napoleon: grand alliance of a different kind

The greatest movie never made. That’s actually the title of a new book of images from Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, or rather the director’s preparations for an ill-fated film on the French emperor. The three hour epic about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte was never made. Kubrick spent months and thousands of dollars on pre-production and planning in the late 1960′s only to have the financing collapse on him. Most of us know the main lines of his life and how it ended at age fifty-one on the British island of St.Helena, and a squabble over what to chisel onto the tombstone. In the end it was left nameless. What is less well known is his relationship with a number of “femmes fatales” .Perhaps if Kubrick had centered the cinematic narrative on the grand alliance between Napoleon and two remarkable women, the film’s destiny would have not come to naught. …

---This is a case where a comparison will give a good idea of how differently the same subject was handled by Jacques-Louis David and one of his numerous pupils. David started the portrait of Madame Récamier in 1800 which was never finished. (However, incidentally, this portrait helped a contemporary item of furniture to become known under her name.) When the master learned that the lady had also commissioned his pupil Gérard to paint her, he is said to have refused any further service. In David's portrait, noble simplicity, expressed by the simple dress and the Spartan decoration, is also eloquent in the open face. This might well appear more to the modern viewer than Gérard's version, which was judged to be more representative and flattering at the time. And comparisons with portraits of Madame Récamier by other artists suggest that Gérard had achieved a better likeness than David. The Spartan severity of David's composition, the Neoclassical sparseness of the arrangement, the cool handling of the room, the distanced pose, with the lady turning her shoulder to the viewer, were all elements with which Neoclassicism had operated for long enough.--- Read More:

She was a true lover of liberty, and Anglophile, a proponent of constitutional government, and an early advocate of free-love. She was one of the first to hail the oncoming romantic movement in European letters. She stood for all that Napoleon opposed. When he disdained her, she set about expounding these ideas in print, only to find her writings banned and herself banished from Paris.

On the eve of Napoleon’s coup d’etat on November 9,1799, the thirty-three year old Mme Germaine de Stael journeyed hastily from her Swiss chateau to Paris. She was the daughter of the illustrious Jacques Necker and Mme de Stael was already known in the capitals of Europe. Author of a novel and a much admired book on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, mistress of important salons in Paris, active in post-revolutionary politics and renown for her brilliant wit and conversation, she was convinced that Bonaparte could use some guidance from her. The fact that Napoleon disliked her heartily was something she could never appreciate. If she could only have a half hour of his time.

---François Pascal Simon Gérard (1770–1837) Mme de Recamier. ---Gérard, by contrast, sets the lady in a noble park loggia, where she seems to be inviting to conversation. Her low-cut bodice is seductive; the red curtain flatters the subject and gives the flesh a rosy tint. Where David gave the beautiful woman a rather severe touch around the mouth, Gérard embellishes her features with the hint of a gentle smile, making her look younger. By contrast, David's portrait in the antique manner looks rather forced. Perhaps these were the reasons why his painting was never finished. Madame Récamier gave Gérard's portrait of her to her admirer Prince Augustus of Prussia, a nephew of Frederick II, who had met the French beauty at the salon of Madame de Staël. For state reasons a marriage was impossible, but in the painting Madame Récamier was ever present in the palace which Schinkel furnished for the Prince in 1817.---Read More:

In the outside world, where Napoleon’s armies inspired fear and hatred, Mme de Stael was much admired. Her Swiss Chateau at Coppet became a mecca for the intellectual elite of Europe. Within the borders of France however, the price of Mme de Stael’s friendship was high; for her beautiful friend, Mme Juliette Recamier, it also meant proscription from Paris and the open disfavor of the Emperor.

---Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made is among the most ambitious publishing projects we’ve seen 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.--- Read More:

…Kubrick, who died in 1999, left behind a wealth of information about his unrealized project, including some creative ideas to keep the budget down. In place of 30,000 extras, he planned to hire the Yugoslavian or Romanian army to fill out his battle scenes. Period costumes in long shots would be made of a special tear resistant paper. Front-screen projection, a technique he employed in 2001 to create prehistoric Africa on a soundstage, would reduce the need for location shooting….Read More:

Married at fifteen to an elderly Parisian banker, Mme Recamier had a respect and affection for her husband, but her relationship with him, as well as with all but two of her many admirers throughout her life, was no more than a close friendship . This left her free to pursue her role as the epitome of feminine charm and attraction; for the fashionable society of the Bonaparte era, she was the ideal woman of her age. In her twenties, she was doggedly pursued by Napoleon himself; in her thirties by Prince Augustus of Prussia- who apparently never again gave a thought to another woman- ; in her forties , two of Mme de Stael’s chief lovers defected to her; and in her fifties, she inspired a great love in the breast of the famous essayist Chateaubriand.

Alex Godfrey:One night during the pre-production phase on A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell asked Stanley Kubrick why he was eating ice cream at the same time as his main course steak. “What’s the difference?” said Kubrick. “It’s all food. This is how Napoleon used to eat.” Well that’s how McDowell tells it anyway. There are lots of near-mythical stories about Kubrick’s comprehensive research. That he was probably the most meticulous of film directors known to man is not open to debate, and Napoleon, the film he tried and failed to make f

ecades, is the best example of his attention to detail. Read More:

Only to Prince August and Chateaubriand was she moved to return any true feeling of her own; the rest of her sentimental energies were absorbed in a demanding attachment to Mme de Stael.

…Kubrick hired as a consultant the noted Napoleon scholar Felix Markham. The book includes a transcript of a lengthy talk between the two men, as well as correspondence in which the director asks about major historical events in one sentence, then follows with: “Can you describe what a fraternal embrace of the period would have looked like?” Further signs of Kubrick’s mania for research: a library of more than 500 books about Napoleon; hundreds of index cards, indexed and cross-referenced, including a chronology of all the major figures in Napoleon’s life; and almost 17,000 drawings and sketches from 1769 to 1830….Read More:

The emerging romanticism of the nineteenth-century embraced the grand alliance of these contrasting women: the one so pure, gentle and unattainable ; the other so tempestuous, dominant and attainable. The fortunes of both were inextricably bound up with the star of Napoleon. As long as his pervading influence was felt in Europe, the image of this persecuted pair lingered in the hearts of his enemies as a romantic ideal.

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When do you remember him first talking about Napoleon?
I remember when we were working on 2001, he had a sort of fascination with military figures, he was always very interested in Julius Caesar, particularly the invasion of Britain, but this ability to be a man of action, an intellectual, a strategist, with political objectives, and how you balanced all this and did what was right, I guess Napoleon grew out of that.

Did he relate to these types of people?
I don’t think he related to them, but he found them tremendously fascinating. How, ultimately, flaws in their character, particularly Napoleon, would bring them down. You see this in people in positions of public trust or power anyway; you know, Harriet Harman getting out after that car crash and imperiously saying, “I’m Harriet Harman. You know where to contact me.” You know. I mean, what a cunt.

The research and planning he did for Napoleon is near legendary.
Yeah. He did a lot on all his films, not least of which was on the abandoned project, Wartime Lies, about the Holocaust. We spent nearly two years, day in day out, researching that. And in that same period Spielberg got the idea for Schindler’s List, did the pre-production, made the film, released it, and we were still shuffling index cards.

So Schindler’s List just killed it for him?
Well, he’d always wanted to do a film about the Holocaust, but it presented certain problems. As Stanley said, if you really want to make an accurate film about the Holocaust, it’s got to be unwatchable. But he thought Schindler’s List was a hard act to follow, and it wasn’t the right time to do Wartime Lies. You know what [historian] Raul Hilberg said about Schindler’s List? He wrote this massive three-volume study of the destruction of the European Jews, quite witty and funny too, but he said Schindler’s List was a success story. A feelgood picture.Read More:

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