Leon Vitali, a distinguished but not too familiar name, first became acquainted with the legendary Stanley Kubrick on his film, Barry Lyndon. After this experience, the burgeoning actor abruptly quit his profession entirely in order to pick up any trade he could behind the scenes. For the following two decades, Vitali would act as Kubrick’s personal assistant for all of Kubrick’s remaining films. Assistant, we learn, is code for many things: assistant editor, assistant director, casting agent, location scout, script supervisor, production assistant, documentarian, acting coach, foley artist, archivist, and friend—among other things. In many ways, both the fans of Stanley Kubrick and the famously enigmatic director, himself, owe a great debt to Vitali, who just about dedicated his entire life to propping up the art of one man whom he greatly idolized.
Along with a range of interviews, the documentary contains a wealth of archival clips, mainly from on-set footage. These film’s greatest strength lies in this footage, providing brief though fascinating and candid glimpses of Kubrick at work. Vitali’s incessant desire to be close to Kubrick is no oddity, considering how drawn I, myself, became to even the fleeting instances which showed how he carried himself, how he walked, his expressions, and stories of his temperament. Kubrick, we gather, had a mercurial personality ranging from intense warmth and compassion to alienating cold and bouts of fury. These descriptions are most likely heightened due do Vitali’s somewhat distorting proximity to Kubrick, but also honest in a way that no other person could be.
Vitali himself embodies the image of a dry, withered man whose life stories are drawn with lines in his face. He has long, straggly hair and often wears a bandana and a saggy shirt. At a fleeting glance, you might mistake him for Willie Nelson or one of the Rolling Stones. However, he projects a far more unassuming and mundane persona than one might expect from looks alone. As the film nears its conclusion, the depth to which Vitali gave himself to Kubrick’s work really shows in the lack of intrinsic identity. The way in which his devotion to Kubrick as a friend, partner, and personal historian overshadowed his sense of self becomes quite clear by the end. His commitment and knowledge is impressive, but also a little sad. His lack of recognition proves equally disheartening. When the Stanley Kubrick Archive was opened in London, he did not receive an invitation or an acknowledgement.
While I would recommend Filmworker for any fan of Stanley Kubrick, I found myself slightly let down by the execution. While I definitely got what I wanted in terms of behind-the-scenes knowledge, there could have been a lot more investigation into Vitali as a subject, himself. The process of cutting from pictures, archival clips, and talking heads felt a bit too conventional given the realm of cinema which the documentary concerns, and overall the film feels like a DVD supplement instead of a true human interest story | Nic Champion