Long live the queens
After those worthy mid-West cowboys, it’s almost a relief to see bitchy homos back on the big screen in Colour Me Kubrick.
Now that the nauseating overload of those pious and hyper-masculine gay cowboys has subsided, it’s great to see good old-fashioned effete, wicked old queens holding court on the big screen. First was Capote, an excellent film about the grand old Manhattan lit-fag who was happy to bluff a couple of dopey Midwestern blue-collars to the gallows just so he could write a career-making book about them. Now, there’s Colour Me Kubrick, a so called ‘true-ish’ account of Alan Conway, a London bedsit-queen who tricked many an aspiring actor out of their underpants and credit card accounts by convincing them that he was Stanley Kubrick, and that he may have a role for them in his new film.
Born Eddie Alan Jablowsky in Whitechapel in 1943, Conway originally told many that he was a Polish Jew who’d escaped the Nazis. In jail for theft by age 13, he later established a travel agency in London with his wife after leaving South Africa under a cloud of investigations for fraud. In the early Eighties, Conway left his wife for another man but the travel agency soon went under, his lover died of AIDS, and somewhere around this time ‘Stanley Kubrick’ emerged.
Innumerable actors and screenwriters on the make had their first and possibly only gay sexual experiences with Conway, who would always assure them that ‘the Studio’ would reimburse them for expensive restaurant and nightclub tabs they had to pick up after Conway had suddenly realised he’d forgotten or mislaid his credit card.
But Conway’s Kubrick wasn’t limited to taking advantage of ambitious hotties. Apparently, he once had dinner at a top club with a table full of in-the-know Hollywood types, including the New York Times’ theatre critic Frank Rich, all of whom revelled in sharing a meal with someone they truly believed was the legendary director. As Kubrick, Conway had a gold pass into every hot spot in town for a few years in the early Nineties and was found everywhere from backstage at the theatre telling Julie Walters he wanted her for his new movie to forming fast friendships with former Tory MP Sir Fergus Montgomery and club singer Joe Longthorne.
In the film, the ever-expanding legions of shafted young actors and musicians who put two-and-two together, or who had been filled in that Conway was doing things the con’s way, never managed to catch up with their nemesis. When found out and publicly exposed, Conway cheerfully detailed his exploits on a TV show called The Lying Game. The real Kubrick was told about Conway and was apparently fascinated, and not all offended by the story. Conway’s Kubrick persona ended when Conway died in 1998, just a few months before the director died.
This marvellously eccentric story is, unfortunately, given a rather drab treatment in Colour Me Kubrick. Director Brian Cook really doesn’t give us anything beyond a series of colourful vignettes that become repetitive. It is interesting that Cook was assistant director on Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining and Barry Lyndon, and that he had a minor role in Eyes Wide Shut as a butler. But beyond this curiosity, and at 86 minutes, his film still seems to be slow, inert – long. Screenwriter Anthony Prewin (Stanley Kubrick’s personal assistant on Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey) peppers Colour Me Kubrick with dialogue witticisms and a general sense of pre-AIDS camp grandeur, but he neglected to put a spark plug in the story engine and the film just lacks momentum.
But there’s a reason why John Malkovich, who plays Conway, has films named after him. A staggeringly under-rewarded actor of enormous ability (in a 20-year movie career he has received only two Supporting Actor Oscar nominations, and lost both) Malkovich gifts us with one of the great homo performances. If the film had been a bit better, and released a little earlier, he may have gone head-to-head with Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) for this year’s Best Actor Oscar, and could have possibly won. His grasp of that unique essence of the low-rent dandy-in-decay (think Quentin Crisp), where cynical wile and withering wit become over-developed mega-muscles that compensate for atrophied, absent sinews of traditional masculinity and any form of sexual appeal, is tremendous, and the distinctive timbre of Malkovich’s slow-motion diction is the perfect voice for a character like this one.
The mobius-strip background details to Colour Me Kubrick are far more interesting than the film itself, which really seems to be not a lot more than an in-joke project by a couple of Kubrick ex-employees that features a great lead performance. Unfortunately for Malkovich, and as usual for the actor who only leads in butterfly-wing films like Shadow of the Vampire, The Portrait of A Lady and Mary Reilly, mixed-bag art-house affairs that hardly anyone goes to see, this fabulous circus master performance may also drift quietly away. For some reason, he jumps readily into key supporting roles as killer psychos in action blockbusters like In The Line of Fire and Con Air. You’d have to ask Malkovich, but it almost seems like we can read his view of the state-of-the-(cinematic)-art in the way he delights in throwing his all into intricate performances in peripheral quality films while tossing off evil-madman cameos into Hollywood blockbusters.
In any case, what struck me most about this film is the ironic connection between Conway’s cinephilic delusions and the similarly chimeric behaviour of so many gay filmgoers who – though they would conspicuously distance themselves from figures like Conway – insisted that despite their white-collar, iPod lifestyles, they were ‘really’ Jack and Ennis, the tortured cowpokes of Brokeback Mountain, who almost certainly never even heard of Abercrombie and Fitch, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Dannii Minogue dancing in a leotard at G.A.Y.
Mark Adnum is editor of Outrate, the Australia-based film reviews website. Colour Me Kubrick is currently touring the film festival circuit.