Monday, October 5, 2009

Not if, but when

The writing could be more penetrating but, as the sole readily-available account of Stanley Kubrick's never-made film about Napoleon, this turn-of-the-millennium Salon article is about as essential as footnotes get. Hung up by budget concerns and the subject's bad track record at the box office, the film, as we all know, was never made. Kubrick used some its ideas in later works--not only in the obvious Napoleon substitute, Barry Lyndon, but even Eyes Wide Shut, whose strange idea of a good time had its roots in erotic scenes first conceived for Napoleon.

As a young film punk, I actually scored a used copy of the Joseph Gelmis book of interviews with film directors that the article refers to, and it's both fascinating and pitiful to listen to Kubrick talk about when--not if--he is going to make his Napoleon film. His failure to see it through deprives us not only of another (potentially great) Kubrick picture, but also alters the shape of his life's work: there is, for better or worse, no obvious go-for-broke shot at a masterwork, no dream project. Sometimes such all-in bets work out, and sometimes they do not, but they sit at the centers of artists' careers like Kilimanjaro. With 2001 reluctant to be nudged into the centerpiece role, Kubrick's career is just one long, weird, mostly fine, always dogged trajectory. Which may be just as well.

For those of you with a few extra bucks to spend, Taschen has published a $560 limited-edition book on the making--or, in this case, non-making--of the film.

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