Everything in movies is fake – and quite frankly that’s the way it should be. When Jason Statham goes mano-a-mano with a prehistoric shark riding the fin like the beast is Moby Dick you want to believe it happens just like you see it unfold.

When actors appear full frontal nude in a flick chances are they are wearing a pubic wig known in the trade as a merkin.

Years ago there was a Disney film titled That Darn Cat!, which was based on a book – Undercover Cat – that was written by the husband wife team known as The Gordons.

The duo consisted of Gordon Gordon, who had worked for FBI intelligence during WWII, and Mildred Nixon Gordon. Many of their books revolve around crime like Operation Terror, which was made into the groundbreaking and now almost forgotten psycho-thriller Experiment in Terror (d. Blake Edwards, 1962). The book Undercover Cat has the Siamese lead character weighing a whopping twenty-five pounds.

The subsequent movie had a svelte feline that had to weigh twelve-pounds tops if it weighed an ounce. That’s how movies work, they trim the stout to present the scaled down essence of the story.

Phil Hartman, a popular comedian (Saturday Night Live) and actor from the 80s and 90s was known for his uncanny imitations of actors like Jack Nicholson. Hartman dubbed lines for Nicholson for the movie The Border (1982) when Nicholson was unable to do the post-production looping. Everything we know is wrong.

One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Stanley Kubrick, had a tight team that supported his vision. Any big time talent has what are known in the trade as personal assistants.

Kubrick had more than one full time assistant, and there are documentaries such as S For Stanley (2015) that chronicle the friendship and working relations between Kubrick and Emilio D’Alessandro, a one-time Formula One race car driver who became a kind of Man Friday to the cinematic genius.

Kubrick was a workaholic and would literally piss out his office window to save the time it would take to walk down the hall to use the bathroom. Kubrick loved his cats and when one of the family pets was dying Kubrick had his crew put a video camera in the same room as the cat and put monitors in every room of his rural countryside manor so he could constantly watch his favorite feline slowly fade from existence. A normal person would’ve taken the pet to the vet for a final solution.

Another assistant of Kubrick’s was his right-hand-man. Duties would include daily inventory of the entire Kubrick oeuvre, which were stored in various film canisters in various condition as well as the numerous tasks and chores that accompany making films like The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. That man was Leon Vitali.

Vitali was a rising English actor in the 1970s with multiple roles in popular telly shows like The Fenn Street Gang, or the title role in 1977’s Victor Frankenstein in addition to the acclaimed television movie Catholics, which also featured young versions of Martin Sheen and Michael Gambon as well as established actors like Trevor Howard and Raf Vallone.

After being cast in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon as Lord Bullingdon, Vitali was attracted “like a moth to the flame” to Kubrick’s genius.

The doc Filmworker takes the viewer inside Vitali’s head as well as the complicated world of a cinematic savant. Vitale’s job was 24/7 in the sense that Kubrick might contact him at any moment of the day with a request sometimes routine and sometimes beyond the pale.

Vitali worked closely with Danny Lloyd (The Shining) and F. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) helping them with character development. Vitali also played Red Cloak in Eyes Wide Shut. Lloyd, Ermey, Ryan O’Neal, Matthew Modine and Stellan Skarsgård pop up regaling the audience with stories that are now entered into legend. Skarsgård worked with Vitali in a stage version of Hamlet helmed by Ingmar Bergman.

Another player is actor Tim Colceri who was the original Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in FMJ only to be replaced by Ermey, who was a technical consultant and trainer on the film. Once Kubrick saw video footage of Ermey interacting with the troops he replaced Colceri by having Vitali deliver the letter of termination. Colceri, who’d practiced the Hartman role for months, was drafted back to play a helicopter pilot who delivers the memorial lines: “Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who stands still is a well disciplined VC.”

After Kubrick’s passing in 1999, Vitali inherited the mantle of the person who oversaw Kubrick films as they were transferred into their various DVD and Blu-ray formats. There is literally nobody in the world who has watched Kubrick films over and over, in many cases frame by frame, and has the knowledge of the color grading and feel for the proper aspect ratio that each film demands.

Filmworker enchants the audience by taking them behind the veil of creativity. On another level Filmworker really defines Vitali as a person who devoted his life for the arts at the highest order. Do you think there will be a documentary about the personal assistant for Michael Bay?

Filmworker allows us to look at the young, exuberant Vitali as well as the sort of wizard he becomes after decades of both stressful and joyful employment for a master film maker.

Filmworker unwinds August 10 – 12, Friday (7 pm.), Saturday (7 pm.) and Sunday (5 pm.) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

ALSO ON

  • The Meg – This prehistoric shark action thriller is the exact definition of going to a theater to watch a movie because it’s hotter than hades and the theater has supreme air conditioning.
  • Puzzle – A woman veers between her complacent married life and a new man in her life that shares her passion for crossword puzzles. Don’t expect Kelly Macdonald to choose between A and B. This is a femme who makes her life decisions outside of the box. Exclusive at the River Oaks Theatre.
  • Never Goin’ Back – Basically a film for teen hipsters, the story wakes and bakes and follows a couple of constipated chicks over a couple of days in a Dallas/Ft. Worth suburb as they make choices about going to Galveston and ripping off the local sandwich shop.
  • Elizabeth Harvest – Futuristic clone sci-fi concept meets a story elevated primarily by the beauty and commitment of the performers. Carla Gugino and Abbey Lee Kershaw are involved with a scientific project gone horribly wrong. There are so many twists you won’t guess the ending.

— MB