Monday, March 11, 2013

Can Steven Spielberg save Napoleon?

Director Steven Spielberg plans to bring Stanley Kubrick's aborted biopic to television. Andrew Biswell reports.

Napoleon Bonaparte
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Napoleon Bonaparte Photo: ALAMY
Steven Spielberg has disclosed, in an interview with the French television channel Canal Plus, that he is planning to direct a television series based on Stanley Kubrick's unproduced film script about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick enthusiasts have been aware of the Napoleon project for some time, and a draft of the script was published, as a lavish folio-sized book, by Taschen in 2011. What is uncertain at this point is how Spielberg will go about representing Napoleon on the small screen, and how true to Kubrick's original vision the new adaptation will be.
Kubrick first began thinking about Napoleon in 1961, shortly after he had completed work on Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. Always a meticulous researcher, he began to assemble a collection of more than 500 books about the Corsican conqueror, including a biography by the Oxford historian Felix Markham. Kubrick aimed to immerse himself completely in Napoleon's world, and he hired Markham and an army of researchers to compile a vast biographical database on 4,500 index cards. In a memorandum titled "Things You Want To Know About Napoleon In All Situations," Kubrick listed his main areas of curiosity: "1. Routine of daily life. 2. Who are the people around? 3. Where is he sleeping, eating, waking? 4. His amusements." His research was so detailed that he was able to argue with costume designers about what kind of belt buckles were worn by infantrymen in Napoleon's army.
The other important area of Kubrick's research was cinematic. He watched all of the available films, beginning with the legendary 1927 silent film directed by Abel Gance, and featuring Albert Dieudonné as the adult Napoleon. This had originally been planned as a series of six films, intended to be projected on three screens at once, and Gance's epic ambitions gave Kubrick the idea of casting different actors to play Napoleon at various points in his career. Like Gance, his aim was to follow Napoleon from his childhood on Corsica to his death at the age of 52 on Saint Helena. The key facts of his life were to be spoken by an invisible narrator.
Kubrick was diverted from the Napoleon project by 2001: A Space Odyssey, his futuristic collaboration with Arthur C Clarke. When he returned to Napoleon in 1968, he spent the next two years writing a 200-page treatment and more than 4,000 pages of draft screenplay.
Kubrick's casting notes offer a fascinating glimpse of what might have been. His first choice for Napoleon was David Hemmings, followed by Oskar Werner and Robert Shaw. By 1970 he was thinking of offering the role to Jack Nicholson, who went on to star in Kubrick's The Shining(1980). His first choice for Josephine was Audrey Hepburn.

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