Spielberg to take on Napoleon

05:00 AM, Mar 14, 2013

Dierector Steven Spielberg (L) and actress Kate Capshaw arrive at the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)/

Written By Jack Garner

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg collaborated with the spirit of the late director Stanley Kubrick, when he made Kubrick’s unreleased film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, in 2001, two years after his death at 70.

Now comes word that Spielberg is set to bring Kubrick’s long discussed but never-filmed script on the life of Napoleon to television. Kubrick had hoped to make his intently researched portrait of Napoleon in the ’70s, and believed he would be making “the best movie ever made.” But he abandoned it when studio funding wasn’t forthcoming.

Spielberg, though, is working in collaboration with Kubrick’s family, and plans to refashion the script as a television miniseries.

That’s on top of the Lincoln director’s upcoming plans for a sci-fi film called Robopocalypse and a fifth Indiana Jones film, plus projects he’s producing with other directors — including a fourth Jurassic Park film, and two more Adventures of Tintin films, among others.

Meanwhile, I noticed some interesting things about Spielberg last week while watching an interview with the director, taped a few years ago for Inside the Actors Studio. In it, he told host James Lipton he always watches four specific films before he begins work on his next film: Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and John Ford’s The Searchers.

He also reported that as a young filmmaker, learning the trade, he would frequently watch classic films repeatedly, but with the sound off. That way, the visual techniques become more obvious, and better explain themselves. I suspect this is an exercise Spielberg learned from Orson Welles. Before making his debut film, Citizen Kane, the Hollywood rookie famously watched Ford’s Stagecoach 50 times, without sound.

SUSAN B. AND BUFFALO B. While recently reading the bestseller of a few years ago, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, my wife started giggling. When I asked why, she read a passage aloud. The book is non-fiction, but written in novelistic style, and it is centered at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Well, she read, Rochester’s own Susan B. Anthony was an eager attendee of the Fair. And, while she was there, the famed suffragette was confronted by a male member of a group of religious zealots who believed the Fair should not be open on the Sabbath.

Deploying the most shocked analogy he could muster, the clergyman asked Anthony if she’d prefer having a son of hers attend Buffalo Bill’s show on Sunday (at the Fair) instead of church. Yes, she replied, ‘he would learn far more …’ To the pious this exchange confirmed the fundamental wickedness of Anthony’s suffragist movement.”

Larson writes that when Buffalo Bill Cody heard of the exchange he was “tickled,” sent Anthony a thank-you note, and invited her to a box seat at his show at the Fair. The night she came, Cody rode in dramatically, right up to her box, took off his hat, and made a gallant, sweeping bow on horseback. Larson continues, “Anthony stood and returned the bow and — ‘enthusiastically as a girl,’ a friend said — waved her handkerchief at Cody.

Larson adds that the moment signified “one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future.” He adds that the exchange brought a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd.

Leonardo DiCaprio has the rights to Larson’s book, though no movie is yet in production. And, of course, there’s no way to know if this wonderful moment will make it into any film that might get made.

WHITE HOUSE ENVELOPE. A reader told me this week she once worked for Price Waterhouse, the firm that so famously and carefully guards the envelopes that contain the names of Oscar winners. And she knows, as do most of us who’ve often watched the Academy Awards, that two employees from the firm are backstage in Los Angeles and present each envelope to each presenter. So, she asked, how did Michelle Obama get the envelope in Washington to announce Argo as the best picture winner?

According to the Los Angeles Times and other ex-post-facto press reports, the Michele Obama appearance was a carefully kept secret for a few weeks. They had hoped to get the First Lady to the Oscar ceremony, but she was required in Washington that night for a dinner with the nation’s governors. So, a trusted employee of Price-Waterhouse was dispatched to the White House on Oscar night to personally hand the envelope to Mrs. Obama. Reportedly, Jack Nicholson had a duplicate of the envelope in L.A., which he could open in case of a technical problem.

Interestingly, the White House even waived its hard-and-fast rule that envelopes coming into the White House be vetted. All involved have said Mrs. Obama opened the envelope herself, on camera, and live.