Review Of Color Me Kubrick
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 2/19/12
I watched my first pure Netflix fiction film, as opposed to documentary, and it was not good. I was going to watch In The Mood For Love, by Wong Kar-wai, but the picture could not include all of the subtitles at the bottom. The same was true with Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion, but that, too, had issues with the framing out of subtitles. Reported both problems, so that dampened the mood for foreign films. Then I came across a 2006 comedy and drama called Color Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story, which is about the noted 1990s impersonator of Stanley Kubrick- a gay man who used Kubrick’s own hermitry to his advantage, since few knew what the real Kubrick looked like. People may recall when New York Times drama critic, Frank Rich, wrote of his encounter with the imposter, Alan Conway, at a restaurant. This chance meeting led to Conway’s eventual downfall and exposure, and was one of the seminal events in what might be termed the ‘Modern Celebrity Crazy Fan Age’ which includes stalkers and impersonators. As mild as my renown is, restricted to online arts and film venues, even I’ve had stalkers and impersonators. But, whereas some celebrities ended up being killed by their pursuers, Conway never sought Kubrick, only to use his name to his own advantage; an idea which fascinated Kubrick, according to reports. It was even rumored that Kubrick considered a screenplay on his own impersonator, but both Conway and Kubrick died before anything could come of it.
Unfortunately, instead of Kubrick’s take on such an interesting existential subject, we get Brian Cook’s take on the matter. To say it is pedestrian is to be mild, and shows that even after years of working with Kubrick, as an assistant director, none of the great man’s insights nor skills rubbed off. It’s not a terrible film, for any film with John Malkovich essaying a psychopathic homosexual is bound to at least feature some superb acting, but it is dull and mostly forgettable. The film does make some subversive use of music featured in classic Kubrick films, as well, but visually it offers nothing new. The film’s plot, such as it is, is to follow Conway through a series of scams perpetrated on unwittingly avaricious people. One can hardly feel sorry for the suckers, as they are venal and dumb. But Conway is utterly without redeemable features. Malkovich has his character veer between flaming queer stereotypes and American Jewish ones, with an occasional venal American cliché tossed in, to boot. The reason for this is because Conway never had any real clue about the real Kubrick, so made his ‘Kubrick’ an amalgam of himself and what little he knew of the director. This is best illustrated in a scene where Conway tries to scam a gay male prostitute into giving him a freeby, but the lad tests Conway by declaring his favorite Kubrick film to be Judgment At Nuremberg. Conway is clueless that it was directed by Stanley Kramer, not Kubrick, and the prostitute humiliates Conway over his lies, until the older man just skulks off in frustration over his exposure. Fortunately, for Conway, the prostitute is the lone on the ball person in the film until Conway’s encounter with Frank Rich (William Hootkins), the man whose investigation will prove Conway’s undoing, exposure, then being sent to a sanatorium, where he gulls a not too bright psychiatrist) and a celebrity alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Rimini, Italy (birthplace of Italian director Federico Fellini), where Conway ironically gets the attention and pampering he so craves.
Aside from Malkovich, the acting is pretty standard. The screenplay, by another Kubrick associate- Anthony Frewin, is a one note affair, with the same scenarios playing out over and again with decreasing irony and efficacy- after all, how many times does one need to see and hear one of Conway’s victim’s on a telephone declaring, ‘I’m a personal friend of Stanley Kubrick!’ The use of music in the film is solid, especially in ironic counterpoints to the same music’s use in Kubrick’s films. The cinematography is nothing special, and even the film’s end, with a written denouement of Conway’s and Kubrick’s death, seems half-hearted.
Yet, given the fact that this ludicrous imposture was successful (after all, Kubrick had a New York accent, a beard, was wealthy, and married, not gay) there was a chance to make the focus of the film the willing suspension of disbelief in a celebrity soaked culture, not the utter nihility of the life of the imposter. Yes, there are ‘moments’ in the film, such as the aforementioned prostitute’s easy exposure of Conway’s ruse, or the whole arc of Conway’s Las Vegas adventure with a bad British television comedian (who looks like William Shatner) longing to conquer America, and an even better moment where Conway states he’s looking to cast 3001: A Space Odyssey, starring John Malkovich, but mostly the film is an inert mass of unrealized potential. This may be a recapitulation of the film’s subject, Alan Conway, but other than that fortuity there’s little to recommend Color Me Kubrick. It’s not terrible, it’s not good, and the only real question the film poses is why was it made? Aside from Cook’s and Frewin’s association with the real Kubrick, I can only guess the hope that the mere mention of a celebrity name would make enough money to justify its production. My final take on the matter? I hope Netflix has fixed its issues with framing and subtitles the next time I’m in the mood for a foreign film.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Talking Pictures website.]
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