2018, NR, 94 min. Directed by Tony Zierra.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 13, 2018
How many loyal adjutants did Stanley Kubrick have? In a brief spoken-word introduction, documentarian Tony Zierra describes the 2001: A Space Odyssey director as a bright light, the flame to which moths were drawn. Maybe that incandescence is why biographers seemingly never look directly at him, but instead at those on the periphery of his illumination. Last year there was S for Stanley, a breezy portrait of Emilio D'Alessandro, Kubrick’s driver and general everyday dogsbody. Now Filmworker focuses on Leon Vitali, the actor who became Kubrick’s PA, on-set right hand, and eventual keeper of his cinematic legacy. But D'Alessandro got away; Zierra portrays Vitali as a man consumed, even after Kubrick's death.
A rising fixture of Seventies British film and television (although Zierra arguably oversells his star power), Vitali ages in stages from shaggy-haired Brian Jones lookalike, to his brittle innocence in Kubrick’s grand folly Barry Lyndon (here evocative of a young Tom Hulce); By Full Metal Jacket, the wear and tear of his adoration (the only suitable word) of the man dubbed the maestro had turned him into Silence of the Lambs-era Ted Levine, and now he has all the skeletal angularity and sagging callow flash of a retired roadie for Aerosmith.
Possibly Zierra's most telling and inadvertently truthful insight comes from intercutting scenes from Terror of Frankenstein, Vitali's last leading role before his four decades as Kubrick's servant, in life and death. It's a glimpse of what could have been, before the young star became subsumed. But, as is the common confusion with Frankenstein, there is confusion about identity.
What Zierra is really exploring is the fine line between maverick genius and manipulative bully. The cult of Kubrick is such that no one still dare broach the idea that what he did to his actors, to his crew, and especially to Vitali, was cruel. They are instead just willing acolytes, and Kubrick was merely a slave to the muse. That’s where the greatest qualms may come in this stylish and sometimes overly reverential portrait: It’s as if Vitali never really existed without the director.
It's an hour before there is any real reference to the man without the master, a brief mention of and interview with his family that sparingly attempts to explain how he endured this honored servitude. Zierre presents this as a noble sacrifice, an idea bulwarked by quotes from other Kubrick alumni like R. Lee Ermey and Matthew Modine. But while Vitali was fulfilled by carrying Kubrick's legacy, he was undeniably also left a husk by it. Is being the man charged with ensuring precise color correction on re-releases of 2001: A Space Odyssey enough recompense for aging into poverty, and a loss of his own identity?