Among hard-core Stanley Kubrick fans, the name Leon Vitali holds a kind of magic. He was the young British actor who made such an impression as Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon and then turned around and became Kubrick's assistant for the rest of the director's career -- the kind of job that would be considered a demotion on most other film sets. But as you can see in Filmworker, Tony Zierra's new documentary about Vitali, he did everything for the filmmaker. He scoured the United States looking for a young child to play Danny in The Shining and coached the boy he eventually found, Danny Lloyd, during the shoot. He scouted and rehearsed actors, and conducted extensive research for Full Metal Jacket. He served as a liaison to studios. He oversaw restorations and home-video releases. He played bit parts, including the red-cloaked ritual leader in Eyes Wide Shut. He did production inventories. And my favorite: Nearly all of the foleyed-in footsteps in Full Metal Jacket are his footsteps.
Vitali allowed his life and work to be consumed by Kubrick, and Filmworker walks a fine line tonally, as it reflects both Vitali's admiration and awe while also calling into question the way the director allowed his many projects to devour the lives of those who worked for him as well. But in many ways, this dilemma is at the heart of Kubrick's cinema: The director's obsessions not only consumed those around him but also leapt off the screen and consumed his fans. Filmworker is both a cautionary tale and a tribute to this kind of compulsion.