stanley kubrick at home -- 11/13/20

Today's selection -- from Stanley Kubrick by David Mikics. The director Stanley Kubrick’s home life:

"In 1980, a few months before The Shining opened in New York on May 23, Kubrick moved from Abbots Mead into a very large house on 172 acres in Childwickbury, just north of St. Albans, about an hour's drive from London. The sprawling grounds included a block of stables, two ponds, servants' cot­tages, a park, a rose garden, and a cricket pitch. The manorial setup was ideal for Kubrick's needs. The stables became offices and cutting rooms, and nearby was a gun club where he could do his target shooting.

"'Childwickbury Manor wasn't so much a big house as a collection of rooms randomly added onto a narrow Georgian building,' Kubrick's driver, Emilio D' Alessandro, remembered. There were 129 rooms in all, and Kubrick told D'Alessandro to make four copies of each room key. 'We need one for me, one for you, one for Christiane, and a spare copy, just in case all three of us lose the same key,' he said.

"Kubrick's office was in Childwickbury Manor's Red Room (shades of The Shining!). He liked to hole up there and devour books, wearing his usual household uniform: tennis shoes, baggy threadbare pants, and shirts with lots of pockets, some of them ink-stained. The pockets were for little notebooks that he bought by the dozens at W H. Smith, the stationery store in St. Albans. Kubrick still dressed like the same messy Green­wich Village bohemian he had been in the fifties. When he was on set and it was cold enough, he liked to wear a military jacket and an anorak over his rumpled shirt and trousers.

Childwickbury Manor

"Kubrick's beard was getting shaggier, and he had become noticeably more portly. He enjoyed being something of a Jew­ish Santa Claus during Christmas season, welcoming the chil­dren of St. Albans, who were allowed to pick out a Christmas tree from a heap of them he had cut and ready from his grounds. 'Thank you, Mr. Kubrick,' the children recited. Like many New York Jews of his generation, Kubrick loved Christmas.

"Along with the Kubrick family, Childwickbury housed a collection of pet dogs and cats. Kubrick loved the animals and worried incessantly when one of them fell sick. ('If the cat was sick he would drop everything and talk to the vet and tell him "We will do so-and-so," and argue with him,' Christiane re­membered.) D'Alessandro, originally hired as Kubrick's driver, became an impromptu veterinarian, as well as a handyman, technician, gardener, builder, and errand boy.

"Kubrick's employees loved him, but he was taxing to work for. 'Stanley kind of ate you up,' Leon Vitali admitted. Like D'Alessandro, Vitali worked sixteen hours a day for Kubrick, whose demands often seemed endless. Andros Epaminondas, who was Kubrick's assistant for ten years, quit in 1980, worn out by the pressure, so Vitali had to labor harder than ever. He fielded phone calls from Warner Bros, tussled with distribu­tors, theater owners, and advertisers, and painstakingly super­vised the prints of Kubrick's films. Kubrick insisted that Vitali watch as many prints as he could to make sure they were as flawless as possible. When Vitali restored some of Kubrick's movies for Blu-ray years after the director's death, he was well prepared: he had seen them hundreds of times.

"Kubrick drove Vitali and D'Alessandro hard, but he cared about them, and they stayed loyal. He couldn't do without them, and he made sure they knew that. 'He was always so kind to me that I couldn't say no to him,' D' Alessandro said. Vitali's love and appreciation for Kubrick shine through the moving documentary Filmworker, which covers Vitali's years as the di­rector's assistant.

"Ever the control freak, Kubrick liked to tell people both on and off the set, 'Don't touch anything until you've read the instructions!' The zero-gravity toilet in 2001, with its lengthy set of directions, is Kubrick's joke about his own penchant for writing step-by-step guidelines. At the Childwickbury house he explained what to do in case of fire, for example (two solid pages, including much detail about how to rescue the animals). On the set, Kubrick the doctor's son liked to give medical ad­vice. 'He was certain that he was a good doctor,' Christiane recalled, 'and would drive people crazy telling them to take pills of one kind or another. He would explain to the women who worked on the set what to do about a difficult menstrual period -- "Don't eat salt, eat this and this" -- and would walk away, his cigarette leaving a trail of smoke.'

"Kubrick needed to have his wife and daughters close by at Childwickbury. He had traditional ideas about a father's role, and was at times a quizzical interrogator of his daughters' boy­friends. 'You're kidding, right?' he asked his stepdaughter Katharina after talking to one of her dates. A crisis came when Katharina decided at age thirty that she wanted to leave the house and live in London. (She was getting married to a caterer named Phil Hobbs, who later worked as a producer on Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.) Later, Anya, who was six years younger, decided to leave as well. 'Why are they doing this to me?' Kubrick asked D'Alessandro.

"Surrounded by his family, his employees, and his pets, a busy hive of activity, Kubrick was the reverse of a hermit. He liked to cook for his daughters and for guests, and could even be seen doing the laundry. And he was perpetually on the phone. Kubrick loved to talk to Warner Bros executives John Calley, Terry Semel, and Julian Senior, as well as Ken Adam, Spielberg, and other Hollywood insiders. He called his sister Barbara nearly every night. The director John Milius remarked, 'Stan­ley had no regard for time. He'd call you in the middle of the night, whenever he felt like calling. I'd say, "Stanley, it's the middle of the night." He'd say, "You're awake, aren't you?" He'd never talk for less than an hour. He just had all kinds of things to discuss -- everything.'"



David Mikics


Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker


Yale University Press


Copyright 2020 David Mikics


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