When I have interviewed documentary filmmakers, almost all of them tell me that they don’t go looking for subject matter for their films; their subject matter tends to find them. Nowhere is that maxim more apparent than in S is for Stanley, a documentary about legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick from writer/director Alex Infascelli.
In 2009, Infascelli was meeting with Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, when she mentioned Emilio D’Alessandro, a former Formula One race car driver who worked as her husband’s chauffeur and personal assistant for almost 30 years. D’Alessandro tells the story of his impromptu audition for Kubrick when he was called upon to transport a giant sculpture of a phallus through a snowstorm to deliver it to the set of A Clockwork Orange. In short order, he was serving as Kubrick’s personal driver, messenger, and pet sitter.
D’Allesandro relates stories of meeting Ryan O’Neal and Jack Nicholson during the productions of Barry Lyndon and The Shining. While his assessment of Kubrick’s actors is superficial at best, it’s fascinating to hear tales of a bygone era where film productions lasted two and three years as Kubrick agonized over every little detail that found its way to the screen.
Kubrick is well-known as a taskmaster and control freak who demanded total creative freedom to put his unique visions onscreen. His attention to detail is (at times) laughably evident in his relationship with his Italian assistant. The director showered D’Alessandro daily with handwritten notes concerning the minutiae of Kubrick’s life that needed tending while he was laboring on his films.
The only downside to the film is the unavoidably limited scope that’s baked into its premise. The subject matter guarantees that the film is comprised of talking head interviews, old photos and documents and memorabilia from the sets of Kubrick’s films. There is no archival footage of Kubrick interacting with D’Alessandro, and more importantly, no new video or audio footage of Kubrick discussing his films or his “process”.
However, despite this, S is for Stanley tells an interesting tale of the toll that creative genius can take not only on the artist himself, but on those who live with him and work for him. D’Alessandro’s wife was clearly troubled by Kubrick’s incessant requests for the services of her husband, and the chauffeur readily admits that all elements of his life were subservient to Kubrick’s needs. Yet a bond clearly formed between the two men, and the filmmaker was almost incapable of working if D’Alessandro was not by his side.
It’s difficult to determine what type of audience S is for Stanley will attract. Diehard Kubrick fans will find little here about the man that they didn’t already know. And if you’re not a Kubrick fan, then why are you watching this documentary to begin with? These criticisms aside, the film still provides a unique look at one of the true auteurs of cinema, and that alone makes it hard to ignore.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.