Filmworker gives Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man Leon Vitali his moment
Leon Vitali gave up his burgeoning acting career to work alongside Stanley Kubrick, and now the documentary Filmworker celebrates his devotion.
While the talents of actors, directors, writers and producers are regularly celebrated, the skills of those further down the credits are often overlooked.
“Filmworker” looks to right that wrong, highlighting the career, devotion and eclectic talents of Leon Vitali. A burgeoning actor cast by Stanley Kubrick in “Barry Lyndon,” Vitali abandoned his own efforts in front of the camera to become the director’s right-hand man. Vitali was often erroneously called Kubrick’s assistant, when he actually thought of himself simply as a filmworker. Tony Zierra’s documentary shows that he more than earned that title, too.
Zierra got in touch with Vitali while working on another film, "SK 13," exploring the psychology behind Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." (The director passed away in 1999.) "At the end of the interviews he asked, ‘How would you feel if we made a documentary about you?’" Vitali recalls. "Of course, I had never contemplated it."
The end result is a love letter to the unsung heroes of cinema, celebrating the “people who work below the line.” It takes a whole team of people to put a movie together, but recognition tends to go only to those at the top. "Filmworker" highlights the meticulous work of bringing a director's vision to life.
"The detail that they have to work with, the effort and the focus that they have to put on a project, however big or little their roles are — that’s what I was happy with more than anything else," Vitali says about the film. "It was more inclusive of all the people that do work so hard behind the camera. And that’s hundreds sometimes thousands of people, who come to one kind of focus to make the film."
Ask anyone in the movie business, and they'll have a different reason for lauding Kubrick as a master of filmmaking. Having worked so closely with the director, Vitali considers that an intentional part of his process.
"When you look at his canon of work, every single one of those films is different," he says. "Even if it touches upon the same theme, like war. They are all incredibly different and nuanced angles about war. That was what he wanted to do with all of his films."
This also leaves his films open to widly varying interpretations, which Vitali calls "the beauty of all of Stanley’s films. Because you made up your own mind. People still try and find meaning in his films. Which I think is amazing. People can watch them dozens of times and find something new."
As one of the below-the-liners, Vitali is among the rare few who stay through the end of the credits to every film he sees. "That’s just my little tribute to people that do so much for the movie, but get little recognition. It’s not that everyone should be a star. But it is such a huge collaborative effort."
"Filmworker" is released in New York on Friday, May 11. Vitali and Zierra will hold a Q&A following the 7 p.m. screenings this Friday and Saturday at The Metrograph.