Click here to listen to the interview with John Malkovich about THE DANCER UPSTAIRS.
If all the world’s a stage, few took to strutting their hour upon it with the same moxie as Alan Conway. He’s the subject of Brian Cook’s semi-documentary, all comedy, look at the man who impersonated Stanley Kubrick, badly, for an adoring pack of marks who seemed to want to be taken in, because of the same greediness for fame, even notoriety, that drove Conway himself. None of them batted an eye over the erratic behavior, the makeup, and the distinct predilection for lovely young men.
Cook, Kubrick’s assistant director during the last part of his life, and screenwriter Anthony Frewin, another Kubrick collaborator, have created a deliciously arch take on what is billed as the true-ish story of Conway’s exploits. There are riffs from Kubrick’s films, including the opening sequence, in which a pair of vicious looking punks attempt to wreak havoc at the home of a wealthy elderly couple, only to have things turn out less well for them than their counterparts in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Those riffs, like the music from Kubrick’s films that floats throughout the action, form the perfect framework for Conway’s ersatz life. As does the look of the film, it’s reality, but with a dash of hyperbole, as though seen through Conway’s eyes as he becomes his own version of Kubrick. Not quite right, but intriguing enough to overlook the parts that don’t quite ring true. Or at least find out what he’ll do next.
Conway adopted Kubrick as his alter ego for the excellent reason that he was reclusive. He didn’t do interviews, there were no recent published photos of him, and the older ones showed him with a beard. Any questions about resemblance, or lack thereof, are dismissed with the explanation that he had shaved his beard. A potentially awkward encounter with Frank Rich of “The New York Times” is handled thusly. Reality does, alas, intrude on the idyll that Conway has created. Sometimes right away, as when a cinephile trips him up on Kubrick’s body of work, sometimes later, when a journalist (Robert Powell) after doing some digging and finding absurdity on everyone’s part, confronts him with the exasperation of common sense rebuked. This is not an easy life, with heartbreak and bodily harm turning up along with the double helpings of coq au vin and endless bottles of vodka.
John Malkovich as Conway, despite wearing lip gloss and the occasional pair of pumps, makes his performance all about the serious way in which Conway pursues his faux life as Kubrick. His Conway isn’t just taking people in, though there’s that aspect, too, he’s living the role to the best of his limited ability. Which isn’t to say that Malkovich doesn’t relish the campiness of Conway’s performances, each tailored as much for Conway’s amusement as for the latest mark who willingly suspends disbelief. There is a giddy pleasure in watching people, great and small, most who should know much better, fall over themselves to be film-flammed by Conway despite the improbability of his stories second only to his self-presentation. Accents from a variety of geographical locations come and go with a dizzying speed, sometimes in the course of on sentence, each as fanciful as Conway’s choice of couture that owes its origins to the fevered imagination of an inventive, though not clever, narcissist.
COLOUR ME KUBRICK may be a slight entertainment, a series of progressively peculiar vignettes, but it is also smart and savvy. It plays both sides of the street, as it were, making celebrity and its trappings irresistible while taking a vicious swipe at the people who fall for anyone offering instant entrée into that rarified world.