Review: ‘Filmworker’ Reveals Stanley Kubrick’s Perfectionism

Posted May 10, 2018 5:52 p.m. EDT

As a young British actor, Leon Vitali had racked up substantial credits before director Stanley Kubrick cast him in a crucial role in the 1975 film “Barry Lyndon.” In this 18th-century period piece, Vitali made a vivid impression as Lord Bullingdon, a sworn enemy of the title character, played by Ryan O’Neal. It was the sort of performance that could break out a young actor.

But the experience of working with Kubrick gave Vitali other ideas. Intrigued by Kubrick’s exacting and innovative methods — for example, shooting “Barry Lyndon” as much as possible with candles, torches and sunlight — Vitali set off to study the craft of moviemaking. His quest led him back to Kubrick, just as the director was starting to work on his 1980 film, “The Shining.” In short order, Vitali became a casting consultant (he auditioned child actors for the role of Danny Torrance) and then a factotum for Kubrick. In “Filmworker,” a documentary directed by Tony Zierra, Vitali tells his story.

Now almost 70, Vitali is still Mick Jagger skinny. What’s left of his blond hair is set off by a bandanna, and his voice is laid-back but definite, with an ingratiating hint of a rasp. The portrait he creates of his former boss reveals a man of great curiosity, generosity and creativity, but also a frequently imperious and unreasonably demanding perfectionist.

Given the relative scarcity of footage of Kubrick at work, Zierra concocts animated recreations of confrontations between Vitali and the filmmaker. Matthew Modine, the star of Kubrick’s 1987 movie, “Full Metal Jacket,” describes Vitali’s 24/7 devotion to Kubrick as “a self-crucifixion.” But Vitali himself is very clear on an important point. “I wanted to be with Stanley, to work with Stanley,” he says. “I wanted to.”

The material about Kubrick’s process is finally more interesting than the discussions about his temperament. Addressing Kubrick’s mania for multiple takes, Vitali observes that the filmmaker did not ask for them because of dissatisfaction with his actors but because he needed to break down a scene, observe how it was or was not coming together, before he could ever abandon it. Kubrick himself had trouble deeming any work truly finished.

Today, almost 20 years after Kubrick’s death, the film shows that Vitali’s work is not over. As a consultant to the Kubrick estate, he does quality control for the video releases of his old boss’s films, and more.


Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.