Color us disappointed

Real life makes for dull cinema in Colour Me Kubrick

Mike D'Angelo

At the time, 15 years ago, that scenario still qualified as a slightly edgy joke. Today, it's business as usual, which is why we're now inundated with movies as tediously thin and repetitive as Colour Me Kubrick, written by Stanley Kubrick's former personal assistant, Anthony Frewin, and directed by Kubrick's sometime assistant director, Brian Cook. That both men knew Kubrick well, I have no doubt. Their movie isn't about Kubrick, though. It's about a fellow named Alan Conway (John Malkovich), who spent several years traipsing about London cadging free meals, drinks and booty by claiming to be the famously reclusive filmmaker. His brilliant disguise, by all accounts, consisted entirely of simple assertion—not only did Conway look nothing like Kubrick, but he'd never so much as seen 2001, Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange. So ready were people to believe themselves in the presence of genius, however, that a few vague semi-demurrals ("Ah, yes, that was a tricky shoot. It all turned out well in the end, though") were more than sufficient to keep the adulation and party favors flowing.

Sounds reasonably interesting, yes? Trouble is, I've just told you the entire movie. Conway's bizarre adventure—he died in late 1998, just a few months before Kubrick himself—made for a fascinating Vanity Fair article, but neither Frewin nor Cook seems to have recognized the yawning dramatic abyss at its center. Stories about con artists usually make a fetish of their subject's ingenuity, allowing us to take vicarious pleasure in his wiles. But Conway had no wiles, and his marks' tabloid-fueled gullibility only holds your attention for so long. Again and again, the impostor sidles up to a stranger at a bar or restaurant, makes a few pointedly weary remarks about what a trying day it's been working on his latest picture, answers the inevitable question, smiles softly at his pigeon's astonishment and accepts his financial/sexual largesse. It's rather like watching the auditions for the movie, with the same scene repeated ad infinitum with different actors (including Richard E. Grant and famed British comedian Jim Davidson) reading opposite Malkovich each time.

Indeed, Malkovich himself seems bored by the endless wheel-spinning—so much so that he adopts a new fake-Stanley persona every few minutes, providing each interaction with a uniquely outrageous accent (my favorite sounds like an unholy cross between Charlton Heston and Carl Sagan) and a fresh cavalcade of fey mannerisms. Why the real Conway should have gone to the trouble of concocting a dozen wildly different interpretations of a man few had ever met—especially given that his first attempt evidently worked just fine—is never explained, much less explored. But, then, Colour Me Kubrick has no real interest in Conway as anything more than an amusing anecdote and a fatally muddled conceit. With a little imagination and some creative license, this improbably successful bad liar might have served as a funhouse mirror reflecting the warped hopes and desires of an entire nation, much as Chance the gardener did in Jerzy Kosinski's Being There. That approach, however, demands a writer.

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