A Special Evening for Cinema Buffs: An Interview with Stanley Kubrick’s Right Hand Man, Leon Vitali, at the 21st Miami Jewish Film Festival Premiere of ‘Filmworker’

Contributed by Rolando Alexxis 

Photography and Videography by Cam Culture Media

Leon Vitali, Stanley Kubrick, and Jack Nicholson on the set of The Shining.
Courtesy Kino Lorber

Picture above from Hans’ Miami New Times article: “Leon Vitali on Working With Stanley Kubrick: ‘It Could Get Pretty Hairy'”

If you consider yourself to be a film buff living in South Florida and were not present at the arthouse theater Miami Beach Cinemateque on Thursday July 18, 2018 for the spectacular 21st Miami Jewish Film Festival premiere of Filmworker, your claim is questionable.

Directed by Tony Zierra, Filmworker is a documentary focused on Leon Vitali’s life and time working alongside one of the world’s most iconic filmmakers, Stanley Kubrick, best known for cult classic psychedelic films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), magical cinematic masterpieces like 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968), and powerful dramas with exceptional scores like Full Metal Jacket (1987).  Not only was Leon Vitali in attendance, but after the showing, we in the audience were treated with an in-depth interview conducted by Hans Morgenstern, co-founder, editor and creative director of  Independent Ethos and Miami New Times writer.

Morgenstern asked Vitali what everyone wanted to know including what led to the making of the documentary at hand, myths about Stanley Kubrick being a recluse, and what it was like to work with the legendary filmmaker, whose films and its characters are known all around the world.

Stanley Kubrick began his creative career as a photographer for Look magazine in the late 1940s.  With a passion for greater things ever present, he created short films using self  taught methods when time permitted. Producer James B. Harris noticed the skill possessed by Kubrick and hired the young director to work on their first Hollywood Film, The Killing (1956). This led to two collaborations with another legend of the acting trade Kirk Douglass: the war movie Path of Glory (1957) and the historical epic Spartacus (1960).  A difference of opinion with Douglass and a growing concern regarding crime in America prompted Stanley’s relocation to Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire of the United Kingdom, where he lived the majority of the remainder of his life with his wife Christiane.

In association with Peter Sellers, his first two British films were Lolita (1962) and Dr.StrangeLove (1964). Following the early success of his career, Kubrick created what many consider to be his masterpiece 2001:A Space Odyssey (1968), for which he won his only personal Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Next came A Clockwork Orange (1971), which attracted the eye of the young actor, Leon Vitali. In his later career, Kubrick continued to make cinematic classics such as The Shining (1980), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Barry Lyndon (1975) was Leon Vitali’s first production with Mr.Kubrick, and in this film, he played a supporting role as  Lord Bullingdon.  It seemed Mr. Vitalis’ road to stardom as an actor was clear, but, to the surprise of many, Leon decided to forgo the limelight, preferring to serve off camera as Kubrick’s right hand man. His choice was clearly influenced by his attraction to such creative genius, and it seems the attraction was mutual.

Kubrick himself was fond of Leon, which is evident in that Leon was allowed to be on set, even when he had no particular purpose for doing so.  This was in strict opposition to Kubrick’s mandate for all others to leave the set if they did not have a specific purpose. Leon noticed this and realized that he had a rare opportunity not shared with others. The first impression left on Leon was one of Stanley being a kind and gentle man, but this changed sharply when creating Full Metal Jacket (1987).

What could one expect when making such a gut wrenching war movie? Actual military personnel were utilized, the most famous of being R. Lee Ermey. Leon reminisces and compares rough Stanley to Chef Ramsey. Speaking of roughness, during the interview Leon shared that his family life and upbringing were on the harder side of life. Leon and his siblings agree that their father was a troubled and strict man. It is revealed that unfortunately during the horrors of the World War era, Vitali Senior witnessed his 1st wife murdered in front of his very eyes. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would have coped. The Vitali family are clearly of strong fortitude because even with such a heavy burden haunting his mind, he raised three successful children, from different marriages. Fortitude was a characteristic Leon garnered as a young child. When Leon was just eight, his father passed, so the young child was forced to work in order to maintain the family household.  

The intricate relationship Leon shared with Stanley Kubrick may hardly be justified in a documentary that took three years to complete, much less in this article.

Rolando Alexxis (left) and Leon Vitali (right)

I have been intrigued by the legend of Stanley Kubrick and have always wanted to know more, from watching all his movies to documentaries elaborating on the conspiracy theories surrounding him.  Filmworker is a true treasure for a Stanley Kubrick buff’s arsenal.  Of all the media I’ve consumed on this cinematic genius, nothing is nearly as intimate or authentic as the experience I derived from Filmworker.  Getting to meet the star of the documentary was even more special.

I officially have two degrees of separation from the late and great Stanley Kubrick!

I want to express gratitude to Hans Morgenstern for orchestrating such a magical evening and Tony Ziera for putting in the three years worth of footwork required to obtain such valuable information to film lovers and expressing it in such a captivating manner. 

And, of course, thank you to the man of the evening Leon Vitali for his lifelong sacrifice in creating some of the most memorable moments in cinematic history and for being so approachable and down to earth, giving all audience members as much quality time as they desired. You made the evening extra special for us all in Miami

Rolando Alexxis and Natasha Velez

Check out my interviews with some of the night’s attendees:

Take a Look Inside the Chic Cinemateque in my interviews with some of the attendees:

Natasha Velez

Angela Shlyakhov – Great Artist Series and Anzhelika Productions

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