Filmworker

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Filmworker
"Few voices are missing from this incredibly thorough piece of work."

What would you give for the chance to work alongside a legendary filmmaker? If you've ever watched Room 237 you'll be aware of just how obsessed people can become with Stanley Kubrick. Leon Vitali first met him in 1975 when he was cast as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. It was a performance for which the young actor received considerable acclaim, yet he was so fascinated by what he saw behind the scenes that he abandoned his career, right on the brink of success, in order to become the great director's right hand man.

Tony Zierra's documentary asks what it means to devote oneself to film. Would The Shining and Full Metal Jacket have worked the way they did without Leon's involvement? He rarely got credit for the work he did, being listed merely as an assistant, though according to others who worked for Kubrick he was involved in almost every piece of work on set. He earned very little and he gave up everything else he might have wanted in life simply to be a part of Stanley's creations.

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Inevitably, such relationships risk becoming unhealthy. Several of Zierra's interviewees recall moments when they felt that Leon was being exploited - perhaps not deliberately so, but taken for granted simply because he made himself so available. Yet he never seems to have been seriously unhappy - in archive footage he exudes the fulfilment of a wandering ronan who has found his master. This relationship and Leon's devotion to the creative act as an end in itself make the film fascinating whether or not one is a fan of Kubrick's work. For those who are, the myriad insights provided make this an absolute must-see.

Few voices are missing from this incredibly thorough piece of work. Zierra has rounded up dozens of cast and crew members with stories to tell, and though the film is densely packed with information, nothing feels extraneous. Clips from the films are supported by behind-the-scenes footage which provides context and offers new perspectives on the end result. Even the talking head interviews are conducted in interesting places so there's plenty for the eye to take in. In places we see the master at work, Leon always on hand to take instructions like an extension of Kubrick's own body and mind, a further vessel through which his visions could be brought to life. Leon may not have felt that his own creative capacity came close but his ideas mattered: he was the one who gave Kubrick a copy of Stephen King's The Shining and travelled across America interviewing 4,000 children until he found the right one to play Danny. After the master died, he helped with the completion of Eyes Wide Shut.

In one scene, Matthew Modine describes Leon's devotion as if it were a religious act, a form of martyrdom on the altar of cinema. But this is more than the story of one unsung hero. It's a testament to the work of the uncounted thousands whose names will never make the headlines, who will never be interviewed on sites like this or get to walk down the red carpet at awards events, yet without whose efforts the films we love would not exist. Here's to the little guys.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2018
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Filmworker packshot
Documentary about the working relationship between actor Leon Vitali and Stanley Kubrick.

Director: Tony Zierra

Year: 2017

Runtime: 89 minutes


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