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Filmworker | Review

filmworker Tony Zierra

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Filmworker | Review

Filmworker | Review

By The Power Of Kubrick: Zierra’s Delightful Spotlight On Vitali Ultimately A Mixed Bag

Tony Zierra Filmworker Poster

Stanley Kubrick has inspired artists the world over, creating movies so utterly unique and groundbreaking that nearly every one helped craft modern filmmaking as we know it. However, sustaining the gargantuan legend of the sovereign genius for the latter half of his career, effectively making these productions possible, was Leon Vitali. Tony Zierra profiles the actor-turned-assistant, whose devotion to Kubrick’s films carried them through a relationship lasting over two decades. Filmworker is a deeply sincere, nostalgic stroll through the wacky idealism and mountainous workloads comprising a life making movies.

From the onset, we are spared no adoration from Vitali while recollecting his watching A Clockwork Orange for the first time, which is when he made the definitive decision to work with Kubrick if he could. While a successful actor on the rise in English theatre, television and cinema, things drastically changed after he snagged the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. He retreated completely from his on-screen career for a life dedicated to Kubrick’s filmography, which the filmmakers relay through movie excerpts, production stills and videos, behind the scenes candids, and Leon’s private collection of photos and overfilled notebooks.

This docu has a strong distinction of being one of two films released with a focus on individuals close to the auteur rather than just the man, which produces a brand new perspective on the unfathomable filmmaker and more directly, what it was like to work for him (the other being S is for Stanley, on Kubrick’s personal driver Emilio D’Alessandro). Populated by interviews with stars of Kubrick’s films, Vitali’s family, and industry colleagues and executives, the expanse of testimony is thoroughly impressive and even-footed. The filmmakers manage to elevate their theme through Zierra’s dynamic cinematography, and his healthy use of clever juxtapositions of dialogue and appropriated material in the editing, all the while being buttressed by Vitali’s cheerfully plain-spoken narration.

However, the sound editing is consistently (and quite noticeably) choppy and poorly mixed, resulting in many instances of repeated and stuttered interview audio. These become such a persistent problem, that it can tragically spoil some of the film’s naturally generated immersion. While overall the experience is indeed larger than its parts, Zierra’s stitching seems a little threadbare, as the technical seams are quite visible. Also, while the interviewees are animated and provide a homey atmosphere to explore these fun obscure moments in cinematic history, the film plays out relatively standard, relying almost exclusively on traditional convention.

Its novelty rides (at times) solely on its subject, as Zierra’s uneven assembly prevents it from being a truly fantastic film. However, that fact does not invalidate all the fascinating newer details this has added to the massive trove of Kubrickian tales, because they are an absolute delight to learn. For a film devoted to exploring the life and love of filmworkers, it succeeds admirably as a historical document and love letter to those who throw everything into their craft. Filmworker is a fantastic story cloaked within a decently run-of-the-mill production that deserves more editorial polish than it delivered.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Matthew Roe is a Baltimore-based film critic and theorist, and award-winning founder of the independent production company Heaven’s Fire Films. He writes the dedicated horror film column "Psycho Pompous" for Under the Radar, the film theory column "Anarchic Cinema" for Film Inquiry, and movie reviews for The Critical Movie Critics and Film Threat. He also writes the bi-monthly What's Up Doc? for IONCINEMA.com. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Ramsay (Ratcatcher), Herzog (Fitzcarraldo), Miike (Audition), Haneke (Funny Games), Lynch (Mulholland Dr.), DuVernay (Selma), Clark (Kids), Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), Hosoda (Summer Wars), Anderson (There Will Be Blood), Coyula (Nadie).

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