In addition to the appeal of a documentary that must include shots and scenes from some of the most striking films of all time, Filmworker also entertains with its talking head sequences of Vitali rattling off anecdotes. The arc of his relationship with Kubrick is not unlike the whiplash of watching the gentle and instructive version of Gordon Ramsay on Masterchef Jr give way to the salmon-flinging venom of Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen. Vitali is essentially stuck in an abusive relationship, one that he’s aware is a recreation of the one he had with his father. He recounts having to stay ahead of Kubrick’s ire, which meant sleeping on the front porch of Kubrick’s mansion to avoid getting too comfortable and therefore letting his body get the rest it so desperately needs. This persists even after Kubrick dies, when Vitali shrinks down to a starvation weight in pursuit of completing a remaster and in avoidance of a spectral beatdown from Kubrick’s ghost. In Vitali’s telling, perfect moments like peeing off the mansion’s porch or being in an audience wowed by a 4k 2001 showing makes it all worth it.
Zierra, who also edited his own film, has the good fortune of Vitali being such an engaging presence, filled with stories told with a weary charisma. He also is able to get other interview subjects to drop their guards. Ermey is deeply gracious towards Vitali and credits him for sparking his onscreen career, while Vitali’s co-star in Barry Lyndon, Ryan O’Neal, still feels guilty about the beatings he had to inflict on all-time agreeable guy Vitali in their scenes together. Matthew Modine has kind and perceptive words for Vitali’s role as a real-life Igor to Kubrick’s Frankenstein, and the back-handed, though earnest, compliments continue when other subjects call Vitali a cockroach. The emphasis is on the resilience of that loathed species, and Vitali is nothing if not resilient. Filmworker shows that it’s people like Vitali who guarantee that great works of cinema not only get made, but that persist into the future. The documentary about those people deserves to persist as well. A-