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Stanley Kubrick's assistant takes center stage in 'Filmworker'

Stanley Kubrick's assistant takes center stage in 'Filmworker'
Leon Vitali, from left, Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson on the set of "The Shining," from the documentary "Filmworker." (Kino Lorber)

Leon Vitali landed his big break as an actor when Stanley Kubrick cast him in a key role in his 1975 movie, "Barry Lyndon." The collaboration would change Vitali's life, though not in the manner he imagined.

The fascinating documentary "Filmworker" shows how the painstaking lengths Kubrick took in making his movies could prove seductive. Kubrick sensed in Vitali a fellow obsessive. Shortly after working on "Barry Lyndon," Kubrick reached out, asking if he'd be interested in helping cast the young boy in his next movie, "The Shining." From what we can gather watching the movie, Vitali remained on call until Kubrick died in 1999. And even then, the connection proved difficult to break.

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Devotion doesn't begin to describe the long hours Vitali logged helping Kubrick cast his movies, coach his actors, catalog his notes and carry out Kubrick's exacting demands regarding the marketing, releasing and preservation of his work.

Matthew Modine, one of the stars of Kubrick's 1985 war film "Full Metal Jacket," recalls, "What Leon did was a selfless act, a kind of crucifixion of himself."

"Filmworker" director Tony Zierra draws out Vitali, now 69, in extended interviews, though there are some gaps in his story (the 14-year stretch between "Full Metal Jacket" and Kubrick's last film, "Eyes Wide Shut" is unexamined) and many questions left unanswered. (Why no mention of Vitali's wife or post-Kubrick acting work?)

But as a portrait of a man who surrendered his career and much of his life to the service of a master, "Filmworker" proves compelling, particularly for those with a passing interest in Kubrick. "I wanted to be with Stanley, to work with Stanley," Vitali says, offering no regrets. "I wanted to." The movie offers plenty of evidence to support the depth of his dedication.

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‘Filmworker’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Landmark Nuart, West Los Angeles

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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