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For months, con artist Alan Conway (John Malkovich, in a tour de force performance) pretends to be one of the greatest directors of all times—Stanley Kubrick. Conway doesn't know anything about the director or his films, but that doesn't prevent him using and abusing the credibility of those who think they are close to the mythical and discreet filmmaker. Sly and hilarious, this is a fascinating take on impostors, genius and celebrity, inspired by the true story of a man who pretended to be Kubrick during the making of Eyes Wide Shut. Richard E. Grant and Marisa Berenson co-star. Both the writer (Anthony Frewin) and the first-time director (Brian Cook) were longtime Kubrick assistant.
 

 Color Me Kubrick


My boss, Stanley Kubrick, said to me, "It's that First World War thing-—the Rule of Three!," and indeed it was. That was how it started. The first call we got saying that someone was going around London impersonating SK was an "accident" (we could ignore it). The second call a little while later was a "coincidence" (still ignore it). The third call and then it was most certainly "enemy action"! There was an impersonator, no ifs or buts.

I'd always been fascinated by con-men, fraudsters, impostors and their like so when Stanley asked me to research whoever was doing this and put a file together, I was cock-a-hoop. "Be discreet and be exhaustive, Tony, and I want you knocking on coffins if need be!"

The culprit was a semi-educated but artful shady predatory gay ex-travel agent in North London who neither looked like Stanley nor sounded like Stanley named Alan Conway ("An aptly Nabokovian name," said SK). He had a petty criminal record about six blocks long that covered cheque kiting, fraud, embezzlement, burglary and similar and, not infrequently, importuning in gents lavatories.

We subsequently learnt that Conway knew virtually nothing about Stanley and had only seen "a bit" of a couple of his films and that he "didn't much care for them." This prompted Stanley to say, "What an ingrate! He steals my identity and yet my films aren't good enough for him!"

So, how did Conway hoodwink so many people for so long? How did he convincingly present himself as one of the world's most famous directors while knowing almost nothing about his subject? There was, of course, his own chutzpah but there was also a secret ingredient he could factor in that virtually guaranteed success. What was this ingredient? It was celebrity!

Rational, intelligent people seemed to jettison their reason when Conway-as-Kubrick arrived. Indeed they did. They were touching the hem of fame, of celebrity!

I built up a big fat file on Conway. I spoke to dozens of his "victims" and researched his background. I knew more about him than he did himself. Stanley presented the file to his lawyers and several weeks and thousands of dollars later was told that there was basically nothing he could do about Conway. Yes, he could go to court and seek an injunction against Conway, but in order to do that he had to establish to the court's satisfaction that Conway was, indeed, doing what he accused him of doing. In order to do that we would have to get the "victims" to stand up in court and say, "Yes, I was conned by Conway." Well, it was bad enough being conned by Conway, but are you going to admit it to the whole world? Thus the reluctance from the potential witnesses. Stanley said he was still determined to get his own back on Conway. "How?," I asked. "Easy," he replied, "I'm going to go around pretending I'm him!" Testimony indeed to SK's humour.

However, events were unfolding elsewhere that resulted in a cessation of Conway's fraudulence. He had co-signed a legal document in SK's name for the lease on a gay bar in central London. Banks and lawyers were suspicious and the police were called in. As soon as Conway got wind of this he feigned mental illness and got himself admitted to a psychiatric ward at his local hospital. Once the prosecuting services heard about this, the legal proceedings were abandoned and we heard no more of Conway's activities.

All of this was going on during the pre-production and shooting of Stanley's last film, Eyes Wide Shut.

I looked at the file I had put together and was just about to deep-six it in a filing cabinet when I decided this material was too good to consign to oblivion. So I wrote as an "exercise" a screenplay based upon the material and then deep-sixed that and the original file and forgot all about it.

It wasn't until after Stanley's death some years later that I came across the screenplay. I gave it to Christiane, Stanley's widow, in the hope that she might find it an amusing read. The following day she said, "Why don't you make it into a movie?" She said she had no objections.

A few weeks later I saw Brian Cook, who Stanley regarded very highly. Brian had started with him as assistant director on Barry Lyndon (1975) and had done several other films with him, including Eyes Wide Shut on which he was AD and co-producer. Brian loved the script and gave it to John Malkovich, who also loved it and now you have the film itself. As director, Brian has done a marvelous job bringing Conway to the screen and John Malkovich's performance is, I think, of Oscar-winning magnificence.

And what would Stanley have thought of the picture? When Brian and I eventually catch up with him in the hereafter I'm sure he's going to say to us, initially anyway, "Didn't you guys learn anything from me?" But I know he'll be proud of us if for no other reason than we actually made a film.