Talk about your reputation preceding you. In Alan Conway's case, however, it wasn't his reputation, but that of a certain notoriously elusive filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick. Brian Cook
's Color Me Kubrick follows the true-life exploits of a down-and-out, gay boozehound who managed, by passing himself off as Kubrick, to gain adoration and material support from a cross-section of London's gay artists and culture vultures in the 1990s. Of course, suspicion eventually caught up with Conway and his cover was blown by a Vanity Fair article and a police investigation that followed his trail of hoodwink and swindle.
Playing Conway-as-Kubrick is John Malkovich
. He's the main attraction here, and for all of Color Me Kubrick's considerable flaws, you can't take your eyes off Malkovich's flamboyant take on Conway. Depending on whom Conway's trying to hustle -- whether it's Jasper (Richard E. Grant), a hard-luck restaurateur; Rupert (Luke Mably
), a studly would-be fashion designer; or Lee Pratt (Jim Davidson), a cut-rate Tom Jones-wannabe -- we see him adapting wildly different variations on the "Kubrick" persona. He's the sly English fop for the gay scenesters, or a variation on the brash, business-minded American (often with a shrill Brooklyn accent) for the investors and entertainers. Always, though, he dresses with the sensibility of a natty, low-rent hipster -- as if Kubrick must dress dowdily, yet with an impeccable sense of thrift-store chic. Conway's coup de grace involves conning the aforementioned Pratt, the English crooner, into believing he -- Kubrick -- is going to help him score a show in Vegas. After Pratt calls his bluff, the balance of Conway's vodka-loving life is spent in a rehab facility for the fancy rich. What we marvel at, beyond the gullibility of his victims, is how Conway is always playing a role, and getting away with it, right up to the very end. Article continues below
It all makes for an audacious, and sometimes hilarious, Malkovich performance (a bit in which Conway/Kubrick mentions he's considering John Malkovich in the lead role of his next film is a wry standout), but one that begins and ends on the surface. Of Conway's inner life, we get zero. For a story about a con artist obsessed with fame and getting attention, Color Me Kubrick has a staggering lack of psychological curiosity, amounting to a 90-minute sideshow in which we get to watch Conway punk his way up the social ladder, until he's duping the New York Times theatre critic. This is followed by predictable displays of shock and outrage from his victims.
Both Cook and writer Anthony Frewin were close to Kubrick; Cook was his assistant director on several films, and Frewin his personal assistant from 2001: A Space Odyssey onwards. To keep Kubrick's spirit present in their film, there are random and assorted nods to the director throughout, whether in the action or (especially) on the soundtrack. Their specific meaning, other than providing ironic counterpoint, is hard to say. Still, other than for its notoriety and that it hit so close to home, one has to wonder what drove them to tell this story. As a character study, Color Me Kubrick is lightweight fare, failing to go to the dangerous places we crave for this material and Malkovich to tread. That Conway was a Kubrick ignoramus (he wasn't exactly an expert on the man's art or biography) should've been incitement enough to plumb Conway's mind, find out how and why his role-playing shifted and adapted over time. Instead of expanding and deepening their material, Cook and Frewin cobble together an amusing but clueless ramble... though it is a most kick-ass playground for madman Malkovich to be set loose in.