Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wonderful Movies 4: Color Me Kubrick

     In London during the early '90's, around the time director Stanley Kubrick ("Dr Strangelove", "The Shining", "2001: A Space Odyssey") was making his last film (the ponderous and oddly un-sexy "Eyes Wide Shut" with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) a man named Alan Conway was going around England claiming to be the famed reclusive auteur, promising his pigeons fame and fortune, roles in his movies and so on, in exchange for a few drinks and dinner or a little cash.
     The story of Alan Conway was made into a wonderful movie called "Color Me Kubrick" in 2005, starring John Malkovich and it's worth a look for the improbable (but true) story and the all-out, fearless, balls-to-the-wall performance by Malkovich.

     The picture is subtitled "A Tru-ish Story", presumably because it doesn't cover all the actual details of the real Conway's life. Born Eddie Alan Jablowsky in 1934, Conway had been married and had a son, but eventually left his wife for his gay lover, who later died of AIDS. According to an article in the UK Guardian, Conway had been a liar and con artist since his teens, when he was sent to Borstal prison. He was also, apparently, abusive toward his son who lived with him for a time after the divorce. In addition he was an alcoholic who eventually sobered up in AA and died sober, leaving behind diaries in which he confessed to all his cons.
     So while the movie doesn't include all the details, it still paints a rich portrait of a man who, at heart, must have been deeply unhappy with who he was. Malkovich's performance is Oscar-worthy, in my opinion, at least deserving of a nomination. But I suppose the movie wasn't big enough or "important" enough or didn't rake in enough at the box office... It's a shame because, as an actor myself, I appreciate the risks Malkovich takes and how it all pays off in his creation of a character who's pathetic and sleazy, bizarre and sad, funny as hell and very, very savvy about the lengths to which people will go in pursuit of fame and the satisfaction of their vanity. Conway even took in then New York Times theater critic Frank Rich.
     And ultimately that's what the movie is about: not just all the people Conway fooled into paying for his meals and booze and cigarettes (including a fairly well-known British cabaret singer who put Conway up for a week at a very expensive hotel, thinking Stanley Kubrick was going to make him a household name around the world); but Conway himself chased celebrity in posing as a film director, not exactly remaking himself (he was British and his American accent was apparently atrocious) but fooling himself into believing he was who he said he was. He appeared on a British TV series called "The Lying Game" and told his whole story. "I really did believe I was Stanley Kubrick,' he said. 'I could have carried on until the day I died."
     Unless you're very, very secure in your own skin and have always been perfectly happy with who you are and how your life has been going, there will be something in this movie that will resonate with that part of you that has at one time or another wanted to be someone else, someone richer or "better" or more talented. I know that's what gets me.
     That and the fact that this is a hell of an entertaining movie with, I have to say it again, a terrific performance (it isn't easy acting drunk convincingly, but Malkovich does it perfectly) by one of my favorite oddball actors.

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