wasn't what Kubrick wanted and what writer-Kubrick wrote in the form of the screenplay didn't really seem to satisfy director-Kubrick either. According to Wikipedia et al what really doomed the project was mostly that the costs of filming on locations with tens of thousands were expected to be prohibitive and that the risks of such a massive costume drama falling flat at the box office were too big.

Now - I've read the script and, especially if you're a fresh writer, I'd urge you to read it as well. As you read it, try and forget that Stanley Kubrick wrote it. It's just pages, just words, just a story - it should work on its own. Ask yourself, does it?


My reading experience was quite interesting. Yes, it is about the life of Napoleon and Kubrick depicts it as he had planned from beginning to end, boyhood to death. It definitely isn't the greatest movie never made. The script is well executed but linear and episodic, strung together with the traditional narrator's voice. A fairly uninspired choice. The scenes are properly executed, i.e. they have clarity of purpose, they exist for a solid reason... but there's nothing that remains in my mind as extraordinary, surprising beyond what I'd expect from a Napoleon story. 

Interesting for fresh writers is also to see that Kubrick breaks quite a few rules that you, as a beginning writer, are told to remember and follow at all times. Fact is, you need to know the rules - and you need to learn that sometimes breaking them can be the perfect thing to do to suck the reader into your script. Nuff said - read the damn thing - it's movie history (even if it was never made) - you'll have fun and you'll learn a thing or two.



Tag cloud

12pt (1) 2012 (1) acting (2) action (1) actor (1) adapt (1) adaptation (4) adaptations (3) adapting (4) agent (1) alien (1) amateur (1) annotated (5) annotations (1) antagonist (1) ark (1) art (2) assignment (1) assignments (1) asylum (1) audience (4) audio (1) awake (1) b-film (1) b/w (1) bafta (1) balance (1) bashing (1) batman (1) bbc (1) behavior (2) berlinale (1) big sleep (2) blog (1) blood eagle (1) bond (1) book (1) brando (1) break (1) brother grimm champ wychwood (1) business (5) cake (1) camera (2) caracter (1) catharsis (1) cave (2) character (4) cherry (1) chliche (1) christopher walken (1) cinema (2) circle (1) circumstance (1) clout (1) coffee (1) coincidence (1) collaborate (3) collaboration (7) collaborator (1) colorful (1) comfort (1) comic books (2) comics (3) commandments (1) community (1) comparison (1) competition (1) conference (1) conflict (1) contest (1) contract (1) core (5) courage (1) courier (1) craft (9) creativity (2) credit (2) crime (1) critique (1) crowd (2) crowdfunding (2) cut (1) dahl (1) day job (1) deadlines (1) deliver (1) desire (1) dialogue (5) difference (1) directing (4) director (3) discipline (8) disney (1) diversity (1) documentary (1) draft (1) drama (1) drawing (1) duke (1) ego (1) element (1) emotion (1) empathy (1) empowerment (1) encouragement (1) eszterhas (1) evil (1) evolution (1) expose (1) exposition (2) facebook (1) fame (1) fear (2) feature film (1) feedback (1) festival (5) film (3) film noir (1) filmmaking (2) first (1) first draft (4) first-timer (1) flow (1) format (1) formula (1) frames (1) freedom (1) friendship (1) fun (1) gender (1) genre (3) germany (2) gibson (1) go (1) god (1) golden (1) golden age (1) good (1) guru (6) happiness (1) happy (1) hat (1) hero (3) history (5) hollywood (9) how (1) howard hawks (2) human (1) icing (1) ideas (1) illustration (1) image (1) images (1) imagination (1) impossible (1) information (1) insight (1) inspiration (3) instinct (2) intent (2) internship (1) interview (1) james (1) java (1) jay presson allen (1) john_wayne (1) journey (1) kaufman (1) kubrick (1) lab (1) language (2) lapse (1) larger (1) larger-than-life (1) later (1) lawrence of arabia (1) learn (1) learning (6) lecture (1) leigh brackett (2) length (1) life (2) line (1) list (1) literature (1) logline (4) loiter (1) loitering (1) london (4) london screenwriters' festival (1) lonely (1) lsf (5) LSF london festival (1) maccabee (1) magic (1) marvel (1) mckee (2) meme (1) michael hauge (2) moleskine (1) movies (3) myth (1) napoleon (1) need (1) network (7) networking (1) new york (1) newbie (3) newcomer (1) niven busch (1) notes (2) novel (2) novels (3) obstacle (1) original (1) original notes (2) originality (4) ounce (1) pacific rim (1) page (2) paid (1) passion (12) path (1) payment (1) people (1) percolate (1) photographs (1) pitch (1) pitching (3) pity (1) plot (4) poem (1) presentation (1) pressure (1) principle (2) principles (1) process (3) procrastinating (4) procrastination (3) produced (1) producer (4) program (1) promote (1) protagonist (2) purpose (1) raiders (1) rant (1) read (1) reading (1) recognition (1) recording (1) reincarnation (1) rejection (2) research (1) review (2) rewrite (1) rio bravo (2) roald (1) rule (1) salesman (1) salesmanship (1) salesmenship (1) sci-fi (1) screenplay (16) screenwriter (9) screenwriters (7) screenwriting (97) script (10) scriptshadow (1) second (1) second draft (2) selling (1) seminar (1) separate (1) shakespeare (1) short (2) simple (1) social media (1) solitary (1) solution (1) spec (2) spec script (7) speculative script (1) speech (1) spelling (1) stamina (6) star wars (1) stop (1) stories (1) story (18) storytelling (2) structure (3) studio (2) success (4) summer (1) superman (1) surprise (1) synopsis (1) tagline (2) talent (4) tatort (1) teach (1) technology (1) the firm (1) theme (2) think (1) think-walk (1) third (1) thriller (1) time (3) treatment (2) truby (1) true_grit (1) trust (3) turn (1) turning point (1) tv (3) twist (1) ucla (1) uk (1) unfinished (1) unique (2) us (1) villain (1) visual (2) walk (1) want (2) warrior (1) watch (1) what (1) why (2) wisdom (2) women (1) words (1) write (6) writer (2) writer's block (1) writers (1) writing (32) writing muscle (9)