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Color Me Kubrick (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Color Me Kubrick

Color Me Kubrick


Starring John Malkovich, Honor Blackman, Bryan Dick, Leslie Phillips, James Dreyfus, Luke Mably, Nitin Chandra Ganatra, Angus Barnett and Lynda Baron.

Screenplay by Andrew Frewin.

Directed by Brian Cook.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.  90 minutes.  Not Rated.

Color Me Kubrick is an odd duck of a movie.  Much of it is rather enjoyable and it is certainly worth seeing, but you do have to wonder why such a lightweight story was made in the first place.  I can only assume it is because director Brian Cook and screenwriter Andrew Frewin knew and worked with the famed director Stanley Kubrick extensively. 

Cook and Frewin were aware of how the “true-ish story” (as the poster and credits refer to the film) effected their mentor, though from what I hear Kubrick was more amused than offended by the identity theft which forms the backbone of the plot.  Perhaps the film idea was something of a tribute to the late filmmaker.  Still it seems an inside joke, more of a personal nod than one that an audience in general would share.

Color Me Kubrick tells the tale of Alan Conway, a balding, gay, British con man who became a pop-cultural footnote in the 1990s by using a somewhat extravagant scam.  He conned dozens of people into believing he was the reclusive filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.  Through his assumed fame, he was able to get money, free food and drink, sex and travel.

The movie suggests that Kubrick was so reclusive that no one knew who he was and what he looked like.  Conroy actually looked and acted nothing like the man, including not having the famous beard.  (In fairness, Conway does take the time to tell one person he shaved it.)  In fact, they had a character who had extreme access to the New York Times press archives state that they were only able to find one picture of him from 1971. 

The truth is, though, even as a moderately interested party I do have a very clear memory of his visage through a series of pictures released of him over the years.  Granted, perhaps the average person on the street wouldn’t know what he looked like, but the fact that they felt the need to put this false proviso there shows that they were a little unsure of the believability of their source material.

The problem here is, you never really get for a second why so many seemingly intelligent people fall for his act.  Conway, as portrayed by Malkovich, has a strangely flamboyant and odd pattern of speaking and acting.  He always seems to be a few seconds behind everyone else, a dead giveaway that he’s working out the angles.  He’s constantly babbling on about latest projects that make no sense nor do they seem the least bit salable.  And eventually, wouldn’t everyone catch on to the fact that he never pays for anything? 

He was even reckless with his characterization – playing the role in front of New York Times scribe Frank Rich, who quite possibly would know the director, and if not would certainly have access to information that could prove or disprove his contention that he was the filmmaker.  Even worse, the whole Rich thing was just for hubris – he got nothing from the critic, in fact he gave his wife a gift of a (probably worthless) ring.

As one of the few characters here that called him on his ruse points out, for a con man at least he could have done his research.  I mean, I only have a rudimentary knowledge of the director’s work and even I knew that he didn’t direct Judgment at Nuremberg.  

It’s not like the notoriously perfectionist director was particularly prolific – in the later stages of his career he’d go years between movies.  He only made thirteen movies in a career lasting well over 40 years.  You’d think that a man who had dedicated his life to portraying the man could memorize those.  Granted that is a knock on the character and not the film – but in this case the character and the film are completely intertwined.

Malkovich has a lot of fun with the ostentatious role – even touching on his late career tendency to mock himself on film (see also: Being John Malkovich) by doing a hysterical monologue as Alan pretending to be Kubrick, telling a tale of how he wanted to make 3001: A Space Odyssey, but the studios wouldn’t get behind it because his choice of star – Malkovich – was simply not a big enough draw to open a film.

However, no matter how flamboyantly fun his put-on Kubrick persona may be (and Conway actually plays him a few different ways for different marks), we never get more than a glimpse or two of the real man.  Conway’s life is all an act here – the film does not even really try to impart what pleasure or pain he gets from his ruse, how he feels about it, or any background as to why or how he started.  Instead, we get a long line of gullibles falling hook, line and sinker for the dramatic proclamations and lazy storytelling of a man without ever learning what goes on behind those shifty eyes.   (3/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 17, 2007.

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