Wednesday, 28 July 2010

KUBRICK'S NAPOLEON (Charlie Kaufman, 2010)


When I talk about greatest films you've never seen, I of course attempt to encourage a visionary moment on the part of the reader- these films do not exist, and can be seen in no cinema near you except the Ritz in your skull: the one with the ultimate screen, the eyelid, on which that brilliant-but-flickering projector, the inner eye, sends down images in dream-light. All are the ultimate possibles, because they never were. But there is another kind of never-weres, a branch that exists in the common imagination because they were almost made; their relationship to anecdotal reality is more suspicious, because it includes a failure, because they were begun but never finished, miscarried or aborted long before a metaphorical forty weeks were up. These unfinished films live in a never-ending circle of longing: Just intoning the following creates an inescapable spiral loop: Welles' Quixote; Gilliam's Quixote; Lean's Nostromo (Conrad); Welles' Heart of Darkness (Conrad); Welles' Quixote. Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon stands as possibly the greatest of these unfinished pieces, taking up two years of Kubrick's life in deep research, before studio cold feet brought it to a halt, leaving it as an endless what-if. Kubrick had everything: scripts, set designs, incredibly detailed notes on what he was to do- all of which he kept with him until death, never quite letting go the hope of realising his dream film.


Charlie Kaufman, naturally did not want to just make Kubrick's Napoleon. He didn't want to make a film about making Kubrick's Napoleon either. He wanted to make a film of Stanley Kubrick making Kubrick's Napoleon. He is a man with impossible dreams with a penchant for men with impossible dreams, and so his account is of a young man, director John Fink, who realises that he is about to be the same age that his hero Stanley Kubrick was when he attempted to begin his film Napoleon. Fink decides that he has no chance to be as great as his idol in original deed, so he sets out to recreate a facsimile of the man's dream, and make the Napoleon film that Kubrick did not. He gets access to a storage space filled with Kubrick's huge amount of research, and studiously tries to recreate the plan. Exactly. 1970 vintage equipment is used, and everybody on set must dress in era clothing. No cell phones on set. Strict discipline will surely cause some magic to be absorbed. These rules soon multiply and expand: No-one can travel to the set in a car younger than 1971, no internet, or discussions thereof; No cell phones ever, anywhere. Slang and pop cultural references must be temporaneous. The Shining hasn't happened yet, but A Clockwork Orange has.


Fink goes from dressing like Kubrick in an attempt to invoke his spirit, to impression, to believing that he is Kubrick, all on a long tumultuous shoot that causes psyches to fray and unravel. Rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, noted for his uncanny likeness to a younger Kubrick, stars as Fink in his first dramatic role. He pulls off an astonishingly subtle dive; Fink's absorption into Kubrick's colours and mythos is lengthy and delirious, spinning from the sporting of a lucky black polo neck to full-blown hectic impersonation, even dropping anecdotes from the sets of Kubrick's films as if they had happened to him, like how James Mason's quirks and desire for certain pre and post-luncheon activities reset the clocks on the set of Lolita(1962), and how Malcolm McDowell only eats from one side of his plate (the left). For a while, it works. Cast and crew begin to wonder if this man is a reincarnation, or if they have somehow slipped into the past. Shooting begins well. But it cannot hold.


The original title was K for Kubrick, N for Napoleon which, carrying with it an inescapable nod to Welles' own F for Fake (1974) (and in so doing, reveals itself to be slippery, for if a title like 'F for Fake' transparently suggests its own lie, a title that refers to that lie indirectly silently reveals its hidden lie only somewhat, that is to say, it reveals that its lie is hidden somewhere, or perhaps that it is hiding the fact that it contains an honesty about a lie that too that is not to be trusted. Or not.) perhaps too swiftly put the film in a place of self-described charlatanry that Kaufman had mined before, in particularly in the script for Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999). This place is woozily compelling of course. But Kaufman stepped away from this comfortable clearing, and marched on through the unfloodlit trees with his directorial debut Synechdoche NY (2008)(a film about 'things' and 'people' in every possible permutation unimaginable). He goes further into the darkness here, only now he is running euphorically, somehow avoiding low-hanging branches, fallen logs, and all manner of blackly unseen hazards.

Kuafman as R.A. as Fink as Kubrick fails, burns the set, throws himself on the fire; the only ending possible. $100 million dollars expires.

Kubrick's Napoleon Directed by Charlie Kaufman Produced by Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze Written by Charlie Kaufman (using sequences written by Stanley Kubrick) Starring R.A. the Rugged Man, Cary Elwes, Tom Wilkinson Produced by Sony Pictures Classics 135 mins Release Date US: March 2010 UK: July 2010 Tagline: 'Can You Solve The Kubrick Rube?'

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