During the mid-1990s, a con man named Alan Conway stumbled his way through London posing as renowned film director Stanley Kubrick. It wasn't much of a scam, really. Conway apparently did only the barest of research on his supposed identity, which he employed chiefly for the purpose of securing sex and cocktails. Still, the ruse makes for a mildly amusing movie in Color Me Kubrick.
John Malkovich has great fun chewing up the scenery as Conway, a flamboyantly gay alcoholic who passed himself off as the legendary creator of 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. It didn't matter that Alan Conway neither looked like Kubrick nor acted like him. Kubrick was notoriously reclusive, and Conway's dupes tended to be good-looking young men only nominally familiar with Kubrick's work. For the most part, those who believed Conway were just eager to be flattered by the attentions of a celebrity.
Despite the movie's title, one doesn't have to be a Kubrick aficionado to appreciate the story. First, it is only peripherally about the filmmaker. More important, however, there isn't much of a plot to follow. Color Me Kubrick is essentially a string of episodes in which Conway drinks and prevaricates his way through gay bars, restaurants and seaside resorts. Until Conway's ruse is finally exposed by reporters, including then-New York Times theater critic Frank Rich (William Hootkins), not a great deal actually propels the story forward.
Directed by Brian Cook and written by Anthony Frewin, both of whom worked on several Kubrick pictures (Cook as an assistant director and Frewin as an assistant to Kubrick), the movie boasts enough sly references to tickle Kubrick buffs. The opening, in which two British punks looking for Conway turn up at the home of an elderly couple, is a clever takeoff on the infamous "Home" scene in Clockwork Orange. Marisa Berenson, who appeared in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, has a turn here as Frank Rich's wife. And a slew of musical cues hearkens to 2001, Clockwork Orange and The Shining. But inside jokes are not enough to sustain a feature-length film, and Color Me Kubrick grows a tad repetitive and tedious.
What ultimately saves the movie is John Malkovich's delightfully twisted performance. His Alan Conway is a confidence man whose ineptitude reaches sublime proportions. The b.s. he feeds people feels improvised and is always evolving. In addition to being a world-famous filmmaker, Conway tells one man, he is also Shirley Bassey's showbiz agent and a former child actor who played Pip in the 1940s' movie version of Great Expectations.
Most entertaining of all, Conway is a font of weird, indecipherable and inconsistent accents. Malkovich is clearly having a ball in the role, and, for a time, his enthusiasm is contagious.
The picture quality is good enough, but not as crisp as one would expect from a contemporary film (as of this writing, Color Me Kubrick is in limited theatrical release). The picture is soft in many spots, and there are a few instances of very slight color smearing. The movie is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 are top-notch. Sound is clean and sharp, if inconsistent in volume. The DD 5.1 is the superior track, but it doesn't make particularly interesting use of rear speakers. Subtitles are only available in Spanish.
The sole special feature is a making-of documentary, Being Alan Conway (46:36). Sprawling and comprehensive, it includes on-set interviews with Malkovich, Cook, Frewin, co-producer Michael Fitzgerald, production designer Crispian Sallis and others. The most interesting bit comes at the tail end, when we finally catch footage of the real Alan Conway, who passed away in 1998, three months before Kubrick's death.
Color Me Kubrick is a trifle of a movie, a quirky tale of a con man who proved surprisingly effective in spite of his own incompetence. Buried somewhere here are insights about the cult of celebrity, but Color Me Kubrick isn't out for big messages. It just wants to amuse. On that count, it mainly succeeds.