Wednesday 23 May 2018

Film: 'Filmworker'

For the most part I was enthralled by this. However, if you're not stirred by the idea of a documentary about working with director Stanley Kubrick, you may as well stop reading now.

I was at one of just two screenings. both at this area's largest (and the country''s oldest) surviving single-screen cinema - part of an audience of nine in a 274-seat auditorium. 

Kubrick (died 1999) is probably my most revered of all film directors, his sparse life's catalogue including my singular all-time favourite film.
This documentary is built around an interview with Kubrick's indispensable right-hand man and jack-of-all-trades, Leon Vitali, who explains early on why he doesn't like to be described as 'assistant', preferring the film's title. From what we learn of him it sounds like he has good grounds.
Most of us will have heard stories about the director's excessive demands - a lot of 'takes' for virtually every scene - and that he was volatile, moody, exacting, rude and unforgiving. (Stories were that in filming his final feature, 'Eyes Wide Shut', both Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh walked away, the former being replaced by Sidney Pollack). 

Vitali himself, although he had appeared before on TV productions, I was only aware of from his playing the teenage. father-hating son of Ryan ONeal's 'Barry Lyndon' (1975) - and I'd given him no further thought since. (He did also appear in 'Eyes Wide Shut', unrecognisable as the masked, red-robed senior at the likewise fully masked 'erotic'(?) secret ceremony which the Tom Cruise character attends).
I remember Vitali only as the fresh-faced youth he played in 'Lyndon' (though at the time he was, in fact, well advanced into his 20s) so it rather took me aback seeing him as he now is, with his well lived-in face (over 40 years later, of course), now 69 years old, and looking rather like a survivor of the late 1960's 'flower-power' movement.
After 'Barry Lyndon' Vitali was determined to devote his future life to working entirely with Kubrick behind the camera, and when the director became aware of his promised dedication he took him on, developing him as the most trusted member of his crew, giving him all sorts of jobs to do which, it appears, he performed to Kubrick's satisfaction. The director''s well-documented mercurial demands and mood swings couldn't put Vitali off, and he stayed with Kubrick from 1975, working on his films 'The Shining' (1980), 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987) and 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999) until his death in that year. Dying with this final film not quite complete, it was left to Vitali to put it into a final condition for for release.  

There are very short excerpts from these final four films (some of them a mere few seconds long) as well as the three which preceded them - 'Dr Strangelove' (1964), '2001 - A Space Odyssey' (1968) and 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971). 

There are numerous present-day interjections from the likes of Ryan O'Neal, Danny Lloyd (playing the then 4-year old 'Danny' in 'The Shining') and Matthew Modine ('Eyes Wide Shut') and several other crew members and film industry executives.

A common criticism of Kubrick's films are that they are "cold and clinical", something with which I cannot entirely disagree. I can see from where this opinion arises. However, and going on a slightly different tack, I think none of his films are perfect, all having at least one major flaw (a 'hole' I like to call it) which varies from one film to another - it could be in construction, casting, the inclusion of a failed sequence which doesn't work, or any of several other aspects. Nevertheless, I do maintain that for standard of overall excellence, with every single film of his being 'significant' to a greater or lesser degree, in my opinion Kubrick is unrivalled among directors. 

I found this documentary (directed by Tony Zierra) fascinating. The only time it lost its momentum was when Vitali was talking about his own life and how it had been affected by his life's dedication to his idol. It's only natural that we should be told something of this, he being the principal interviewee and the sine qua non of the film, though knowing of his own circumstances couldn't compare with  learning additional details of Kubrick himself, of whom there are many shots, with quite a bit of off-camera footage of his working on the films in progress.

I liked this a lot, and if there's anyone reading this who shares my esteem for the director I don't think they are going to be disappointed. Even for those who don't ascend to the same heights of admiration as I do for his films I think there's still a lot to be learnt from this. If you're shrugging your shoulders with a "meh!", then by all means walk round it. Nevertheless, in terms of my own personal enjoyment I award it a good................7.
(Current IMDb.........7.6  - Rotten Tomatoes.......also 7.6)


  1. I would like to see it. I can't see that it is on around here though. I went to see the film about Jean-Luc Godard today, the Redoubtable. I was one of only 4 people watching.

    1. No sign of 'The Redoubtable' coming here yet, Rachel - nor yet of 'Jeune Femme' and nor that John Hurt film - and this despite Brighton having no less than THREE 'art-house' screens! I just can't fathom it!

    2. That is a great shame. I am finding that many only have two screenings in a seven day period and then disappear so I have to watch the listings very closely.

    3. I'm scrutinising all the local listings daily, Rachel. I dare say that if I turned my attention away from Brighton, but westwards towards Chichester where there's also an 'arthouse', I might catch up on some of the films that seem to be missing me. But spending two hours EACH WAY on a bus to use my free pass, or paying the equiv of cinema entrance to get a train ticket, doesn't appeal. What I can't understand is why these 'specialist' screens also need to pad out their programmes with showings of blockbuster films which are already also showing on several other screens in the vicinity.

  2. Kubrick is an acquired taste and I never liked his movies . Some impressed me in part but most left me cold

    1. I'm sure that many share your view, JayGee, and I wouldn't challenge the validity of that opinion. I think you either get him or you don't.

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