While the great Stanley Kubrick had a fairly modest output over his long career (13 movies in 46 years), there’s little doubt that he’s considered to be one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. Filmworker takes a close look at the second half of his career through the eyes of someone who was involved intimately in it, his trusted colleague and friend Leon Vitali.
Filmworker follows Vitali’s journey primarily, but his life parallels that of Kubrick nicely because Vitali became Kubrick’s right-hand man in the seventies. The documentary tells, in Vitali’s own words, how he came to find himself deeply entrenched in the Kubrick camp. Vitali recalls longing to work with the director after seeing A Clockwork Orange, getting his chance a few years later as an actor in Barry Lyndon, and eventually winding up doing pretty much anything and everything from casting to color correction on Kubrick’s movies. Vitali was even hand picked by the Kubrick estate to put the finishing touches on Eyes Wide Shut when the director passed away right after the edit was finalized.
Although Filmworker is essentially Vitali’s story, it’s also Kubrick’s story as told by Vitali. Director Tony Zierra (My Big Break) spent a lot of time with Vitali, not only collecting stories and anecdotes, but also capturing him going through his collection of Kubrick memorabilia. Actually, Vitali is more of a hoarder than a collector, since he seems to have kept every notebook, memo, or post-it note that he ever acquired while working with Kubrick. His thoroughness is the audience’s gain, though, because it provides a fascinating inside look at how Kubrick made his movies from a man who earned his way into the filmmaker’s inner circle.
However, Filmworker is not all Vitali. Zierra also secured interviews with other people who worked with Vitali and Kubrick in order to add a neutral point of view to Vitali’s Kubrick-worship. The most recognizable faces are actors Ryan O’Neal (who starred with Vitali in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon), R. Lee Ermey (whom Vitali coached in acting for Full Metal Jacket), and Matthew Modine (another Full Metal Jacket star), but the most insightful interview is with Danny Lloyd, who played the young boy Danny in The Shining. Vitali not only cast Lloyd in the film but served as his handler on set, to the point where whenever Danny is seen running onscreen, Vitali is probably running just out of frame with him. Lloyd, who retired from acting at the age of 9, comes off in his interview as grateful for having Vitali around, almost as if Vitali shielded him from Kubrick’s legendary ire.
Fans of Stanley Kubrick’s later movies, basically those from Barry Lyndon on, are going to love FIlmworker. Between Vitali’s behind-the-scenes accounts, the interviews with other players, and the copious amounts of archival footage and photographs, the movie serves as an entertaining time capsule of a cinematic genius. And behind every genius is a man who is trusted to do things the right way, always hanging in the background until he’s needed. For Stanley Kubrick, that man was his film worker Leon Vitali. And Leon Vitali wouldn’t have had it any other way.