Well, this is a treat. Stanley Kubrick was as famous for his attention to detail as his private nature, trusting only a small cabal of assistants throughout his career. His closest lieutenant was Leon Vitali. The former actor, with only some TV work to his name, landed a big role in Kubrick’s adaptation of Barry Lyndon and turned in a performance that wowed critics. But so entranced was Vitali by Kubrick’s talent he gave up acting on the spot and dedicated the rest of his life in helping bring Kubrick’s vision to the screen with The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. When asked to describe his role he calls himself simply a ‘filmworker’.
Vitali was essentially a factotum, somewhere between gofer and advisor. He was given a wide range of jobs: if it wasn’t finding the correct colour of door it was tracking down potential candidates for roles (he found Danny Lloyd for The Shining). The more Vitali worked with Kubrick the more he appreciated how essential the famed attention to detail was, with Kubrick trusting him to pour over every frame of footage so the light was correct in each one. At one point he remembers how Kubrick contacted the distributors because the videos in the window display of a shop weren’t positioned according to his liking. The more Vitali worked with Kubrick, the more he was in tune with what the director wanted. Mathew Modine said that he learned very quickly on Full Metal Jacket that when Vitali spoke he was listening to Kubrick.
This would take its toll, however. Vitali remembers that he was called one Christmas Day by Kubrick about some detail or other and was called again an hour later to check it was corrected. Vitali’s children, who appear here briefly, recall their father being largely absent during their upbringing. A bad day for Kubrick, they say, is a bad day for Vitali and so a bad day for them. Their father sacrificed everything for someone else’s art. This is tough to swallow, as Kubrick here is mercurial character, kind one minute and prone to rages the next. There’s talk of temper, stress, an impossibility to please and a tense set. And yet Vitali was, and still is, in awe of him, defending him to the last. What’s interesting is that director Tony Zierra dips into Vitali’s past to find a father that was volatile and difficult to please. Hmmm.
If that isn’t enough to sell this a must-see for film fans the rare behind the scenes footage, and the titbits offered by supporting characters (Tim Colceri regales the terrible moment when he learns that the role of Hartman in Full Metal Jacket would go to Emrey, who believed he nailed his late-in-the-day audition) are icing on the cake. Fast-moving, with Zierra zipping through a series of talking heads, Filmworker is a belter.