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Filmworker (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 9, 2020



Featuring Leon Vitali, Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Danny Lloyd, Stellan Skarsgård, Marie Richardson, Tim Colceri, Brian Capron, Pernilla August, Julian Senior, Lisa Leone, Brian Jamieson, Chris Jenkins, Nick Redman, Ned Price, Steve Southgate, Treva Etienne, Mike Alfreds, Warren Lieberfarb, Colin Mossman, Jacob Rosenberg, Phil Rosenthal, Max Vitali, Vera Vitali, Masha Vitali, Janet Wilson, Beverly Wood, Chris Vitali, Tim Vitali, Maria Hayward and archival footage of Stanley Kubrick.

Directed by Tony Zierra.

Distributed by Kino Lorber. 93 minutes. Not Rated.

Leon Vitali seemed to have a great future ahead of him. He had a promising career as an actor; working in theater, on TV and in film. Just when he had received his biggest role yet, he chucked it all to work 24/7 as an assistant (some might say indentured servant) for a complete perfectionist with a massive temper.

A perfectionist named Stanley Kubrick.

Vitali was a fan of the master filmmaker since his childhood when he was entranced by the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Therefore, Vitali thought that he had hit the jackpot when he got a substantial supporting role in the filmmaker’s 1975 film Barry Lyndon. He befriended the big guy, who enjoyed his acting and even beefed up his role.

Then Kubrick offered him the chance to watch things behind the scenes, eventually making the guy a jack-of-all-trades on set. Vitali did everything for Kubrick – casting, filming, dolly, editing, sound, restoration, making trailers, location scouting, even cleaning up bathrooms, caring for his pets and picking up his dry cleaning. Vitali even eventually acted again a little, playing like nine different roles (all behind masks) in Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.

The problem is, Kubrick only made three films in the 20-some years that Vitali worked behind the scenes for the master before Kubrick’s death – four if you count Barry Lyndon, with Vitali on set but in front of the camera. Honestly, those four films for the most part are considered some of Kubrick’s weaker and more self-indulgent work. Only Full Metal Jacket was critically acclaimed upon release. The Shining was met with critical derision and was considered a massive box-office bust when it first came out, though through the years it has gotten a big cult following. (I still consider the film a very intriguing near miss artistically.) And the less said the better about Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut.

Most of the truly great Kubrick films were already well in the past when Vitali hooked up with Kubrick – including classics like Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus, Lolita and The Killing. And while, yes, Vitali was involved with the conservation, video conversion and rereleases of these classic films, he did not actually work on them.

Since we mostly see Vitali’s life in this film through the prism of what he did for Kubrick – and what he sacrificed to work 18-hour days, seven days a week – this lack of intriguing projects somewhat limits the interest of this film for film scholars. I mean, really, how much passion can you work up about the foreign VHS box artwork?

However, the film is fascinating because of how completely Vitali immersed himself into his work. The man devoted himself body and soul for over 20 years just because he believed that Kubrick was a genius and he was honored to be touched by greatness. He felt that he was of more use to humanity and the arts to let himself be a vessel to help a true visionary get his work out.

He barely slept, had few days off if any, only traveled for business, and did anything and everything that Kubrick asked of him without complaint, or resistance. Sometimes he even seems to have a little bit of battered-spouse syndrome when discussing what happened – for example he acknowledged in Filmworker that when Kubrick blew his top, the best thing to do was to step back, not to engage or argue, and just let the guy yell himself out.

However, Vitali is a very engaging host and has some very interesting behind-the-scenes insights. The title of this documentary is how Vitali sees himself, merely a worker, a tool which helped to bring Kubrick’s imagination to celluloid. Since we will never see a movie with Kubrick about his artistic process, this is probably the next best thing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: May 25, 2018.

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