The Reeler


March 22, 2007

Color Me Kubrick

Real-life Kubrick impersonator's story gets the feather-light farce treatment

There is a toss-away quote in the middle of Color Me Kubrick, director Brian Cook’s “true-ish” version of the story of Kubrick-impersonating con man Alan Conway, that gains a resonance the filmmakers might not have intended. “The only people who have fun going to the theatre,” Gore Vidal is remarked to have said, “are the ones on the stage.” While it is clear that Cook and screenwriter Anthony Frewin, who both worked with Stanley Kubrick across his career, along with an extremely game John Malkovich (as Conway) had a gay old time coming up with this campy, slick-surfaced, Kubrickian take on Conway as the happy hoodwinker, the audience is left somewhat less amused. For a story with so much dramatic, narrative (and yes, comic) potential, the decision to execute the story as a kind of extended meta-sitcom -- a series of set-ups without the tidy resolution -- feels like a cheat.

Perhaps cheating the cheater was the point; Kubrick was said to be mildly intrigued by the idea of Conway initially, but grew markedly less so, and his colleagues seem to be both taking the piss and settling a score. A former travel agent, Conway began impersonating Kubrick some time in the 1990s, using his identity to cadge everything from taxi rides to rent boy freebies and succeeding largely on the premise that no one seemed to know what Kubrick looked like, much less how he behaved or whom he might lure home.

Indeed, Malkovich’s Conway has no idea either (nor does he bother with any research of his character’s career), and his accent and demeanor range wildly from con to con; in one scene he is a blowhard cross between Cary Grant and Jesse Jackson, in the next he’s pure, purloined Christopher Walken. One thing that doesn’t change much is Conway’s sartorial splendor: bitch is fabulous, a queeny lush with his shirts perpetually knotted at the belly button. There are polka dotted ankle socks, pink berets, belted parachute pants, copious mascara, cigarette holders, knee-highs, fingerless fishnets…I could go on and on, mainly because there isn’t much more to say about Alan Conway as a character.

Conway’s victims don’t get a much more substantial treatment; most are portrayed as hapless, fame-addled dupes who grow infuriated when it is implied that they haven’t, in fact, taken the direct route into the director’s inner circle. If one subscribes to the idea that we have the options of either being slaves to the system or masters of it, this film suggests that it is Conway who deserves more respect, as desperate and silly and repugnant as he may be. Cook has a gas with constant, cutie pie references to Kubrick films, which Conway himself would not cotton to, using soundtracks and scenarios from A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon and 2001, among others. There is also, somewhat less explicably, a surfeit of dick jokes (one brassy heifer keeps calling Conway “Mr. Cute-prick”; Conway orders a double portion of “cock-au-vin”; “I have never felt something so big inside of me,” Conway wails to his disgusted cabana boy --metaphorically, naturally -- after being found out) that lower the room below what might be considered, uh, biting satire.

When Conway is finally busted he is hauled off to the loony bin, where he has a genuinely funny Spartacus moment of wack job solidarity with his floor-mates. It is implied that Conway (who died in 1998, just months before Kubrick) was not at all crazy, but rather the consummate confidence man, able to fool even his doctors into pleading his insanity defense; his ultimate destination is too perfect even for Conway to imagine, and the ending finds a note of ironic levity that lacks the ballast to be more than briefly satisfying.

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