Friday, 6 October 2017

LFF 2017: Filmworker

dir. Tony Zierra, USA, 2017
While starring as Lord Bullingdon in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Leon Vitali became so smitten with the filmmaking process that he gave up acting to become The Kube's assistant and dogsbody for the rest of the director's life and beyond, and his fascinating story is clumsily told in this maddeningly haphazard documentary.

Visible in all those behind the scenes featurettes on The Shining that you really should have seen by now, Vitali played a major role in casting terrifying toddler Danny Lloyd and looking after him on set, and from there went on to provide invaluable assistance to Kubrick on and between each of his films. A career at the side of one of cinema's greatest artists (and, as is quite evident, most hair-tearingly difficult people) eventually evolved into something much less enviable, as Vitali became Kubrick's all-round bitch, physically and mentally suffering under the weight of his boss's increasingly unreasonable demands.
And that's why he had Kubrick shrunk and stuffed.

Vitali is an undeniably compelling subject for fans of Kubrick's work, but Tony Zierra's film about him is so hamfistedly edited that it's not until roughly the halfway point that you realise exactly why all these contributors are speaking so effusively about him. Zierra takes so long to explain just what Vitali did and how badly he was treated that for the best part of an hour he comes across as something of a chancer, improbably exaggerating his role in bringing some of the greatest films ever made into being. It's a critical error, because you end up warming to Vitali way too late in the game, lessening the emotional impact of the latter stages.

Once you've collected all the pieces of the puzzle and mentally rearranged them in a way that makes sense (which was essentially Zierra's job), the overall picture is a sad one: a picture of a man who sacrificed too much to do what he loved without the credit or respect he deserved. And when you realise Vitali's story is typical of hundreds of poor, unsung buggers in the film industry - in any industry, in fact - the story takes on a universal significance.

To Zierra's credit, he sneaks in a lot of terrific non-Vitali titbits for Kubriphiles to lap up (the story of Full Metal Jacket's door gunner is heartbreaking), but he fails at the simple task of coherently telling the story he sets out to, making Filmworker one for fans only, and patient ones at that.

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