Stuff To Read: ‘Stanley Kubrick: A Biography’ by Vincent LoBrutto

Well I have finished yet another pretty good book (I really don’t watch much TV anymore, especially not now that I’m blogging). I worked my way through ‘Stanley Kubrick: A Biography’ by Vincent LoBrutto and it was pretty good for a biography written by someone who did not have firsthand access to Kubrick. LoBrutto covers Kubrick from birth to about the time the filming of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (Kubrick’s last film) was to begin.

The book is extremely comprehensive and scholarly in its approach, but because of LoBrutto’s lack of access to Kubrick (and some people close to Kubrick), it drags in places. I found a section that describes pictures that Kubrick took for Look magazine to be a tough slog because it describes image after image with words, words that don’t readily evoke the image in one’s own mind.

There are personal details about Kubrick that don’t get addressed all that well, such as the reasons why Kubrick divorced his first and second wives. Also I thought the ‘Full Metal Jacket’ chapter is a little skimpy in comparison to chapters in which Kubrick’s ambitions to shoot a film about Napoleon (that would have starred Jack Nicholson as Napoleon) that were never fulfilled are discussed or for that matter chapters covering movies like ‘The Shining’ or ‘A Clockwork Orange’. I presume this is due to the few sources LoBrutto had available to him to about ‘Full Metal Jacket’, sources such as newspaper articles which I had independently and previously read. There is very little press material available for ‘Full Metal Jacket’ — Kubrick didn’t do press tours for it himself and very few journalists got the opportunity to interview Kubrick about the making of ‘Full Metal Jacket’

VDO of course gets a smallish mention. There is some pretty good discussion of the guidelines for the making of  audition videotapes for ‘Full Metal Jacket’, namely that Kubrick wanted his prospective Private Pyles to dress in a T-shirt and pants and a cap, to mention their contact information at the beginning of the tape (it’s called doing a slate in the acting and casting business) and that the length of the audition tape should be no more than 3 minutes long. 

VDO had his tape shot on wooden steps that were painted green (presumably to evoke the feel of the front steps of a military barracks), wore authentic Marine fatigues and a cap, and chose a monologue written for a rookie cop but modified it by omitting all the references to police work. It’s a prety safe inference that Kubrick noticed VDO’s attention to detail in VDO’s audition tape and that helped VDO win the part instead of thousands of other actors who auditioned.

Apparently the knee that VDO injures playing Pvt Pyle required surgery – Matthew Modine describes the day VDO’s knee gave out (it was in shooting one of the many PT sessions and the damage was audible!) in his ‘Full Metal Jacket Diary’, but he doesn’t discuss the surgery — perhaps that need for surgery helped Modine reconcile with VDO after the days of Modine and VDO not speaking to one another.

Finally an interview with Lee Ermey mentioned in the LoBrutto book says that Ermey was so intimidating to the other actors (Kubrick had deliberately kept Ermey away from the lead actors to keep the actors from becoming familiar with Ermey), that VDO blew several of his initial takes when Ermey got in his face. Ermey presumed that VDO had never had someone do so in quite the way Ermey did. Although VDO was a bouncer at the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC not long before doing ‘Full Metal Jacket’, I don’t think unruly patrons ever were hostile and belligerent in quite the way an authentic Marine drill instructor could be.

Overall, if you read this book, you won’t learn a lot about VDO. You will learn a fair amount about Kubrick, but I get the feeling that hardcore Kubrick fans already had access to the same information from other sources.

Still it’s way better than most of what’s on TV these days.

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