Thursday, 9 April 2015

Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon

Earlier this afternoon, I read Stanley Kubrick's screenplay for Napoleon... This particular draft is dated September 29, 1969, and comes with fascinating production notes concerning the film's budget, actors, filming locations, sets, costumes and research material. I'm not sure how advanced this particular draft of the screenplay was but it makes for interesting reading on what might have been, had Kubrick made the film. The screenplay spans Napoleon's entire life, opening with a scene where a 4-year old Napoleon is read a bedtime story, to his rise to power, his triumphant campaigns and battles, his coronation as Emperor of France, through to his fall after a disastrous war with Russia, and his exile and death on the remote Atlantic island St. Helena. And all of it within 3 hours. The screenplay includes copious amounts of narration (which I read with the voice of Michael Hordern in mind) providing expository information and filling in gaps in the narrative. The battle sequences make for the most exciting parts of the screenplay, with shots planned to include men by the thousands, but Kubrick deftly adds some small touches which delight - when the film briefly relocates to Egypt, there's a shot of French soldiers inspecting a tomb, and a young drummer boy scrawling "Long Live the Republic" over some hieroglyphic writing. Elsewhere, a key moment like the French naval defeat at Trafalgar is summed up in one single striking shot of a wrecked French ship at the bottom of the ocean, the body of its drowned captain drifting around the cabin along with his books and papers. But there are problems too. Kubrick's writing is less skillful when the film indulges in court intrigue, Napoleon's womanizing, and tempestuous relationship with Josephine are dull. A scene where Napoleon breaks away from a dinner to conquer the wife of a guest feels clumsily staged. One thing I did struggle with reading the screenplay was whom to visualize in the part of Napoleon. Jack Nicholson has long been associated with the role, but the Napoleon, as Kubrick writes him, seems a little to austere for Nicholson. I was thinking... Dustin Hoffman perhaps ? A copy of the screenplay is available here...

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