- Brian W. Cook
- John Malkovich, Tom Allen, Scott Baker
- 87 min.
- Release Date
Reclusive American director Stanley Kubrick, in a career lasting almost fifty years, made only thirteen films, most of them masterpieces. With examples like Paths of Glory (1957), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Barry Lyndon (1975), he defined auteur filmmaking for commercial audiences (moviegoers that would otherwise never see an art film). Because Kubrick chose subjects with mass marketing appeal and then shot them so well on top of it, his oeuvre became classic for both hoity film enthusiasts and audiences alike. The obscurity around the director’s public persona, often questioned and speculated over, was his trademark during the latter half of his career, when he only made movies once or twice a decade, and rarely gave interviews.
During the 1990s, Alan Conway, an eccentric sixty-something British man, knowing nothing about Stanley Kubrick, began impersonating the famed director around London. Color Me Kubrick, a film by first-time feature director Brian W. Cook, follows Conway as he uses Kubrick’s celebrity and withdrawn behavior to his advantage. John Malkovich plays Conway in an ironic and satirical presentation only an actor who we know is capable of giving great performances could give, because Conway imagines an utterly inaccurate Kubrick. Malkovich recalls his self-deprecating farce-of-a-performance from Being John Malkovich, as Conway sports flamboyant outfits, complete with leopard-print scarves and hot pink vests, and then he behaves like a buffoonish wreck. When not in character, Conway is a pathetic nothing who thrives on (what appears to be) solely vodka, by dumping cola out of a can and pouring vodka in so he can drink on the bus.
During the opening scene, Conway enters a homosexual night spot and seats himself next to a young fashion designer working on his portfolio. Playing the role of a meek artist, Conway acts impressed with the designer’s work, and then he introduces himself as Stanley Kubrick. The designer is floored. The Stanley Kubrick, right in front of him, is praising his work. Conway makes promises: “I could use you for my next picture,” he says. With hopes of breaking into the film business, the unsuspecting victim spends money and time preparing for the next Kubrick film.
Using his position for anything from a free dinner to money for cigarettes and vodka, Conway keeps lying and people keep believing him. Later, after receiving his money or homosexual favors, Conway disappears. This scenario plays out over and over throughout the entire film, repeating the hook-line-and-sinker method. While that structure becomes tedious at times, it’s nonetheless chuckle-worthy to see poor, wretched Conway portraying Kubrick (who was born in New York) with thick, varying Jewish and British accents, or a ridiculous Southern drawl. Conway has it so wrong, talks such erroneous garbage, that it’s inconceivable anyone believed him. He laughs off recent “meetings” with Marlon Brando, Hollywood pomp in his voice, shunning the iconic actor: “The trouble with Marlon is he thinks he’s Brando.”
Conway’s troubles remain elusive. Is he desperate for an unattainable celebrity? Just lonely? Is he a brilliant con-man or simply a nut (which is alluded to but not confirmed in the end)? Motivation aside, why choose Stanley Kubrick when he knows little-to-nothing about the director? We’re supposed to be caught up in the absurdity of the whole thing, but we’d also like some answers. If only a few.
Color Me Kubrick portrays Conway as a sad sack with a somewhat pitiable disposition; but the film’s pity is brief. The bulk of the picture is spent poking fun at Conway’s behavior and the inherent irony therein. One scene plays the classical music score from 2001: A Space Odyssey while Conway walks to the laundromat with a garbage bag full of clothes. Another scene plays the Beethoven selections from A Clockwork Orange while Conway cons a cabbie out of paying the fare. The grandiose music against Conway’s frumpy character never ceases to be hilarious, but it won’t impact those viewers without an in-depth knowledge of Kubrick’s work.
Director Brian W. Cook, who was Kubrick’s assistant director on Eyes Wide Shut, The Shinning, and Barry Lyndon, knows Kubrick well enough to tell Conway’s story with more than just comical irony. Instead, Cook substitutes story for a recurring joke. The gag remains amusing for the first half-hour or so, although soon becomes sad and even curious. Cook could have exploited that potential emotional layer, and our growing interest in Conway to make a better movie.