New-Release Tuesday: Filmworker

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

I’m sorry, but I cannot be bothered today to offer a review of yet another Christmas movie. (I know: it’s not like I’ve been overflowing with them!) When I run across something as compelling as Filmworker, the story of legendary film director Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man Leon Vitali, I simply must tell you about it.

For clarity: I did not come to Filmworker pre-sold on the subject matter. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I am not particularly a fan of Kubrick’s films. The man was an extraordinary filmmaker and artist, of course; but for me, Kubrick’s films were always overkill. Structurally, most of them actually comprised two separate films with coincidental continuity in plots, timelines, and characters… which is another way of saying that most Kubrick films could have ended at the half-way or three-quarter mark and had exactly the same impact. The internal “second films” simply restated and repackaged what Kubrick had already done in the opening section.

Yes, I know I’m an idiot.

The first Kubrick film I saw during a theatrical first run was Barry Lyndon. I was 12 years old, and my mom thought it would be a good show to drag my sister Elane and I to.

Virtual strangers had to take me to Star Wars, Jaws, and The Poseidon Adventure. My parents, yes, took me to films by Kubrick, Lean, Lumet, and Friedkin. Yep.

I really had no idea what was going on in Barry Lyndon (I would figure that out later when I started studying film) but I do remember being more impressed by the performance of Leon Vitali than I was by Ryan O’Neal. Apparently, Kubrick was quite impressed as well.

When post-production on Lyndon began, Vitali begged Kubrick to let him work behind the camera on future projects. Kubrick essentially dared Vitali to prove he was serious about the desire by getting some experience–and Vitali was up to the challenge. Within a year or so, Vitali had his first assignment from Kubrick: casting the young star of the upcoming film The Shining. The rest, as they, was history.

“I know now what I must do,” said Leon Vitali as young Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon, “and what I shall do. Whatever be the cost.” Vitali could not have taken a line of dialogue more to heart.

Eventually, Vitali became so essential to Kubrick’s micro-organization that he was working around the clock 365 days a year, not only serving as line producer and production assistant on whatever projects were current, but also overseeing color-correction on every print of every Kubrick film screening around the world, and proofing the text on every bit of promotional materials. At the height of this insanity, Vitali’s health lost its vitality, and his weight dropped to 65 pounds.

Fortunately for Vitali, Kubrick did not live forever. But those 30 years the two spent together just about killed Vitali. And it left him penniless.

Filmworker, which is the word which Vitali uses for himself, is a truly stunning portrait of an artist whose humility leads him to understand that it is sometimes more blessed to serve than be served–especially when that service is in deference to true greatness.

On the one hand, you might watch this film and think, “What a nut!” But think about it: We are all in service to someone else’s vision, really. To whose vision are you in service? Is it worthy of you?

I hope that, at the end of my own run, I can be as satisfied with my life’s work as is Vitali.

Filmworker is a riveting documentary, and is included with your Netflix subscription. You can also stream at YouTube for a small fee. Barry Lyndon is also included right now with your Amazon Prime subscription.



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