S is for Stanley is a documentary from director Alex Infascelli that concentrates on the life of Emilio D’Alessandro, legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant, driver, and most importantly, friend. It’s a film about Kubrick from only one viewpoint: Emilio’s. At first blush this sounds like it would hamstring the film and provide you with a limited picture; however, it ends up humanizing both Kubrick and Emilio and in the end is the best look into Kubrick’s life that I’ve ever seen.
The intimacy of the film sells it. We’re transported into Emilio’s life by framing the film around his garage, which functions as a nest of boxes and memorabilia that Emilio has pack ratted away (interestingly enough, imitating his friend Kubrick, a notorious pack rat). It’s dusty, small, and genuine – the lived in feeling of this setting translates to the rest of the film.
It also helps that Emilio is a joy. He’s a small man (dwarfed even by Tom Cruise), and he is gentle and funny and straightforward. Spending time with him talking about anything would be enjoyable, so even if you’re not a cinephile or Kubrick doesn’t interest you, sitting down with Emilio and listening to his stories should still be engaging.
Another strength of the film is the wealth of personal artifacts displayed, even the most mundane of which have been packed into boxes in Emilio’s garage. The most fascinating are the hand-written notes Kubrick left Emilio constantly. They range from banal requests for chores to bizarre nitpicking with incredible attention to detail. They show Kubrick’s control-freak nature, his dedication to work at the expense of all else, and his genuine affection (and reliance) on Emilio. You pick up many small details about Kubrick you never would have without these notes – things like how he has constant typos and misspellings, but goes back to proof them all.
As fascinating as it is, the documentary ends up bittersweet and genuinely moving. I connected on a strong level to the sacrifices both of these men made for their work, and their reliance on each other through the end of Kubrick’s life. It’s among the best films at Fantastic Fest this year, and among the best documentaries they’ve ever shown.