Saturday, June 17, 2006

Colour Me Kubrick

Few film directors are as iconic as Stanley Kubrick. Perhaps only Alfred Hitchcock eclipses him in the instant-recognition stakes. But while a simple silhouette of Hitchcock's portly physique is enough to conjure up thoughts of James Stewart's wheelchair-bound voyerism, Cary Grant dodging bi-planes or Tippi Hedren being stalked by some wayward seagulls - it's Kubrick's name alone that brings to mind his innovative and confronting films. For Kubrick, especially in his later years, shunned the limelight - preferring to remain at his English country estate with his kids and pets rather than flashing his credentials all over Hollywood (take that George Lucas).

So with that in mind, in the late 90s, an English conman named Alan Conway began getting round London passing himself off as Stanley Kubrick. Colour Me Kubrick is the "true...ish" story of this man, and while it's in the "out there" category, it's a great little film with a marvellously indulgent performance by John Malkovich in the central role.

There's not much of a story to Colour Me Kubrick. The film is essentially a series of cons that Alan Conway/Stanley Kubrick pulls - some quick and mercenary, others drawn out and complicated. The film obviously embellishes Conway's story, but if he got away with merely half of what his screen counterpart does, it's breathtaking. Malkovich takes great delight in wallowing in the character of Conway/Kubrick - donning effeminate and eccentric clothing (who says paisley and plaid with terry cloth boxers, fingerless gloves and a headscarf doesn't work?) - and shuffling messily around town. He virtually smells unwashed. (They should have just called it "Being Stanley Kubrick", or "Being Alan Conway"). As Kubrick, Conway adopts different accents almost every time he meets someone new, as if his bold exterior and constant name-dropping will cover-up his lack of credibility and his surprisingly poor knowledge of Kubrick's life and work. The telling part is though, that it does.

Colour Me Kubrick offers a nice comment on the nature of celebrity, and just what we ordinary plebs will do to please someone we think is famous. We'd all like to think we're bullshit-proof, but blimey, we're not. While some of those conned in the film are idiots, most are just naive, with goals and dreams that Conway plays on (preys on?) to his advantage. So the wannabe fashion designer, the up-and-coming band, the chemist with a screenplay at home all fall victim. There, but for the Grace of God....well, you know the rest.

Aside from the huge presence of Malkovich, the film's strength is in its obvious reverence for the work of the real Stanley Kubrick. It's peppered with visual but more particularly musical references to his films - Conway taking his dirty clothes to the laundromat to the dum-dum-dum-dum of "Dawn" from Strauss' Zarathustra, or being thrown off a pier to the unsettling electronica featured in A Clockwork Orange. It also has a roll call of British actors in cameo roles - the stand-out being Richard E. Grant as a gushing bar owner. "Oh, Stanley!"

The history and motivation of Conway himself is not delved into in any real detail - like the mysterious monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he himself seems to appear out of nowhere. He's obviously a lonely and desperate man, but his final and biggest con proves he's not crazy.

This is definitely not a mainstream film, and may confuse some people. But it has its own charm, and devotees of either Kubrick or Malkovich will definitely get a kick out of it.

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