Tony Zierra’s documentary about longtime Kubrick confidante Leon Vitali is a moving tribute to one man’s devotion to another man’s vision
Filmworker delves into decades of archival footage and oral histories provided by Leon Vitali, who went from a rising star in British TV and stage to a supporting player in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Upon meeting the director, Vitali turned his ambitions to behind the camera–becoming one of Kubrick’s trusted confidants through the rest of the director’s life. From The Shining all the way to Eyes Wide Shut and beyond, Filmworker is as much a story of one man’s devotion to his hero as it is to the movies they created together. It also laboriously documents decades’ worth of immense sacrifice — from a promising acting career to endless amounts of sleep, health, and sanity. As dedicated “filmworker” for Stanley Kubrick, Leon Vitali remarks on how people would give their right arm to work for the celebrated director, he muses that Kubrick would reply, “You’re lowballing me — just the right arm?”
Featuring a king’s ransom of archival footage, personal notes, and interviews with major stars both living and departed, Filmworker has the kind of access that film lovers dream of and filmmakers greatly envy. Anecdotes from Vitali are corroborated and heightened throughout by R. Lee Ermey, Matthew Modine, Ryan O’Neal, Stellan Skarsgård, and Danny Lloyd, as well as Vitali’s copious journals of on-set requests and demands across all of Kubrick’s films, which brought him in contact with studio higher-ups and industry heads all over the globe. What’s most impressive in Filmworker isn’t the breadth of work that Vitali assisted Kubrick on — it’s the near-superhuman stamina that Vitali had as just one person. I mean, here’s the guy who’d test thousands of children to find Danny Torrance and the Grady twins in The Shining, moved on to sound-effect foley and artillery cataloguing for Full Metal Jacket, played multiple masked roles in Eyes Wide Shut, and on to every single bit of detail checks and restorations for Kubrick’s filmography on home video even after Kubrick had long since passed away. And that’s when Vitali wasn’t accounting for the logistics of so many other aspects of the filmmaker’s creative process.
But even as the unimaginable stress seems to have taken its toll on him through the years, Vitali never has a feeling of ill will towards the man — rather, Vitali is as much of a Kubrick fan as the director’s biggest die-hard devotees. Vitali relishes every aspect of the filmmaking experience–even the ones that others in the industry never gave a second thought about (trailer dubbing edits, home video release margins and store displays, etc.). There’s an endless fascination at the core of Vitali, one that compliments his powerful zen-like ethos of satisfaction in the journey of the creative process rather than any of its end results.
Complimented by their release of Bob Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kino Lorber’s release of Filmworker hits Blu-ray in an impressive package for Kubrick and cinema lovers alike.
Kino Lorber’s release of Filmworker is presented in a 1080p HD transfer in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, accompanied by a 5.1-Channel DTS-HD master audio track as well as a 2.0 stereo track. English subtitles are provided solely for the main feature.
The combination of media featured in Filmworker is presented as crisply as possible, with a clear digital definition to present-day interviews, and a healthy film grain to Vitali’s collection of behind-the-scenes materials. Some digital artifacting is present in some archival footage, but such imperfections are negligible — especially in the context of the film’s journey of a man whose perfectionism was necessary to the success of his work. Almost as if the reason why some footage looks better than others is due to Vitali’s own diligence — and other filmmakers suffer from his absence as a result.
- Q&A with Leon Vitali and Director Tony Zierra: A short yet informal Q&A between Filmworker’s director and subject discussing the origins of the documentary and the gradual building of trust for Leon to candidly share his memories of working with Kubrick.
- Trailers for Filmworker and The Kid Stays in the Picture.
Filmworker is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.