Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The “trueish” tale of a con artist who masqueraded as a great artist

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Scarlett Johansson vehicle Lucy is the latest action-packed import from EuropaCorp. For the next five days, we highlight some of the French studio’s finest offerings—including a few without gunfights and car chases.


Color Me Kubrick (2005)

Color Me Kubrick isn’t the typical EuropaCorp film, in that all of the cars drive at a perfectly reasonable speed, Jason Statham doesn’t kick anyone to death (he’s not even in it!), and nobody uses 100 percent of their brains, let alone 10. Rooted, on the contrary, in the real world—an opening title card professes it to be “trueish”—Brian W. Cook’s one and only directorial effort is a biopic of a man who struggled to see the line between fact and fantasy.

Alan Conway was not Stanley Kubrick. Not even a little bit. In fact, when the notorious con man began to impersonate the legendary filmmaker in the early ’90s, these were the only things that the two men shared in common: They were both white, they were both in the U.K., and they were both alive. That’s pretty much where the similarities ended, as Conway was a destitute gay swindler who preyed upon crowds in order to find his marks, while Kubrick was a rich and happily married heterosexual who was considered to be something of a recluse during his later years. While Conway was happy to exploit that last detail and make the most of the opportunities that were possible in the pre-Google era, his main weapon was the simple allure of celebrity, and the public’s overwhelming desire to believe their lives had been touched by greatness.

Unfolding like a darkly comic reboot of Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, Color Me Kubrick introduces Conway through the iconography of its eponymous director. Beginning with the most explicit Kubrick reference in a movie that could have used a lot more of them, the movie opens on two droogs invading the flat of an elderly London couple in search of the famous filmmaker who conned them. When we meet “Kubrick” (a delicately spirited John Malkovich), it’s immediately clear just how gullible his targets must have been, and also why it was so tempting to believe that it was all true.

The fun of Malkovich’s performance is that his Conway is an amateur to the bone, all confidence and no talent. His accent varies wildly, as if Conway seems to have lost himself in the shuffle of identities, and he can’t even name all of Kubrick’s films. He ends every conversation by hitting someone up for money, and even his taxi driver gets offered a part in his upcoming dramatic-romance-sci-fi-historical-future-epic-remake masterpiece. Equal parts pathetic and pathological, Conway uses his personality for immediate sexual satisfaction and fleeting personal gain, his cons never leaving him with much beyond the need to con again.

Cook, a producer on Eyes Wide Shut and an assistant director on three of Kubrick’s films, doesn’t bring much to the table beyond his personal interest—Color Me Kubrick is every bit as one-note and increasingly unmoored as its tragic hero. Nevertheless, the film is worth watching to see Malkovich bring Conway back to life, finally giving the late con man a movie that truly belongs to him.


Availability: Color Me Kubrick is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.