Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Kubrick's Napoleon

I can’t resist reading Stanley’s scripts, although at times, the writing can be very dry. His films were meant to be seen not read. Yet, there is a sequence in Napoleon that I love dearly. I daresay, these may be my favorite scenes in all of Stanley’s movies and regrettably, they were never filmed.

I refer, of course, to the sequence in which Napoleon marries Josephine and then he goes off and prepares for his Italian campaign. While he’s at camp, he writes a number of love letters to Josephine, which we hear in voice overs. At this stage of his life, Napoleon is a powerful figure (or as they say in Barry Lyndon “figger”). He is at the height of his fame with the world at his fingertips, a great symbol of strength, and yet, as he writes these letters, we see him at his most vulnerable state. And he just pours his heart out onto these letters: “Sweet and incomparable Josephine, what is this bizarre effect you have upon my heart?” “By what magic have you captivated all my faculties, concentrated in yourself all my existence? It is a kind of death, my darling, since there is no survival for me except in you.”

And while we are hearing Napoleon pour his heart out, we are watching Josephine have an affair with Napoleon’s closest friend, Captain Hippolyte Charles.

And then we slowly hear a shift in the tone of Napoleon’s words. His heart, which was so much in love at the beginning of this sequence, becomes troubled, aching, and wounded.

The thing is, this sequence was poorly organized in the script with the way Stanley wrote it, because he wrote out all of Napoleon’s letters first and then he wrote out the scenes in which we would hear the voice overs. Unless you’re paying attention, you may not put two and two together to realize just how powerful those scenes would actually be. So I’ve taken the liberty of rearranging this sequence and placing the voice overs into the scenes so that we might get a better idea of what it would have actually looked and sounded like had Stanley lived long enough to film his favorite subject. The first three scenes are as written. I started adding the voice overs in the fourth scene where he's in his tent writing a letter by candlelight.


The candlelit, oval bedroom is completely encircled with floor-to-ceiling mirrored panels, which multiply the erotic images of Napoleon and Josephine, making love. Napoleon's voice, reading the letter below, is heard over the scene.

My dearest Josephine -- I awaken
full of you. Between your portrait
and the memory of our intoxicating
night, my senses have had no
respite. Sweet and incomparable
Josephine, what is this bizarre
effect you have upon my heart? What
if you were to by angry? What if I
were to see you sad or troubled?
Then my soul would be shattered by
distress. Then your lover could
find no peace, no rest. But I find
none, either, when I succumb to the
profound emotion that overwhelms me,
when I draw up from your lips, from
your heart, a flame that consumes
me. You will be leaving the city at
noon. But I shall see you in three
hours. Until then, mio dolce amor,
I send you a thousand kisses -- but
send me none in return, for they set
my blood on fire.


The marriage of Napoleon and Josephine -- a small private civil ceremony in the Mayor's officer. The only guests are Barras, Eugene, Hortense, Marmont and Junot.

My dear Theresa -- I am being urged
to remarry. You have met General
Bonaparte at my house. Well, then,
it is he who wishes to serve as
father to my children. Do I love
him? You are going to ask me.
Well, no. Do I, then, find him
unattractive? Again, no -- but
worse still, I find myself in a
state of indifference, of


The Bonaparte kitchen in Marseilles. Letizia is cutting vegetables with a knife, the sound of which allows a disapproving punctuation of her silences. The tap-tap-tapping of the knife dicing a carrot.

Mama, I'm sorry that I didn't write
to you about this, but I thought
that it would be much better to tell
you myself.

Tap, tap, tap.

Mama, I know that when you meet her,
you will love her as much as I do.

Tap, tap, tap.


Napoleon, seated at a table in his HQ tent late at night writing a letter by candlelight.

My dearest Josephine, every moment
increases the distance between us,
and with every moment that passes I
feel myself less able to endure the
separation. You are the eternal
object of my thoughts, and my
imagination exhausts itself
wondering what you are doing.


It is a bright, sunny morning in Josephine's bedroom at Rue de Chanterine. There is a letter from Napoleon leaning against the teapot on her breakfast tray. She picks up the envelope, sees who it is from, puts it down, pours her tea, adds milk and sugar, stirs it carefully, sighs, looks outside at the tall trees rustling in the breeze, then idly picks up the letter and opens it.

