A trailer for Tony Zierra‘s Filmworker, a brilliant doc about the life and times of Leon Vitali, has finally surfaced. It’s been kicking around in my head for a full year, this film, and now the crescendo. Easily the juiciest and dishiest capturing of Stanley Kubrick‘s backstage life and career ever assembled. It’s about Vitali’s life, of course, 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. And that Vitali voice! A bassy creation made resonant by decades of cigarette-smoking, and really something to sink into.
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.”
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.