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Filmworker review - a life dedicated to Stanley Kubrick | reviews, news & interviews

Filmworker review - a life dedicated to Stanley Kubrick

Filmworker review - a life dedicated to Stanley Kubrick

Totally devoted to the master; a fascinating documentary about Kubrick's righthand man Leon Vitali

Leon Vitali hovering behind Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining

What would have happened to Leon Vitali if as a schoolboy he had gone to see that other 1968 hit sci-fi movie, Barbarella rather than Kubrick’s 2001? It’s impossible to imagine that a life devoted to the oeuvre of Roger Vadim would have merited a documentary.

Luckily it was Stanley Kubrick who inspired total dedication. Filmworker is fascinating not just for Stanley Kubrick dévotees, but for anyone interested in the craft of filmmaking or the psychology of obsessive artists. 

Leon Vitali was a young British actor in the early '70s, just starting out on his career. He looked a bit like the late Bryan Jones, a cheeky blonde lad who could play either thug or juvenile romantic. We get an amusing, all too rapid montage of his on-screen appearances before he won the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon and fell under the spell of cinema’s most charismatic control freak, Stanley Kubrick. Vitali would spend over forty years devoted to Kubrick, working for him not only as an actor but also as his right-hand man. Vitali’s jobs included casting agent, dialogue coach, location scout, note-taker, archivist, edit supervisor, scourge of Warner bigwigs and most bizarrely, overseer of the surveillance camera the maestro had trained on his sick cat.

But let’s start with Vitali’s character being beaten up by his stepfather in Barry Lyndon. Kubrick demanded take after take. Ryan O’Neal gives a rueful interview on how many hard blows he inflicted on the younger actor until their director was satisfied. None of the pain mattered to Vitali; he had fallen head over heels in love with the painstaking process of film-making as embodied by Stanley Kubrick. The elaborate sets, the hand made period costumes, the attention to every location detail, the testing of multiple lenses until the perfect image was achieved, this was the world that god-like Kubrick occupied and Vitali wanted to join him. Kubrick told him to go and get some experience elsewhere, and Vitali did a stint in the cutting room of a Swedish horror movie and then came back to work for the maestro on The Shining. He never left him. Almost twenty years after Kubrick’s death, he is still the keeper of the flame, checking the restoration of cinema prints and film transfers to ensure that no frame goes out into the world unless it exactly matches its creator’s original vision.

Filmworker reveals a treasure trove of footage and stills of Kubrick at work which will enchant devotees. Occasionally director Tony Zierra resorts to clunky animation to cover an anecdote that lacks archive, but in the main he sticks to his interviewees. Vitali himself (pictured above) is a grizzled and brilliant raconteur and there's a relaxed interview with Matthew Modine (who affectionately compares Vitali and Kubrick to Igor and Frankenstein). The late Lee Ermey, the real life drill instructor drafted in to advise on Full Metal Jacket, became one of its lead characters almost entirely because of Vitali. Danny Lloyd, who played the serious little boy in The Shining and only ever appeared in one more film, remembers eating bowl after bowl of chocolate ice cream while getting through the endless retakes. Vitali auditioned over 4,000 potential child actors when he was sent to America by Kubrick, who hated to fly. He saw something special in Danny Lloyd and then coached him through the gruelling months of shooting at Elstree studios.There’s some cod-psychology when the documentary veers into exploring Vitali's own father and grandfather's lifestories but it's not too much of a diversion. If the world needed any further confirmation that Kubrick could be a monomaniac taskmaster Filmworker makes it abundantly clear. The cost to Vitali’s health and own family life was high, but overall this is an exhilarating insight into the filmmaking process. 


Vitali is a grizzled and brilliant raconteur


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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