This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

11May/18

FILMWORKER

Filmworker

Leon Vitali sits next to Stanley Kubrick doll while sharing stories of toiling for the master in Filmworker

FILMWORKER (Tony Zierra, 2017)
Metrograph
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, May 11
212-660-0312
metrograph.com
filmworker.com

British actor Leon Vitali was already carving out a successful career for himself in the swinging London of the late 1960s and early ’70s when he landed a key role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 epic, Barry Lyndon. Vitali was doing such a good job as Lord Bullingdon that Kubrick wrote additional scenes for him. But it turns out that what Vitali really wanted to do — ever since he first saw A Clockwork Orange — was work for Kubrick behind the scenes, to learn the art of filmmaking at the foot of the master. So Vitali gave up acting in 1977 and spent the next two decades as Kubrick’s right-hand man, doing whatever he was asked, whatever was needed. Documentarian Tony Zierra details Vitali’s long, strange journey in Filmworker, which opens May 11 at Metrograph; on opening weekend Zierra and Vitali will participate in several Q&As with special guests such as Alec Baldwin and The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick coauthor Dr. Rodney Hill. “When someone would say to Stanley, I’d give my right arm to work for you, he would kind of smile, because I actually think he thought, ‘Well, why are you lowballing me? What, just the right arm?’” Vitali, who refers to his occupation as “filmworker,” says in the film. Over the years, Vitali became involved in casting, cutting, sound mixing, marketing, shipping, sales, dubbing, trailers, licensing, video transfers, color correcting, inventory, frame-by-frame restoration, and archiving, among myriad other responsibilities. “Leon did for Stanley what half a dozen executive producers and associate producers and production managers and drivers and tailors do on other movies for directors,” says former Warner Bros. SVP Julian Senior. “You have to understand Stanley Kubrick before you can even begin to understand what Leon Vitali did, does, went through, what’s imprinted on his soul and mind. It’s only when you understand that this remarkable man, a genius, a nightmare, warm, caring, distant, cold, expansive, funny, hugely intelligent, totally driven man would do to make his movies.”

Filmworker

Stanley Kubrick, flanked by Leon Vitali and Jack Nicholson, appears to like what he sees on the set of The Shining

Zierra (Carving Out Our Name, My Big Break) incorporates archival photographs, home movies, letters, notebooks, diaries, and original interviews with a vast array of men and women who have worked with Kubrick and Vitali, most of whom are in awe of what the latter did for the former. “What Leon did was a selfless act, a kind of crucifixion of himself,” Full Metal Jacket star Matthew Modine says. “This industry has been built on people like that,” technical services EVP Beverly Wood says of Vitali. Among the others singing Vitali’s praises are Barry Lyndon star Ryan O’Neal; Oscar-winning Full Metal Jacket gunnery sergeant R. Lee Ermey; Daniel Lloyd, who played Danny in The Shining; Stellan Skarsgård and Pernilla August, who worked with Vitali on Ingmar Bergman’s production of Hamlet; and Vitali’s siblings and three grown children. It took Zierra a year to convince Vitali, who also played Red Cloak in Eyes Wide Shut, to share his story, since he prefers being in the background. But once he opens up, there’s no stopping him as he describes the highs and lows of working for Kubrick while clarifying that he was not merely the master’s assistant or protector. “I never handled Stanley. I handled myself so I could exist in Stanley’s world,” he explains. The scenes of Vitali interacting with Kubrick, Lloyd, and others on sets make this a must-see for Kubrick fans as well as anyone who just loves the art of the movies. “I don’t have an obsession for creativity,” Vitali notes. “It just is a necessary requirement. You either love it so much you can’t help it, or you’re a fucking idiot, or you’re a mixture of both.” (In conjunction with Filmworker, Metrograph is presenting “Stanley Kubrick x 8” May 11-27, consisting of eight works by Kubrick, several of which are featured in the documentary.)

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