Thursday, June 25, 2009

Color Me Kubrick (2005) A Film by Brian Cook

I was drawn to this film completely on a whim when I saw that Stanley Kubrick's name was in the title and that John Malkovich sported the lead. Malkovich is an actor whom I truly appreciate, given his ability to bring such exuberance to a truly wide range of characters, and Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, so I was hoping the film would offer some additional insight on him. However, it turns out Color Me Kubrick is based on the true story of a Kubrick hack, a homosexual eccentric who persistently passed himself off as the director out of a longing for celebrity treatment, all the while having very little knowledge about Kubrick whatsoever. In this regard, I couldn't have been more wrong. The film was directed by one of Kubrick's longtime assistants, Brian Cook, which provided another possibility for the film to be infused with a never-before-seen sense of Kubrickian wisdom. Cook seems less interested in Kubrick though than he is in the seductive notion of celebrity and how it can cause fanzines to act immorally.

Malkovich's character, Alan Conway, is an absolute hoot, but is simultaneously set astray from reality. He quite voluntarily lives in a world that is outside of himself, never once hesitating when someone asks him his name before answering in James Bond-like fashion, "Stanley...Stanley Kubrick". A new day and frequently even a new hour means an entirely distinct new outfit for Alan, who plays dress-up with himself as if he were a doll. Furthermore, his accent seems to change sporadically with his clothing, sometimes bearing no relation at all. He can be muddled and dispassionate or sociable and drunkenly rambling within a short period of time, giving little concentration to the way that the actual Kubrick would behave in public, given he was in public in the first place. Along with Chris Marker, Kubrick is one of the most standoffish filmmakers in the history of cinema, but Conway goes out of his way to confront people and coax them into speaking about "his films".

Undeniably, Conway is an enormously interesting headcase, if only because he chose to imitate, out of the countless other more bombastic and flighty celebrities this world has to offer, a cerebral artist. He gets his due in the end though when delivered to a mental asylum after romping around the streets of London for years unabated. Throughout the film, we see him using his fraudulent name to hitch rides, pick up men, slip out of payment for drinks, and most importantly, levitate his self-confidence. Often times he will offer fake crew positions to these people, and in one instance, guarantees fame for a young metal band named after a Buñuel film ("The Exterminating Angels"), who would reportedly receive a central role in an upcoming film of his named after a neon sign he sees in passing on a taxi ride. Malkovich has a grand time as this character, sometimes going over the top but never becoming dull. He even makes a point to give his career another case of self-quotation, citing John Malkovich as an actor he considered for a part, bringing to mind Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, a film that revolved around him.

Technically speaking, Color Me Kubrick is so heavily referential that it ceases to be its own film. Granted, Cook is purposely making continuous allusions to Kubrick's work, both visually and aurally, but their interjections become so obvious that they are clunky. On a scene to scene basis, the film plays more like a game of spot-that-Kubrick reference, whether we're watching the spin of a dryer to Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, a man getting tossed off a dock to the A Clockwork Orange theme, or Alan stumbling through the opulent lobby of the mental asylum to the distant sound of the lounge music that reverberates in one of the many ghost scenes of The Shining. Stripped of Kubrick's phenomenal photography, these scenes are nice homages at best and substantially inferior evil cousins at worst. Dramatically, the film is also thin, progressing more like a series of disconnected rehearsals than like a coherent narrative. Fortunately, these rehearsals are quite entertaining and Malkovich's daring performance does not hold back.

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