Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Kubrick? Sure. Vitali? Who? Tony Zierra's FILMWORKER is an original for the ages

Coming out of FILMWORKER -- a new documentary by Tony Zierra about a young and quite capable actor named Leon Vitali who gave up his career (and much else, too, I suspect) in order to act as helper/disciple/jack-of-all-trades to a certain filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick -- I was more surprised, delighted and finally moved-to-tears and to an extent I could never have imagined possible when I sat down to watch this film.

Odder still is the fact that, while I admire all of the work of the late Mr. Kubrick, he is not a filmmaker I would place anywhere near the top of my "favorites" list. Filmworker, however, is a movie and Mr. Vitali a man, the likes of which and whom I shall most likely remember so long as my memory lasts. What Vitali (shown above) has done and why he had done it, along with what Mr. Zierra (pictured below) has managed to provide via his documentary are so stirring and strange that, if there has been anything much like this previously, it has certainly not been recorded as beautifully as it is here.

TrustMovies must say, however, that this documentary is simply "all over the place." It jumps back and forth in time and location and even includes interviews with actors -- Stellan Skarsgård and Pernilla August -- who, so far as I know, never worked with Kubrick (although they did work with Vitali during his acting career). Yet none of this will matter in the least -- not for real film mavens, anyway -- and this is because every scene here, every moment simply resonates. There is nothing -- not two successive seconds -- that I would have wanted to miss.

Why did Vitali choose this life route? Early on, one friend of his surmises that, like a moth to the flame, he was "burned by Stanley's light." Well, yes, but, unlike that now-dead moth, Vitali just kept going on and on and on. Part of the great joy you will experience by the end of Filmworker has much to do with how very much Vitali has been able to accomplish (and he is still going strong!). He has made more than good on what he set out to do.

Zierra's documentary shows us quite a bit of Vitali's early work as an actor, culminating (here, at least) with his wonderful performance as Lord Bullingdon (above) in Barry Lyndon, the movie that brought him together with his soon-to-be "idol" (and coincidentally my favorite of all of Kubrick's films). From what we see and hear in this film, Vitali did much of his acting work on British television, but he also excelled at legitimate theater and in a few other films.

When he began his assorted work for Kubrick -- on The Shining (above), Full Metal Jacket and finally Eyes Wide Shut (below) -- he slowly became a kind of jack-of-all-trades -- and master of them all, too. One did not, it appears, let Mr. Kubrick down. Ever. And by the end of this film, you'll probably feel, as did I, that Vitali most likely came as close as anyone in achieving this goal.

And our boy did not simply help on the sets of those last three Kubrick movies. Oh, no. He was also responsible for everything from preserving the reels of film themselves to making certain that only the best prints of all existing Kubrick oeuvre reached whatever screening or festival was required. His reward (other than, I hope, a decent salary)? Well, he got to pee off the porch with his idol during filming of The Shining. And that, as one interviewee points out, even Jack Nicholson never got to do!

The movie is chock-a-block with tidbits like this, and while Vitali himself never dishes on his master, plenty of other folk do. So we come away from Filmworker feeling that Mr. Kubrick was not a particularly kind or likeable fellow. And yet this did not seem to matter to Vitali, nor does it, finally, matter much to us. (Below is a Kubrick doll seen in the doc that Vitali evidently treasures.)

By the end of this amazing film, you'll probably realize that what you've seen is a love story. Maybe one-sided (or maybe not) and without, I am assuming, any sex. But it's a great love story nonetheless. Other than making me understand and appreciate what Vitali was trying to do, what the documentary most made me think and feel is that I want to see all of Kubrick's movies again, so I can perhaps better appreciate them -- a reaction that I suspect would please Vitali.

From Kino Lorber and running a mere 94 minutes, Filmworker opens this Friday, May 11, in New York City at the Metrograph, and next Friday, May 18, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt, after which (as of now, at least), it will play another 18 cities throughout the country. Click here and scroll down to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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