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Knight at the Movies: Color Me Kubrick-Maxed Out-Barbara Stanwyck Centennial
by Richard Knight
2007-03-21

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Barbara Stanwyck (left) in Stella Dallas.

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In Color Me Kubrick, John Malkovich has the kind of role that makes actors become actors in the first place. Malkovich is deliciously fun portraying Alan Conway, the gay Englishman who became momentarily infamous when it was discovered that he'd been impersonating the reclusive film director Stanley Kubrick ( who was straight ) and dining out on it. The film, subtitled 'A Trueish Story,' has heightened the facts for comic effect ( especially Conway's outrageousness ) helping to lift it from appetizer to main course. Directed by Kubrick's longtime assistant director, Brian W. Cook, and written by another of his collaborators, Anthony Frewin, the movie is an enormously entertaining trifle.

Malkovich, as Conway, is deep into his impersonation as the film opens. Within moments of meeting a cute art student at his favorite gay bar, he's brought him back to his tatty flat for sex. But even as the two are trysting, an enraged man is out on the street screaming for Kubrick's attention. We see Conway blithely trip up one person after another in this fashion in pursuit of free booze, sex, food and lodging ( seemingly, in that order ) . All are taken in by the promise of stardom or reflected glory that Kubrick, as both England's and filmdom's most reclusive person, offers them.

Kubrick, for the uninitiated, certainly would have been the ultimate 'get' for celebrity hounds and reporters alike. ( He never, ever gave interviews or made personal appearances. ) For that reason, apparently, no one seems to blink as Conway switches accents ( all done badly ) as often as he does cravats, or as his fantastic claims pile up: Not only is he Kubrick, but he's also Shirley Bassey's agent, the child star who played Pip in Great Expectations, etc. But everyone loves the idea of 'Stanley Fucking Kubrick' ( as one character loudly proclaims ) and they overlook the fact that he doesn't seem to remember much about his own pictures ( with the exception of a canny hustler Conway tries to pick up in a gay bar ) .

Conway, with his wild '60s pop art get-ups ( designed by Vicki Russell, daughter of film director Ken, who has a cameo late in the film ) , seems dressed as if for a low-rent production of Boys in the Band. These Queer Eye clothes help give the character the authentic, grubby glitter of tawdry showbiz, and the distracted selfishness and other tics also seem to be understandable celebrity 'eccentricities.' Those not immediately taken in by the impersonation lose their resolve when Conway starts dropping celebrity names that become the currency that funds his audacious acts. He momentarily hits the jackpot ( and the film reaches its pinnacle ) when he pairs up with the lounge singer Lee Pratt ( Jim Davidson ) . Adopting his worst accent yet, Conway convinces the Liberace-like Pratt that in exchange for his generous hospitality he's going to make him a star in Vegas. But, at last, Conway has gone too far.

Though the real-life Conway had a far bleaker, tortured fade-out, the filmmakers have supplied the on-screen version with a sort of nirvana-type finale. After going through rehab, the nurse assigned to Conway sends him to a posh spa to complete his 'cure,' where we see Conway, in a turban, delirious with pleasure as he lolls in a marble whirlpool—once again in the lap of luxury.

Throughout, the soundtrack has used selections of music from Kubrick's later films ( including 2001, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining ) and these, along with such developments as the casting of Kubrick friends, add to Color Me Kubrick's tongue-in-cheek quality. Like last year's Bubble, the film will be simultaneously sold on DVD and shown in theatres ( in Chicago at Landmark's Century ) . The disc includes an enjoyable making-of featurette.

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'Nobody would watch Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown,' says Robin Leach at the outset of James Scurlock's documentary, Maxed Out. While the famous longtime host of that ubiquitous TV show is on the money, one should make an exception for Scurlock's riveting documentary. Exposing the behind-the-scenes workings of the credit card business, Scurlock presents a fair-weather industry that, in the name of corporate profits, has declared war on every credit card-charging middle-class and poor American —to the point where one investigative reporter likens the current credit card system to modern-day sharecropping.

Scurlock's film illuminates one scary fact after another and even with the propaganda-sounding subtitle 'Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders,' gives plenty of camera time to voices on both sides of what becomes increasingly clear is a true poverty line—those with credit who can afford it and those with credit who can't. It's a movie that infuriates and makes one sad for those living 'a life of anxiety and vulnerability,' as one sympathetic expert on economics points out. Maxed Out is a sobering, feature-length variation on Frontline's recent episode on the same subject matter. Powerful and eye-opening. Opens Friday at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. www.landmarktheatrees.com

Hollywood and gay movie icon Barbara Stanwyck would have been 100 this year and to celebrate, The Music Box has kicked off a six-week, Saturday-Sunday matinee celebration of several of her classic films. Stanwyck was noted for her versatility and portrayed showgirls, cowgirls, socialites, con artists and murderers. ( Her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, which kicked off the series, is often credited as the ultimate femme fatale. ) 'Stany' could be soft but never played a weakling, and her strong yet shamelessly emotional performances have been an example for many lesser actresses. She also never remarried after the break-up of her marriage to the impossibly handsome Robert Taylor, and is speculated by some to have been a closeted lesbian.

Regardless of her personal life, Stanwyck was devoted to work and the Music Box series will prove that by screening just a few highlights of an enviable career that spanned over 40 years. The Bitter Tea of General Yen ( March 24-25 ) , Sorry Wrong Number ( March 31-April 1 ) , Ball of Fire ( April 7-8 ) , Forty Guns ( April 14-15 ) , Baby Face ( April 21-22 ) , Clash by Night ( April 28-29 ) and the sublime comedy The Lady Eve ( May 5-6 ) are on the bill. See www.musicboxtheatre.com .

You can find my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Feedback can be left at the latter Web site.


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