Filmworker is a documentary by Tony Zierra based on the life and career of Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man: Leon Vitali.
Vitali had made a name for himself in British film and Television, with no shortage of job offers. On being selected for the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, the 27 year old was star struck at meeting the maverick director. Meanwhile Kubrick saw something in Vitali and created a space for him to fill. Though this began with the role in the film, it soon expanded to become much more than that.
Incredible that as much as Kubrick offered an opportunity to the young actor, Vitali felt that he should take such a leap into devoting his time to the director. The youngest of four, losing his father while still in primary school must have been enormously heartbreaking, and his desire to become Kubrick’s protege suggests that there was a need in his life for that type of dynamic. However, it is staggering to discover the lengths he went to to be of service to Kubrick – dogsbody; messenger; editor; bodyguard; personal attendant, on call 24/7. Herein lies the reason he would state ‘Filmworker’ as his job title. He saw himself in service not to Stanley Kubrick, but to the films of Stanley Kubrick – an abstract concept. Vitali witnessed the genius of the director, and devoted his whole career to seeing it realised.
Filmworker maintains a good balance between archival footage and talking heads, with much of the narrative coming directly from Vitali. Kubrick fans will enjoy various behind the scenes disclosures, and although there are no huge surprises, it is pleasing to hear Vitali’s memories of events in vivid detail. Equally, newcomers to the director’s work will not be put off by too much insider jargon or unnecessary spoilers.
For the time since Kubrick’s death in 1999 Vitali has existed as custodian of what remains. His passion never extinguished, although more than a few have tried to snuff it out. He has overseen 4k reproductions of the Kubrick back catalogue while some have sought to leave him out of the picture entirely (see Kubrick retrospective).
The unanswerable question that hangs over the whole documentary is this: How did Kubrick view his relationship with Vitali? To play such an important part in the making of iconic films such as The Shining and Full Metal Jacket, yet be left struggling to get by after the director’s death certainly gives pause.
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