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6

Book Review

May 2017

V I D E O A G E

By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

M

uch has been written about Stanley

Kubrick — the director of such

masterpieces as

Dr. Strangelove

,

A

Clockwork Orange

,

Full Metal Jacket

and

The

Shining

—about hismeticulous attention todetail,

his obsession with technology, his unhurried

approach to making movies, his perfectionism,

his reclusiveness, his eccentricity — but little is

truly known about the man himself.

In

Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at His

Side

(Arcade Publishing, 2016, 357 pgs., $27.99),

the auteur’s long-time personal assistant Emilio

D’Alessandro (along with an assist from co-writer

Filippo Ulivieri, a film theory teacher and Italy’s

foremost Kubrick expert) aims to change that by

painting a vivid picture of a man recognized by

all, but only truly known to a few. (The Italian

version of the book was released in 2012. It was

translated into English by Simon Marsh and

rereleased last year.)

D’Alessandro, a one-time racecar driver, met

the director by chance in the early 1970s while

working as a minicab driver in London, where

they both lived. Kubrick immediately took a

liking to the unassuming Italian immigrant, who

after a period of financial hardship, was willing

to do anything to stay afloat and support his

family. And if that meant working 20-hour days

for a creative genius with increasingly strange

demands, then so be it.

He did a little bit of everything for Kubrick —

from ferrying the director about town to shopping

for his household to basic plumbing to moving

furniture to taking care of scores of animals

to scouting locations for movies and so much

more. D’Alessandro was so capable and learned

so quickly to anticipate the quirky director’s

needs that he rapidly became an essential part of

Kubrick’s daily life.

He proved to be so indispensable to Kubrick that

the director repeatedly asked him to uproot his

family and move them onto the Kubrick property

— to be closer to the action. But D’Alessandro

turned him down each and every time, wanting

to hold onto a small part of his individuality —

even while he spent more and more time catering

to Kubrick’s every waking whim.

But it wasn’t because Kubrick wasn’t a good

man. He was kindhearted and generous

—D’Alessandro makes that clear. He cared

about his family, his friends and his staff. When

D’Alessandro’s son was horribly injured in a car

accident and needed to have his leg amputated,

Kubrick offered whatever assistance was

required. He paid D’Alessandro well, constantly

giving him raises when he worried he was

working him too hard or too long. He even offered

jobs to D’Alessandro’s daughter and cousin, surely

helping to propel them forward in their chosen

professions. But as the author also makes sure to

spell out, Kubrick was one weird dude. One weird

dude who would call D’Alessandro at all hours of

the day and night for matters ranging from the

important to the inane.

While he had three daughters with his wife,

painter Christiane Kubrick, the director seemed

to worry the most about the many, many animals

— including dogs, cats, birds, donkeys (yes,

donkeys) and other wild animals or strays — that

found their way onto his property.

“Stanley’s love for animals was limitless,

bordering on the preposterous, and was extended

unconditionally to all living creatures,” writes

D’Alesssandro. “He would even have taken a bee

that had hit his head against thewindow to the vet.”

When ants invaded the kitchen via a drain, a

gardener suggested using insecticide to get rid

of them. “‘I don’t want to kill the ants; I just want

to get rid of them,’” he told his right-hand man.

D’Alessandro suggested pouring boiling water

down the drain. And while this seemed to be

a more acceptable solution for Kubrick, he still

couldn’t stay around to see what became of the

insects. “‘I’m going to my office,’” he’s quoted as

saying. “‘I don’t even want to watch.’”

A larger portion of this book than most readers

would expect is devoted to Kubrick’s feline

friends, who were so beloved they even had

their very own room at Childwickbury, a manor

house in Hertfordshire that Kubrick purchased in

1978. When one cat, Victoria, became ill in 1996,

Kubrick even sent D’Alessandro to the veterinary

clinic with explicit instructions.

“‘Go and take some photos of Victoria. I want to

see if she’s happy. Take a photo of the plate when

they feed her, and one when she’s eating, and

another when she’s finished. Keep taking photos

for about twenty minutes, and don’t use the flash

because it startles her. Keep one at the end for the

vet. I want to have a good look at her face.’”

And Kubrick’s peculiarities weren’t only

reserved for animals. “Stanley absolutely adored

string,” writes D’Alessandro. “He used it to tie up

just about everything. He couldn’t stand it when

objects moved or swayed, so he did everything

he could to tie them down: chairs tied to other

chairs, filing cabinets tied to each other. Even

the plywood panels on top of the cabinets to

stop the cats from peeing on them had two holes

in each side so that they could be fixed in place

with… string. Things like this, which were of no

importance to the world in general but were of

vital importance to Stanley, justified a phone call

during the night or on those rare Sundays off he

gave me.” D’Alessandro took to hiding balls of

string in random locations throughout the house

so that if he had already gone home, he wouldn’t

have to return to his place of work in order to

locate something as silly as a ball of string.

And it wasn’t just string that Kubrick misplaced.

“One evening, it must have been at least eleven,

I’d just got home when the phone rang. ‘Yes,

Stanley…’ It could only have been him at that

time of night.” The director couldn’t locate his

wedding ring and wanted D’Alessandro—who

had only just returned home after a full day of

work—to come back “and empty out the vacuum

cleaner to see if it’s in there.” Having worked

for the man for so long, D’Alessandro knew that

it was probably just stuffed deep into one of the

pockets of the many-pocketed

Full Metal Jacket

-

type military coats Kubrick liked to wear. He

instructed the director to slowly go through each

and every pocket, positive it would eventually

turn up. And sure enough it did. It always did.

Each and every time it happened.

These sorts of personal anecdotes are golden.

They help to create a rich portrait of the intensely

private man who helmed such deeply bizarre

films as

Eyes Wide Shut

. They help to humanize a

man who came off in the press as enigmatic and

a little cold.

D’Alessandro seemed to get used to being

called at all hours. He didn’t even seem to mind it

(although his wife certainly did). He loved Kubrick

like one loves an oddball uncle. You humor them

when you need to. And you cater to themwhen you

need to. And you never take them too seriously.

D’Alessandro was absolutely devastated when

Kubrick died suddenly shortly after finishing

Eyes

Wide Shut

in 1999 (yet, ever the dutiful servant,

the first thing he did at hearing the news was to

run back to Childwickbury to make sure that the

animals were fed, which is what Stanley would

have wanted).

Duringthe funeral service,D’Alessandrowrites: “I

looked at Stanley, but I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t

be him. It was the end, the end of everything. He’d

left me; he’d left me; he had left me.”

Stanley Kubrick and Me

is a fascinating look

at the life and times of an eccentric man whose

filmmaking genius knew no bounds, but who

seemed baffled by the normal things in life

— how and where to purchase dog food, for

example. His assistant, D’Alessandro, was the

exact opposite—a thoroughly ordinary man who

sheepishly admitted to the director that he didn’t

truly understand his films, but who was eager to

do all the mundane tasks required of him so that

his boss could focus all his energy on creating art

that millions of people would cherish.

Kubrick may have been weird, but he was

wonderful too. D’Alessandro wanted this story

told so that the world could get to know the man

that he knew. And like him, be better for having

known him.

Shining

a Light on Stanley Kubrick

By a Writer in The Driver’s Seat