Leon Vitali could have had it all, fame, fortune and an army of adoring fans at his feet, but instead, the young promising actor decided to give it all up to serve for decades as Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man on some the most iconic productions of the director’s career.
Having admired Kubrick for years, Vitali’s dreams came true when he landed a role in the master’s seminal 18th-century period piece Barry Lyndon as Lord Bullingdon, the title character’s mortal enemy. However, when the cameras stopped rolling, Vitali found himself shunning the limelight and the dozens of prestigious film and stage roles offered to him on the back of his brilliant performance in the film, deciding instead to dedicate the rest of his existence to working behind the scenes with Kubrick and remaining faithful to him until the director’s death in 1999.
In his remarkable documentary Filmworker, director Tony Zierra charters Vitali’s life and career during Kubrick’s most fertile film years, and speaks to the man himself about his life and career, as well as his complete and utter devotion to someone he admired so greatly that he was prepared to follow him to the end of the earth and back. Becoming known as Kubrick’s fixer, assistant and even informally as assistant director on many productions from The Shining to Full Metal Jacket and all the way up to Eyes Wide Shut, Vitali went above and beyond the call of the duty to make sure that everything went smoothly on each set he worked on. A dedication, which whilst being honourable, went almost unnoticed by the director’s fans outside of the film world.
A slight and softly spoken man, Vitali comes across as a fragile, wise and at times servile in his demeanour. Using extensive behind the scene footage, videos, notebooks and on-set photos provided by Vitali, Zierra tries to get to the bottom of what made the man tick without a hint of judgement towards his subject. And with a variety of talking head interviews from across the board from the people who worked closely with both men, including Barry Lyndon star Ryan O’Neil, soon an image starts to form of the selfless generosity afforded to Kubrick on behalf of Vitali. A generosity which many would have perhaps seen as weakness, but one which made it possible for one of the most accomplished masters of the twentieth century to compete his job in the best way he could.
Filmworker manages to give a voice to an individual who put his work ethic ahead of his own health, sanity and financial future without ever complaining or showing any kind of justified anger at the way he was treated after his friend’s death. Zierra does a fantastic job in getting behind one’s skin by telling a story which is devastating and informative in equal measures. A moving tribute to a man whose tireless work is finally being recognised.
Filmworker is in cinemas from Friday 18th of May