Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: 'Stanley Kubrick and Me'

In late 1970, a former formula-one race car driver and current minicab driver received an assignment to deliver a large porcelain phallus to a movie set in Thamesmead. The driver was Emilio D’Alessandro. The sculpture would end up being used by Malcolm McDowell as a murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange. The film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, would end up hiring D’Alessandro as his driver. Despite strict British Union rules, that job also entailed being Kubrick’s personal maid, librarian, TV repairman, deliveryman, shopper, translator (for conversations with Federico Fellini!), veterinarian, dog groomer, tour guide for when his parents were in town, condom smuggler, and defender against everyone who believed the myths that Kubrick was a tyrant or a whack job.

Eighteen years after Kubrick’s death, Emilio D’Alessandro continues to serve in that latter role with his new memoir Stanley Kubrick and Me. Kubrick’s infamously demanding nature is on full display in this book, and D’Alessandro is frank about the strain his 24-hour-a-day work schedule put on his own marriage, but the author never has an unkind word to say about the legendary filmmaker. Consequently, Stanley Kubrick and Me serves a valuable function in the already massive Kubrick bibliography by truly humanizing the legend. Through D’Alessandro’s stories we learn of Kubrick’s tendency to be scatterbrained despite his reputation for being robotically methodical, helpless despite his reputation for being in complete control of his work, and utterly dependent on fellow humans despite his reputation for making chilly films about dehumanization. We get a very intimate look at Kubrick’s love for animals, and the only thing that really makes him lose his shit is when something goes wrong with one of his many pets. We learn of his extreme generosity, such as when he offers to care for D’Alessandro’s children after the driver’s wife loses her father and falls ill. We also learn about the limitations of Kubrick’s thoughtfulness. He calls D’Alessandro at all hours of the day for assistance and is baffled when another employee quits because of the job’s demands. Kubrick assumed that everyone was as devoted to work as he was. He could also be a real pain in the ass to his wife and daughters and possessed a wealth of quirks. D’Alessandro confirms the rumors that Kubrick was paranoid about journalists leaking his ideas and other filmmakers (such as Federico Fellini!) stealing them. Kubrick thought it strange that D’Alessandro wasn’t related to Francis Ford Coppola since they are both Italian. He was an incorrigible pack rat and a massive Danny DeVito fan. Kubrick’s love for and dependence on the author is also on full display and it makes for some truly touching moments.

With the assistance of writer Fillippo Uliovieri, D’Alessandro tells his stories without an ounce of pretension, and the charming, regular-guy simplicity of the storytelling further emphasizes the main thrust of Stanley Kubrick and Me: Kubrick was extraordinary in multitudinous ways, but when it comes down to it, he was still pretty down-to-earth and a real, flesh-and-blood human being.
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