An insider shares his knowledge of working with Stanley Kubrick.


Reel magic: Leon Vitali (left) smells the celluloid


When Leon Vitali was cast in the role of Lord Bullingdon in 1975’s Barry Lyndon he could never have imagined how his life was about to change. It brought him into the orbit of Stanley Kubrick who was impressed by his performance but also took note of Leon’s wider interest in filmmaking. This led to an offer that Leon could not refuse: to become an assistant to Kubrick, a role that he would fill for some thirty years and which would absorb him totally. Accepting this post virtually ended his career as an actor, but he did not hesitate because he regarded Kubrick as the greatest film director of the 20th century. Genius Kubrick may have been, but he was also a driven man whose perfectionism made the most intense demands on those around him. To an exceptional degree, Leon accepted this: the occupational description on his passport, that of filmworker, didn’t tell the half of it.


Tony Zierra’s documentary film puts Leon Vitali firmly in the spotlight and, despite a wide range of comments from actors and colleagues, it is Leon’s own reminiscences that are central. Backed up by film clips and footage of Kubrick himself, they provide an extraordinary insight into both Kubrick the man and his working methods. To call this film invaluable is no exaggeration. So central is this aspect that it renders secondary other aspects of Leon Vitali’s life. Late on material about his childhood is almost a distraction and, while his work after Kubrick’s death overseeing fresh presentations of his films is relevant, this final section of Filmworker manages to be simultaneously too loose and insufficiently detailed. Elsewhere too Zierra provides insufficient context - at one point it transpires that Leon worked in Sweden on a production of Hamlet but no details whatever emerge.

However, it is Leon’s experiences with Kubrick that matter here and, in contrast to Room 237 that eccentric and unnecessary documentary expounding theories about hidden meanings in Kubrick’s films, Filmworker will surely come to be seen as indispensable to all who want to get to grips with a brilliant but intemperate man whose films are classics. Given that Kubrick was somebody who put his work ahead of concern for the feelings of others (“He ate you” is one comment here), it is hardly surprising that Leon Vitali’s willingness to work with him for so long and in so many capacities seems strange to some. But what emerges from this fascinating documentary is the fact that Kubrick’s extreme devotion to his art was matched by Leon Vitali’s total commitment towards the man whose work he venerated.




Featuring  Leon Vitali, Ryan O'Neal, Danny Lloyd, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Stellan Skarsgård.


Dir Tony Zierra, Pro Elizabeth Yoffe, Ph Tony Zierra, Ed Tony Zierra, Music Luke Jennings and David Ben Shannon.


94 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 18 May 2018. Cert. 15.