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Blurry portrait of an audacious liar

John Malkovich plays a man who pretended to be Stanley Kubrick, but his motives are unclear.

March 23, 2007|Ed Gonzalez | Special to The Times

Stanley Kubrick's appeal and influence were never more fathomable than at the time of his death. The reclusive director made only 13 films, four during the 30-year span between his 1968 opus, "2001: A Space Odyssey," and his 1999 swan song, "Eyes Wide Shut." Almost all are revered with scant reservation by an obsessive legion of fans, some of whom seemed unwilling to take the director's demise seriously, believing him to be in hiding and perhaps working on a new movie. At the time, it appeared as if the auteurist canon had its first Elvis.

Not surprisingly, "Color Me Kubrick," Brian Cook's slight but entertaining film about the man who famously pretended to be Kubrick while the director was filming "Eyes Wide Shut," could just as easily have been about the life of an Elvis impersonator. Cook understands that only a pop culture king could have inspired the twisted form of flattery his considerably affected version of Alan Conway indirectly shows for the iconic Kubrick by donning the director's persona, but he's uncommitted to illuminating this strange man's state of mind. Without insight into the personal traumas that turned Conway on to such mischief, he remains anonymous -- not unlike one of the dancing Elvises from Sheryl Crow's "Leaving Las Vegas" music video.

"Color Me Kubrick" unfolds as a series of comic vignettes that detail Conway's use of Kubrick's identity to his monetary and sexual advantage, beginning with two punks angrily charging up to the home they think belongs to Kubrick and continuing with Conway conning others while trying to avoid exposure. The man's success rate is shocking not only because he bears little resemblance to Kubrick but also because his research into the director's life is sketchy: He is an expert showman, but only up to a point, retreating into an almost childlike state of development whenever he is caught in a lie, as in the scene where an attractive man calls him out for not knowing that "Judgment at Nuremberg" was actually directed by Stanley Kramer.

Though Cook provides no sense of Conway's history, or much context for the man's taste for privilege, John Malkovich brings a freakish sympathy to his character, suggesting both a pathetic junkie hooked on deceit and an aging queen who clings to fantasy in order to broker the affection that is otherwise beyond reach because of his age, average looks and status. This is sad, but when Conway clings to the man who rejects his affections after learning that he is not Kubrick, Cook begins to posit something deeper: this idea that Conway's victims are every bit as parasitic as their tormenter, maliciously using Conway in the same way.

Cook does not feign the formalist rigor of Kubrick's movies, but he does crib a few songs (like "The Thieving Magpie") from the director's canon to illicit a buzz from "Color Me Kubrick's" likeliest target audience: the Kubrick fanboy. Alas, it would appear that this is the very audience that will be most resistant to the film, given the way Conway is played by Malkovich as a nelly queen who uses his false identity to seduce men; for example, the scene in which Conway promises work to an attractive costume designer as a pretense to get his hand in the younger man's pants.

Scarcely an insightful biographical portrait, "Color Me Kubrick" is still interesting, perhaps even intimidating, as a study of the way fandom can so readily be turned against itself.

"Color Me Kubrick." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. Landmark's Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. (310) 281-8223. Also debuting today on HDNet TV and Tuesday on DVD.

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