By what magic have you captivated
all my faculties, concentrated in
yourself all my existence? It is a
kind of death, my darling, since
there is no survival for me except
in you.
* * *
I ask of you neither eternal love
nor fidelity, but only truth, utter
honesty. The day upon which you
should say "I love you less," would
be the last day of my love -- or the
last day of my life. And if I should
not die of sorrow, then, my heart,
maimed for life, would never again
trust itself to respond to any
sentiments of tenderness or rapture.


A close shot of Napoleon's hand, writing on his official stationary which has printed, under a large illustration symbolizing liberty and equality, "Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, Army of Italy."

You let many days go without writing
to me. What, then, are you doing?


General Le Clerc presents his aide, Captain Hippolyte Charles.

[Note: probably dual-dialogue here.]

When you write, dearest, assure me
that you realize that I love you
with a love that is beyond the
limits of imagination. That you,
you alone, and all of you, as I see
you, as you are -- only you can
please me, absorb the faculties of
my soul; that there is no corner of
my heart into which you do not see,
no thought of mine which is not
subordinate to you. That my arms,
my strength, my mind are all yours.
That my soul lives in your body.
That the world is beautiful only
because you inhabit it.

I should like you to meet my aidede-
camp, Captain Hippolyte Charles
-- Madame Bonaparte.

I am delighted to meet you, Madame

Thank you, Captain. Won't you both
please sit down?

Love at first sight.

Thank you very much, Madame
Bonaparte. I have come at the
instruction of General Bonaparte to
bring this letter from his mother in


Napoleon lying awake in the early hours of the morning, in his camp bed.

No letters from you -- only once
every four days do I receive one,
whereas if you loved me you would
write me twice a day. Absence
relieves minor attachments but it
intensifies love. A kiss upon your
mouth, upon your heart, everywhere.
There is no one else, no one but me,
is there?


Moonlight. Josephine and Charles walk slowly in the garden. They stop. She is still. He touches his lips to her shoulders and neck. She slowly turns, looks into his eyes and kisses him, long and languorously.

Your letter is brief, sad and
written in a trembling hand. What
is wrong with you, my darling?
* * *
My misfortune is to have known you
so little; yours, to have judged me
by the men you have known, who
surrounded you.
* * *
You have inspired in me a limitless
passion, and an intoxication that is
degrading. Josephine, you have made
me wretched. But I have never
believed in happiness. Is life
really worth making such a fuss?


Napoleon standing at a camp fire in the rain, staring vacantly into the flames.

Four hours ago, there came that
scrap of a letter to break the news
that you are not coming, that you
are ill, that there are three
doctors in attendance, that you
cannot write yourself. My life is
now a perpetual nightmare. A fatal
premonition stops me from breathing.
I am ill of your illness, burning
with your fever.


Josephine and Charles making love in her mirrored bedroom at the Rue de Chanterine. Maximum erotica.

In a month I have received only two
notes of three lines each. Good
God, tell me how you know so well
how to inspire love in other's
hearts, without feeling it in your
own? Make mock of me, stay on in
Paris, take lovers, let all the
world know it, never write to me --
and then? And then, I shall love
you ten times more than I did
* * *
But don't go on telling me that you
are ill; don't go on trying to
justify your behavior. You are
* * *
Your letters are as cold as
friendship. What is left for you to
do to make me more wretched? Stop
loving me? That's already done.
Hate me? Perhaps I should hope for
that. Hatred, at least, is not
humiliating. But, oh, indifference
-- the pulse of marble, the vacant
glance, the distracted air.


Anonymous said...

Bonsoir Mistery Man,

Vous parlez français ou anglais?
Never mind. Both maybe.
I found your blog by searching on Google about Napoleon.
And I found you.
I like very much what you’ve written about what the “Napoleon” by S. Kubrick should have been.
And will remain forever “un regret éternel”…
Of course we have the fantastic “Barry Lyndon”. But something misses.

Thanks for giving a start to the film we’ll never see…

Bien à vous.


Anonymous said...

Forgot to ask...
Who do you think S. Kubrick would have chosen to be his Napoleon?

And if he wasnt dead, and had the money to do this movie, which actor would he choose today?

I'm curious...


Mystery Man said...

Well, hello! Did you see my other posts on Kubrick's "Napoleon"?

They're all found here.

This little article is nothing. This was just the tip of the iceberg. I did a COMPLETE study of his entire script, from beginning to end, and posted my final thoughts here, which was called "Poetics in Cinema." It was a great study. This is one of my FAVORITE scripts!

With respect to your question, I read that at the time, Kubrick was interested in a young Jack Nicholson or an Ian Holmes. I'm not so sure who'd he'd pick for that role today. He might go for an unknown actor.

Thanks for stopping by.