Colour Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story
starring John Malkovich, Jim Davidson, Richard E. Grant, Luke Mably
screenplay by Anthony Frewin
directed by Brian W. Cook
starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Stanley Tucci
screenplay by William Wheeler
directed by Lasse Hallström
by Walter Chaw Suffice it to say that any picture featuring a sped-up version of the "William Tell Overture" is so drunk on its own whimsy that it most likely sucks with a dedicated vigour. Case in point: Brian W. Cook's twee Color Me Kubrick, which chronicles, sort of, the life and times of impostor Alan Conway (John Malkovich) as he sashays through days of getting free drinks and the occasional hummer by telling people he's the eponymous director. Never mind that Conway doesn't appear to know the difference between Stanleys Kubrick and Kramer, or that Malkovich's portrayal of him is so offensively fey that it could be used as a fright vid at "Focus on the Family" scare revivals--Color Me Kubrick is a grand drag revue without a rudder, and because it's not particularly entertaining, it harbours no purpose great or small. Malkovich is only ever Malkovich in all his alien glory, neatly eclipsing his supporting cast, any momentum in the script or direction, and, ultimately, any pathos in Conway's sad need to be someone else. (More egregiously unexamined is everyone else's sadder need to be in the orbit of celebrity.) Unimaginatively shot and, it can't be reiterated enough, abominably written (one scene has Conway suggesting he's cast John Malkovich in 3001: A Space Odyssey, to which his dinner mate asks, "John who?"--droll, no?), the picture is mainly interesting because, after having sat on the shelf for a while, it's finally surfaced in tandem with Lasse Hallström's similarly-mothballed film about another fabulist, Clifford Irving.
The Hoax asks a pivotal question that Color Me Kubrick dedicatedly avoids: can the imitation be as powerful as the imitated--can, as Yeats suggests, Leda take on the power of the Swan? With Howard Hughes the unearthly visitor in this scenario, frustrated writer Cliff (Richard Gere) poses himself as the conduit to the reclusive billionaire, ostensibly in order to swindle the good folks at McGraw-Hill out of a cool million. It's about more than the money, though, as Irving's painted as a frustrated novelist who had a professor once doom him to grandiose expectations by describing him as the "next Hemingway." Friend and research assistant Dick (Alfred Molina, reprising bits of his performance from Prick Up Your Ears), a jangle of insecurities and flop sweat, acts as a counter to Cliff's slick huckster jive and provides, in one of the picture's best moments, the realization that we're squarely in the corner of Cliff's deception. It's a film as charming as its swindler protagonist (someone not unlike Shattered Glass' earnest Stephen Glass), and once we're softened up, Hallström goes for making Cliff emblematic of an entire generation on the brink of deflowering. It's suggested (and confirmed in part by John Ehrlichman) that the imminent publication of facts and figures surrounding bribes Hughes gave the Nixon White House ultimately led to the Watergate break-in.
It's a seductive shell game, and it's tempting to expand Cliff's skewed moral compass into a more general statement about disillusionment and the vagaries of history (a scene inLIFE MAGAZINE 's offices has authoritarian editor Ralph Graves (Zeljko Ivanek) point to the photo gallery on his wall and proclaim: "History. It's quite a responsibility")--but the greater truth might be that the only mass reality is in entertaining fiction. (No less than Orson Welles saw this story's potential as parable in F for Fake.) The first hour of the picture is fun, the second less so as Cliff descends into a kind of All That Jazz hallucinatory madness and Hallström ratchets up the period malaise with pointed clips of war protestors urging the return of "All GIs." Should a movie about a hoax be this anxious to push a conspiracy theory? Not only does the Nixon presidency already suffer something of a credibility issue (it's not a conspiracy theory if there's no question as to the complicity of the alleged conspirators), but the film itself has also played so fast and loose with the facts of Cliff's self-inflicted ordeal (and made itself so facile a diversion in the process) that it is, itself, involved in the same slimy bait-and-switch as Cliff. Worse, where Cliff seems motivated primarily by the need for recognition and praise, Hallström and company are led by their politics to contort an already-compelling story into a parable for our current administration's executive hubris. Considering that the secrecy and mistrust of Bush II's administration is again not much of surprise, we're left with a paranoia film that isn't paranoid and a pointed political piece that doesn't wound. As long as The Hoax stays with Cliff and his gradually becoming drunk with the power of being, for all intents and purposes, the mouthpiece for a demigod, it's a dark riot; once the filmmakers get drunk on their own power as mouthpieces for their own reductive politicking, everything begins to fall apart. Originally published: April 11, 2007.