Film Scott Phillips' Film Reviews

Film Review: Filmworker

Kubrick-related Documentary Explores a Strange Friendship Based on Obsession and Art


Loyalty is in short supply in 2018. Relationships are severed with a single tweet. You can de-friend and unfollow people with the click of a button. We live in a world of snap judgments, an ever-changing, unstable social landscape where our circles of friends and co-workers redefine themselves daily. The only constant is change itself.

Given that context, the relationship depicted in Filmworker, the new documentary from Tony Zierra, seems down-right anachronistic. Leon Vitali is a classically-trained British actor who landed a part in Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 historical epic.  After the production wrapped, Vitali stayed in touch with the master auteur, and their minor friendship morphed into a life-long professional relationship. Vitali left the stage and screen behind to devote his career to bringing Kubrick’s cinematic visions to life.

Over the decades that followed, Vitali assisted Kubrick with casting, location scouting, film editing, designing home video packaging, and ultimately became the film curator for Kubrick’s estate. The director was notoriously hands-on, delegating very little of his pre- and post-production responsibilities.  If Kubrick did collaborate, however, it was with Leon Vitali.

Filmworker is a dream come true for Kubrick fans. The film offers behind-the-scenes footage and photographs, interviews with actors and executives and incessant minutiae about Kubrick’s productions. Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey and Danny Lloyd discuss the making of Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and The Shining. Film nerds will revel in the discussions of color timing film prints and arguing over the correct aspect ratios of Kubrick’s films.

But Filmworker is much more than a hodge-podge of Kubrick trivia.  A portrait of loyalty emerges. The film becomes the tale of the obsessive genius and his assistant who works tirelessly to maximize Kubrick’s talent for the sake of the art. Production assistants and fans alike told Vitali that they would give their right arms to work with the legendary auteur, and he responded that Kubrick would ask why you’re low-balling him.  He’ll want the other arm and your legs, too.

And the interviews with Vitali’s friends and family bear that statement out. We hear about the promising acting career he abandoned, the children who rarely saw him and the manner in which he was snubbed over the years by the entertainment establishment. So why did he do it?  Why did he spend his life in near servitude to a filmmaker?

The answer lies in the way Vitali looks at a restored print of 2001: A Space Odyssey or perfectly mouths the dialogue to an audio remix of The Shining. Film was his religion. Day-to-day Vitali served a man, but his legacy is his contribution to his beloved art form: cinema. Vitali spent over thirty years in Kubrick’s employ. You should spend ninety minutes and experience his story.

Filmworker opens in Landmark theaters across the U.S. on June 1, 2018.


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