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Kubrick, "Napoleon" and the Little Red Man of Destiny

'Bonaparte Before the Sphinx" by Jean-Leon Gerome (1868).
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The great mystery of Kubrick’s Napoleon, is, indeed, a mystery. In fact there is more “mystery” surrounding that never-completed film and the actual historical figure from Corsica than one might think.

Getting close to that “mystery,” a film project – “the greatest movie never made” – that American director Stanley Kubrick felt, as he said in 1971, was “the best movie ever made” about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, may soon be within reach.

Well, at least it is in book form and possibly, in film form. That’s because posthumous efforts are being made to put together the film on Napoleon that Kubrick always wanted to do (although 1975’s Barry Lyndon did capture some of what Kubrick was seeking to create) but couldn’t, due to lack of funds.

And yet Taschen, several years ago, sold a limited edition hardcover book that was hollowed-out inside and featured 10 books addressing all of the work, script-writing and information Kubrick gathered in the late 1960’s, following the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, before MGM decided a very expensive historical period piece was too costly and out-of-step with what movie audiences were wanting to see at that time.

And yet an aura of mystery remained around Kubrick’s script and ideas. Many have wondered what the film would have been like. As a June 2011, article at Biographia Literaria notes: “The director spent most of the late 1960s and early 1970s creating the most impressive personal archive of Napoleonic history in the world: a library at the Kubrick estate held every book ever written on the military leader and statesman; a cabinet was filled with 25,000 library cards that gave details of what Napoleon, or Josephine, or anyone within Napoleon’s inner circle was doing on each day of their lives; photograph albums were devoted to every place Napoleon had ever been. Kubrick’s aim was to make a 3-hour, cradle-to-grave biopic of the man that was accurate in every detail and that examined the leader’s flawed magnificence without, in Kubrick’s words, “imposing a moral or historical judgment” on that examination.”

And so a few years ago, that collector’s edition of Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made would go on to tell that story (and sell out quickly). A more mass-produced version is available at for under $50 for those interested in learning more.

From “For 40 years, Kubrick fans and film buffs have wondered about the director’s mysterious unmade film on Napoleon Bonaparte. Slated for production immediately following the release of 2001: A Space OdysseyKubrick’s "Napoleon" was to be at once a character study and a sweeping epic, replete with grandiose battle scenes featuring thousands of extras. To write his original screenplay, Kubrick embarked on two years of intensive research; with the help of dozens of assistants and an Oxford Napoleon specialist, he amassed an unparalleled trove of research and preproduction material, including approximately 15,000 location scouting photographs and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery. No stone was left unturned in Kubrick’s nearly-obsessive quest to uncover every piece of information history had to offer about Napoleon. But alas, Kubrick’s movie was not destined to be: the film studios, first M.G.M. and then United Artists, decided such an undertaking was too risky at a time when historical epics were out of fashion.”

And while we here at Red Dirt Report have not had the pleasure of reading Kubrick’s script of The Greatest Movie Never Made books, we have been doing our own research on Napoleon. In fact, we have learned that not one, but two Napoleon films are in the works. Rupert Miles Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) is working on a Napoleon film. 

Earlier this year, director Steven Spielberg, who completed Kubrick’s work on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, has been given the green light to create Kubrick’s Napoleon into a television miniseries. At, Spielberg notes, as the above book collection includes, Kubrick “left behind an enormous amount of notes, including an entire card catalogue of the French Emperor’s movements and deeds throughout the years.”

That said, one wonders how much of Napoleon’s curious superstitions and folklore beliefs would have been included in the film Kubrick sought to make.

In the Februrary 1815 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine, there is a discussion about Napoleon’s supernatural “helper,” and an encounter Napoleon had with the Red Man (a.k.a. “The Little Red Man of Destiny”) on January 1, 1814.

Mr. Urban,

I have sent you the following strange account of Bonaparte’s interview with his Genius, as it has made its way into several public prints, with a view of inviting your enlightened and unprejudiced Readers to a candid discussion of the probability of supernatural Beings making their appearances to individuals, for the purpose of animating them in the performance of great exploits: for such, it must be allowed, Bonaparte has performed … if an infernal or celestial spirit ever did or may make its appearance, it must be for a public end worthy of supernatural aid.”

The article notes how Napoleon’s Counsellor of State, Mole, first encountered the Red Man on New Year’s Day 1814 (almost exactly 200 years ago) and he demanded entrance to see Napoleon, which the startled advisor allowed.

In earlier years, Napoleon had acquired the Livres de Prophetics, a “a book which had been written by Philippe-Dien-donne-Noel Olivarius, a doctor, surgeon and astrologer, more than 262 years before the brilliant military genius’s rise to power.” Essentially, Olivarius’s predictions would come true, foretelling Napoleon’s fate.

As Napoleon would declare: “Our hour is marked and no one can claim a moment of life beyond what fast has predestined.”

As for The Little Red Man of Destiny (also referred to as a “gnome” and a “genie”), it appeared to Catherine de Medici in 1564, during the construction of the Tuileries Palace in Paris, on the right bank of the River Seine. She saw his visitation as “an omen of bad luck,” according to writer Brad Steiger.

Chambermaids found the “Red Man” in the bed of Louis XVI in 1792 and in the jail where Louis and Marie Antoinette were held in 1793. This entity uncannily appears at key moments in French history. 

Steiger then notes that when it came to Napoleon, it first appeared to him in 1798, during the French military leader’s campaign in Egypt. The Egyptian campaign was conducted in hopes of cutting Britain’s supply line to India. Also, Napoleon was fascinated with Egyptian history, while also being a a Master of a Rosicrucian Order in Paris as well as being a Freemason. Timing was important, following the French Revolution of 1789 and the fall of the French monarchy. A G. Randall Jensen notes in The Talisman of Napoleon Bonaparte, with these new things happening and an increased appreciation for knowledge “(T)he intellectual climate was ripe for Napoleon Bonaparte to uncover the arcane knowledge that was waiting to be discovered in Egypt.”

Egypt played a major role in Napoleon’s life. The Sphinx and the Pyramids meant a lot. The Rosetta Stone was discovered there during Napoleon’s time there and Napoleon would spend time alone inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid and with the Sphinx. Was he performing rituals? Communicating with something?

And during this critical time in Egypt, the Little Red Man of Destiny makes his first appearance.

Writes Steiger: “The Red Man told Napoleon that his orders to the French fleet had not been obeyed. Even though the Egyptian campaign had begun on a note of triumph after the bloody battle of the Pyramids, the ghost told him the enterprise would fail and Napoleon would return to France to find her closed in by England, Russia, Turkey and an allied Europe.”

The Red Man would make other appearances during Napoleon’s reign. And when Napoleon failed to listen to the Red Man’s demands, bad things would happen (as in not to invade Russia), and they did shortly after the Red Man predicted, at the beginning of 1814. Napoleon only had three months to achieve general peace in Europe. Napoleon felt he didn’t have enough time to complete everything in such a short amount of time and after a failed eastern campaign, Talleyrand and the Senate would call for Napoleon’s abdication on April 1, 1814, as predicted.

Other well-known individuals have talked about receiving counsel from entities, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Carl Jung and American railroad magnate Arthur Stilwell, which we previously noted here.

So, were these events really taking place? Will Spielberg and/or Sanders incorporate these important events in their film interpretations of Napoleon's life and career?

We’ll end this with a quote from Napoleon himself: “Avoid everything that might give false ideas of the truth.”

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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