Judge Bill Gibron used to cruise bars in the late '70s pretending to be rock god Leslie West from Mountain. What that has to do with this superficial satire about a man pretending to be Stanley Kubrick is up for inquisitive film fans to decide.
The True…ish story of the world's biggest liar.
His name was Alan Conway (John Malkovich, Eragon). By all accounts, he was a gay travel agent from one of London's outside areas. He had an affinity for escorts, rent boys, and rough trade. He conned hundreds of people out of food, fun, and financial assistance by assuming the rather unconvincing guise of a famous filmmaker. For all anyone knew, they were in the company of genius—a man responsible for such cinematic classics as Lolita, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. They wanted to believe that this reclusive expatriate American auteur would want to be their friend, keep their company, and occasionally share their bed. What they didn't know was that Alan had no desire to be anything other than a vodka-soaked sponge, leeching everything he could from his unwitting targets. When he was finally caught, when the con was over and the police were pressing in, Alan feigned insanity. After all, the man behind Spartacus and Full Metal Jacket couldn't be seen going to jail, even if the imposter was only putting on a show. If they are going to paint me as anything, he probably thought, they needed to "Color Me Kubrick."
There is an issue with Color Me Kubrick, a central narrative conceit that must be overcome before you can enjoy a single second of this slightly surreal comedy. It revolves around the main character and has nothing much to do with star John Malkovich's uneven performance. No, the element of this film that you have to wrap your unwitting brain around is the notion that this story basically celebrates an irredeemable lout. Alan Conway (who died of a heart attack in the late '90s) was a sod, a drunken, dithering fame whore who flashed around a fancy name in order to get the sex and sympathy he so desperately craved. Relying on luck more than immutable grifting skills and redefining the concept of mark vulnerability, he was a village idiot playing to a town inhabited by imbeciles. So you have to really crank up your low-IQ tolerance levels to accept—and then be entertained by—what is going on here. Malkovich makes it interesting, but he never delivers the kind of connected performance that provides both showboating and substance. Throughout Color Me Kubrick, he offers a tenuous tour de force that's heavy on the bad accents and light on personal insight. This is indeed a Kilimanjaro-sized stumbling block. After all, if we can't accept the individual we are meant to follow throughout a film, all we have left are the events that make up his or her life. They better be spectacular lest we lose interest quickly.
Sadly, the situations in Color Me Kubrick are equally unaffecting. Presented in a puzzling, vignette-oriented style that never settles on a clear time frame or realistic reference point, we are witness to one weak flim-flam after another. First Conway seduces a pick-up in a swanky bar. Then he's fiddling with a couple of heavy metal wankers at a rock club. One moment he's arguing with an implied flatmate (we never get a bead on their actual relationship), the next he's off on a whirlwind "working" holiday with a famous TV comedian/singer. In each of these roundabout sequences, we keep hoping to see some manner of comeuppance, to see Conway get discovered and pay—if only a little—for his many mean-spirited crimes. Only in two rare cases does this ever happen, and only the first time is it effective. It is during that confrontation, when a cruising Conway hits on a bloke in a bar and brags on his work in Judgment at Nuremberg (a Stanley KRAMER film) that we see what Color Me Kubrick could really be. The level of ludicrous susceptibility on display throughout the film is shattering. This is the mid-'90s were talking about here, not the information highway-less '70s or '80s. Kubrick was reclusive but he wasn't J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. His movies were popular and he was in the middle of producing Eyes Wide Shut—a film notorious for its many internal issues and dragged-out shooting schedule.
To accept the narrative, we have to believe that people, desperate for any contact with something sort of resembling celebrity, will basically throw all caution to the wind and turn over money, accommodations, and even legal confidence to this otherwise unexceptional fellow. What makes it even harder to believe is that, aside from the aforementioned lounge act, we never get to learn a single significant thing about the people Conway fleeced. Even in minor cameo moments by Richard E. Grant, Marisa Berenson, and Ayesha Dharker, we never get beyond the surface in this story—and that's apparently the way director Brian W. Cook wants it. This longtime AD and first-time feature filmmaker even goes so far as to overload his movie with as many private in-jokes (famous faces like Honor Blackman and Ken Russell in throwaway moments, signature songs from Kubrick's own films as part of the soundtrack) as possible to keep us at an amiable arm's length. There is supposedly a message buried somewhere amidst all the meandering and mincing (this movie has some unsettling views about homosexuality—or at least, its effete interpretation onscreen), a warning about fame and face value, but it too gets lost in this void of a variety act. Some may see the humor in this one-note novelty. Others won't fall for this cinematic scam.
Through a strange release strategy, Color Me Kubrick will arrive in theaters the weekend of March 23, 2007. This follow-up DVD release (slated for a March 27 bow) contains a copy of the film, a decent behind-the-scenes featurette, and a trailer. That's it. The documentary is interesting, even if it fails to once show Alan Conway in real life. Surely there must have been some news footage available. Anyway, the creative team behind the movie has a grand time defending their scattered approach, and Malkovich is a wealth of insight into how he came upon his character's unusual mannerism and speaking style. Thanks to the efforts of former Kubrick assistant Anthony Frewin (who supplied the script), we learn just how much the famous director really knew about Conway's shenanigans. It makes for an intriguing 40-plus minutes. From the technical side of things, Color Me Kubrick looks and sounds very good. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is excellent—loaded with color and easily defined details. On the sound side, we are treated to a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that allows us to hear the dialogue rather easily (though Malkovich mumbles and whispers during some of the film). There is also a 2.0 track, but it lacks the former's aural ambience. All in all, for a movie making a near-simultaneous big-screen and small-screen release, this is a fine digital presentation.
It's just too bad that there's not more to this movie than a weirdo performance by our lead actor and a bunch of random exploits. This is the perfect material for a major motion picture satire, the kind the skewers both subject and subtext. Unfortunately, Color Me Kubrick is not into details. As long as it stays within the limited lines created by its cinematic Crayola, it is content to be more devious than deep.
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• Making-Of Featurette: Being Alan Conway
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