In 1968, shortly after finishing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick began work on what he would later predict to be “the best movie ever made” — a meticulously researched, large-scale biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. A 1969 draft of his screenplay, which he later discarded, can be read here. A few years later, after adapting Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange for the big screen, Kubrick brought Burgess on-board to write a Beethoven-inspired Napoleon novel on which his epic could be based.
In June of 1972, Burgess supplied the filmmaker with the first half of his manuscript; Kubrick rejected it by way of the following letter, thus ending the collaboration. Burgess was undeterred, and Napoleon Symphony was published as a novel in 1974. Kubrick’s movie, however, failed to materialise.
(Source: Jim Allen; Image: Anthony Burgess & Stanley Kubrick, via here & here.)
15 June, 1972
I shall start off by saying I don’t really know how to write this letter, and that it is a task which is as awful for me to perform for me as it may be for you to read.
You are far too brilliant and successful a writer, and I am far too much of an admirer of yours to patronize you with a listing of what is so obviously excellent about ‘Napoleon Symphony’. At the same time, I earnestly hope that our all too brief friendship will survive me telling you that the MS is not a work that can help me make a film about the life of Napoleon. Despite its considerable accomplishments, it does not, in my view, help solve either of the two major problems: that of considerably editing the events (and possibly restructuring the time sequence) so as to make a good story, without trivializing history or character, nor does it provide much realistic dialogue, unburdened with easily noticeable exposition or historical fact.
I’m very sorry that the subject of the letter could not be of more pleasure and benefit to both of us, and after saying all this, I can only thank you for trying this and hope that you will continue to accept my admiration and respect for you as an artist, and my great feeling of warmth and friendship for you personally.