You made Clockwork Orange initially because you had to postpone your Napoleon project. How do you see the Napoleon film developing?
First of all, I start from the premise that there has never been a great historical film, and I say that with all apologies and respect to those who have made historical films, including myself [Kubrick had yet to select or to film “Barry Lyndon” at the time of this interview — Ed.]. I don’t think anyone has ever successfully solved the problem of dealing in an interesting way with the historical information that has to be conveyed, and at the same time getting a sense of reality about the daily life of the characters. You have to get a feeling of what it was like to be with Napoleon. At the same time, you have to convey enough historical information in an intelligent, interesting and concise way so that the audience understands what happened.
Would you include Abel Gance’s Napoleon in this verdict?
I think I would have to. I know that the film is a masterpiece of cinematic invention and it brought cinematic innovations to the screen which are still being called innovations whenever someone is bold enough to try them again. But on the other hand, as a film about Napoleon, I have to say I’ve always been disappointed in it.
Kubrick on Historical films and Gance’s Napoleon. I wonder what version of it he saw. I wonder more about what his Napoleon would have been.