During last year’s pre-Cannes Manhattan stopover I caught a screening of Tony Zierra’s Filmworker, a doc about Leon Vitali, the one-time actor who served a Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand-man for roughly 20 years. Several days later it screened at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, under the Cannes Classics subsection. And then I sat down with Vitali and Zierra at the Grand Hotel. Now, ten months later, it’s been announced that Kino Lorber will open Filmworker at the Metrograph on 5.11, and at West L.A.’s Nuart on 5.18, “followed by a national rollout.”
And yet for some reason there’s no online trailer. Why? Where is it? Don’t tell me one hasn’t been cut.
My HE review was posted on 5.23.17: Tony Zierra‘s Filmworker, a 94-minute doc about the legendary Stanley Kubrick assistant and confidante Leon Vitali, is the juiciest and dishiest capturing of Stanley Kubrick‘s backstage life and career ever assembled. It’s about Vitali’s life, but by way of Kubrick’s. (Or is it the other way around?) 21 or 22 years of deep focus, late hours, nose to the grindstone, passion, obsession, total commitment and almost no days off, ever.
Vitali began working for The Great Stanley K. in various capacities a year before The Shining began shooting, and then stayed with him to the end (i.e., 3.7.99). Researcher, gopher, go-between, driver, casting assistant, print cataloguer and (after Kubrick’s death) restoration consultant. The film is a completely satisfying record and assessment of that servitude, that era, that history, that ongoing task.
The photos and behind-the-scenes film clips alone are worth the price, I can tell you. Great stuff. On top of which I was reminded that Vitali played not one but two roles in Kubrick films — Lord Bullington in Barry Lyndon (’75) and “Red Cloak” in Eyes Wide Shut (’99).
Vitali said to himself early on that he’d like to work for Kubrick. What he didn’t expect was that once that work began Kubrick would want Vitali at all hours, all the time…focus and submission without end. If the early sentiment was “I’d give my right arm to work for Stanley Kubrick.” Kubrick’s reply would be “why are you lowballing me? I want both arms, both legs, your trunk, your lungs, your spleen, your ass and of course your head, which includes your brain.”
Leon Vitali — star of Filmworker, Stanley Kubrick confidante and right-hand-man for 21 or 22 years, former actor and controversial aspect-ratio debater — and Vera Vitali, the Stockholm-residing actress, at Cannes Grand hotel last weekend.
Yes, Virginia — Stanley Kubrick was no day at the beach. Then again what highly driven, genius-level artist is?
But he was also a sweetheart at times, to hear it from Leon. It was just that Kubrick believed in trust and had no time for flakes, fractions or half-measures of any kind. His motto was that if you’re “in”, you should be in all the way. And Vitali was, obviously, and yet during those 21 years he worked on only three Kubrick films — The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. But that was Kubrick, a brilliant control freak who wound up eating himself in a certain sense.
I know what an immersive experience heavy research can be. I can become a thing in itself; you can get lost in it. Kubrick clearly did, and the result, I feel, were films that felt a little too exactingly and obsessively composed. Films that were studied and immaculate but at the same time didn’t breathe as good movies should. Which is why I’ve always preferred the younger, looser, somewhat less constricted Kubrick of ’56 to ’68 (The Killing, Paths of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001).
If you’ve any interest at all in Kubrick lore, Filmworker is absolutely essential.