Stanley Kubrick is arguably the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. He made films in all genres and indelibly stamped his own genius on the films he adapted and created for the big screen. His work contains a litany of iconic images, searing soundtracks, stupendous performances, great intelligence and provocative thought which ensures his films linger in the memory of those who have witnessed them. All hail a true cinematic master.
But, while Kubrick is famous – or infamous depending on your point-of-view – for his meticulous perfection and incredible cinematic vision he did not work alone. He had an array of film technicians, cinematographers, designers, researchers, editors and assistants who slaved for him on his various projects. One such individual was self-confessed filmworker, Leon Vitali. He was a rising star in the acting profession and subsequently cast in Kubrick’s classic period drama Barry Lyndon (1975). Yet, having seemingly fallen under the spell of Kubrick’s omnipotent charisma and incredible vision he offered his assistance on Kubrick’s next production. So taken was he with the great man he was prepared to take any role available. Turning his back on acting – save for the occasional supporting role in the director’s work – Leon would become a faithful servant to the all-powerful Master.
Director Tony Zierra has crafted a very insightful, informative and touching documentary about both Leon Vitali and the filmmaking process. It reaches beyond the lights, camera and action of movie-making to dig deep into the dark recesses of Kubrick’s creative work which involved, for many: long sleepless nights, obsessive attention to detail, Sisyphean research and the occasional nervous breakdown. Vitali, himself, lived on the edge of insomnia while contributing to such film classics as The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
Vitali proves a fascinating character who, during his interviews, reveals a dedication, poignancy, love and sense of grief in regard to his working relationship with Kubrick. Indeed, Vitali seems to not have recovered from Kubrick’s passing following the completion of Eyes Wide Shut (1999); due to a seeming lack of recognition for Vitali’s contribution from Warner Brothers and the Kubrick Estate. Overall, I was completely drawn into this sensitive soul’s story of a man who seemed lost without his Master.
But this is not a negative or tragic documentary. It is instead a celebration of creative arts and the Vitali’s contribution to Kubrick’s life-work. His tasks were legion and included assisting with casting, overseeing artwork and film festival releases, pre-production, stills photography; and acting as Kubrick’s studio conduit when he wanted to lambast someone. Filmworker features many interviews, notably from Vitali but also: Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Phil Rosenthal, Pernilla August, Stellan Skarsgard, Danny Lloyd (all grown-up) and many, many more interesting people. They provide rounded commentary to Vitali’s contribution and their experience within the film industry; and more importantly the working process of Stanley Kubrick. Indeed, many of these anecdotes were very humorous and provided a real insight into the director’s way of working.
Zierra spoke eruditely after the screening to revealing his desire to represent the unheralded under-dogs within the film industry. He is very successful in doing so as he presents a touching tribute to one such under-dog in Leon Vitali. Ultimately, Filmworker is a documentary about filmmaking, obsession and the lesser known people working behind the camera. It is highly recommended for fans of Stanley Kubrick and people who are intrigued by the filmmaking process. Most of all, it stands as a fine tribute to the dedication of Leon Vitali; bringing him out of the shadows and into the light, giving him the credit he deserves for his excellent film work.
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