Combustible Celluloid
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With: Leon Vitali, Ryan O'Neal, Danny Lloyd, Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Stellan Skarsgard, Marie Richardson, Tim Colceri, Brian Capron, Pernilla August, Treva Etienne, Chris Jenkins, Philip Rosenthal, Jacob Rosenberg, Vera Vitali, Masha Vitali
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Tony Zierra
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 94
Date: 06/08/2018

Filmworker (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stanley Dreamer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I've been doing this a long time and I thought I knew a lot about Stanley Kubrick, but I didn't know about Leon Vitali. Vitali was a versatile, Shakespearian-trained actor. He has a pivotal role in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), but was so enamored of the director's genius and mastery that he made a fateful decision. He quit acting and went to work with Kubrick, in whatever capacity he could. Therefore, Kubrick had him doing just about everything, from casting to designing advertising materials, from supervising foreign trailers, to color-correcting prints. He was almost solely in charge of Danny Lloyd during the making of The Shining (and in charge of fudging the child's schedule so Kubrick could work around child labor laws). And former drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey (recently passed away) recounts, misty-eyed, how he owed his role and his performance in Full Metal Jacket to Vitali.

Virtually everything he did required taking notes, and he now has boxes and boxes full of filled notepads. Working for Kubrick possibly nearly killed Vitali, and the gaunt, shriveled, sick-looking fellow we meet in Tony Zierra's documentary Filmworker is a far cry from the beautiful young man who curtsied in Barry Lyndon. Kubrick's notorious perfectionism became a privilege and a burden for Vitali. Matthew Modine, who is interviewed here and who kept diaries of his time working on Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, describes Vitali as a moth that flew too close to a flame and singed its wings. Yet he seems to be an unquenchable spirit, famous for having gone many nights with little or no sleep, so as to keep working.

In one touching scene, he meets with actor Ryan O'Neal, who regretfully recounts how he had to beat up Vitali in one scene in Barry Lyndon, and some 30 times in a row, as per Kubrick's infamous many-take policy. But now Vitali is shown very nearly cuddling with O'Neal on the couch, just happy to be there. Now Vitali has become the world's foremost Kubrick consultant and is the only one who knows how to correct and restore Kubrick's films on Blu-ray and 4K, etc. Though he may seem beaten to within an inch of his life, he considers his time most fulfilling. It's an ending far happier than any of the ones Kubrick ever concocted.

Kino Lorber's 2018 DVD release (no Blu-ray) matters most when looking at clips from Kubrick's films, and it passes the test admirably. The newer footage is high-def and looks fine, with clean sound. It includes an 11-minute on-stage Q&A with Vitali and director Zierra, a trailer, two audio mixes (2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround) and optional English subtitles.

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