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Non-Review Review: Filmworker

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

What must it be like to surrender a life in service of somebody else pursuing their dreams? It is a challenging and provocative question; very few people are willing to risk everything to chase their own dreams, so what level of devotion must be required to do that in service of somebody else’s aspirations?

This is the central question of Filmworker, the documentary charting the life and times of Leon Vitali, who essentially surrendered his life to director Stanley Kubrick, to help the director fulfill his creative vision and realise his dreams on celluloid. The opening voiceover, lifted from Matthew Modine’s diaries working on Full Metal Jacket, likens Leon Vitali to a moth drawn to Stanley Kubrick’s flame. It’s an apt metaphor, one that plays through Filmworker.

For years, Leon Vitali was Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man, the film offering varying labels; some call him an “assistant”, others a “factotum”, while Leon’s own official classification of his job for paperwork and applications was “filmworker.” Whatever title might have been applied to Leon, the man did everything did everything. The jack-of-all-trades coached actors, he oversaw casting, he restored negatives, he documented decisions, he engaged with distribution. He was essential to the operating of Kubrick’s creative machine, yet he remains mostly anonymous.

Filmworker engages with this relationship, with the sacrificing of an individual’s autonomy to enable another’s creative vision. The film is refreshing frank in some respects about the demands of such a life, of the temperamental impositions made by such artists of these devotees. The film captures the romance of working with genius, but also the toll that it exacts.

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