If you have seen Barry Lyndon (and if you haven’t and can tolerate an unusually slow pace, go see it at once!) you will remember the adult Lord Bullingdon, who engages in the climactic, stunning duel at the end. He was played by Leon Vitali, a successful stage actor with a few screen credits. Then he just left his career to become Stanley Kubrick’s assistant for the next twenty-four years, until the director’s death in 1999. I mean, just gave it all up for the chance to work with the great man.
I just finished reading a book about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and along with this film it is clear to me that Kubrick could be a giant asshole. He could also be kind and charming. And over and over it was stated that people would work their asses into nervous breakdowns and swallow massive helpings of shit just for the chance to work with a genius. Because how often does that chance come along in a lifetime? Once, if you’re very lucky. Geniuses work by their own sets of rules, and if you can’t deal with that, go home. And Kubrick is probably the biggest talent ever to shout “Action!”
Leon was frequently treated like shit. He is still alive, and extensively interviewed here, and he just doesn’t seem to mind it at all. There are also interviews with many of the people who worked on Kubrick films, actors and crew, and they all tell the same story: It was a privilege. Well, they didn’t interview Shelley Duvall, who was reportedly driven almost literally insane on the set of The Shining. These days she is literally insane, but The Shining had nothing to do with that. This is one of the most interesting documentaries you will ever see.