Director Tony Zierra’s 2017 documentary, Filmworker is a brilliant film which looks at the relationship between Stanley Kubrick and Leon Vitali, the actor who became Kubrick’s right-hand man after they met on the set of the 1975 film Barry Lyndon. It’s a fascinating insight into Kubrick’s filmmaking process as well as a powerful character study of the charismatic Vitali.
Vitali had a promising career as an actor on British television when he was cast in Barry Lyndon opposite Ryan O’Neal (Kubrick was so impressed by him that his role kept getting bigger). Vitali was mesmerised by Kubrick’s on-set methods and he ditched acting to work behind the camera. In the end, he would do everything and anything for the iconic auteur, from checking the prints of re-releases and video transfers to helping cast his features. The film’s title comes from what Vitali would fill-out for the occupation section on his visa applications when travelling – the reason being that he did so many jobs on and off set that he was much more than just ‘assistant to director’.
A love story sits at the centre of Filmworker – a strong platonic bond between Kubrick and Vitali. Vitali talks about his first meeting with Kubrick and the energy that passed between them, however it wasn’t always plain sailing. The director was a harsh taskmaster, often berating Vitali and working him to the bone (even calling him on Christmas day!). The thing is – Vitali didn’t mind, he adored his master (Matthew Modine says that he was like an Igor character on the set of Full Metal Jacket). Vitali fell ill following Kubrick’s death in 1999 and he was ultimately sidelined from Warner Bros and Kubrick’s estate as time when on.
At first sight Vitali may come across as a cartoonish character (Mick Jaggger by way of Captain Jack Sparrow) but the man has detail and knowledge to fill a dozen Kubrick documentaries. Filmworker started off as a film about Kubrick’s final endeavour, Eyes Wide Shut and Leon Vitali was just one of the people which Zierra was going to interview. Once Vitali started talking, the director knew that he had something else altogether, that there was another story at the core to what Vitali had to say.
Filmworker runs a tight 90 minute, but you’ll be left eager to hear more tales from Leon Vitali after the credits roll. This is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to do a deep dive into the career of Stanley Kubrick.