Brain Pickings

Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made


Forty years of anticipation and how to almost-get an autograph from a cinematic icon.

After the incredible success of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick began working on a large-scale biopic about Napoleon Bonaparte. He spent countless hours digging through manuscripts, reading books and researching the life of the great French emperor, created a meticulous card catalog of the places and doings of Napoleon’s inner circle, and amassed over 15,000 location scouting photographs and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery. Then he wrote a preliminary screenplay. But in his obsessive genius, Kubrick envisioned such an epic movie that it was ultimately canceled due to the exorbitant costs of location filming. (Well, that and the fact that two similar historical biopics had failed miserably in the preceding years.) And for 40 years, fans mourned the nonexistence of Kubrick’s Napoleon.

Today, publisher Taschen releases Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made — an equally epic tome about the project that never happened, making Kubrick’s ambitious work on Napoleon available to the world for the first time as 10 books that live inside one giant volume.

There are only 1000 copies of the limited-edition collector’s title, but even with the hefty price tag of $700, there’s little doubt die-hard Kubrick fans will be elbowing each other for a copy.

The book is a treasure chest full of Kubrick’s precious archives — his correspondence, research material, costume studies, casting considerations, location scouting photographs, sketches, and even the final draft of the screenplay reproduced in facsimile. (Yes, that’s the closest you’ll ever get to an autograph from Stanley Kubrick.) All of this is tucked inside a cleverly designed carved-out reproduction of a Napoleon history book.

To sweeten the deal, the publisher is offering exclusive access to a searchable online database, featuring Kubrick’s complete picture file of nearly 17,000 Napoleonic images — and they’ve made them all downloadable.

Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made is among the most ambitious publishing projects to come by in a long while, both in terms of the incredible wealth of well-researched content in hosts and the brilliantly conceived vehicle. It offers a rare peek at the creative process of a cultural icon, delivered through a fittingly ambitious prism of book design innovation.

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