One of the more eagerly anticipated titles of this year's festival is Colour Me Kubrick, an entertaining quasi-biography of the British con man Alan Conway. Portrayed by John Malkovich as a man of a half-dozen faces and maybe a few more voices, Conway established his legend in the early '90s by impersonating Stanley Kubrick and milking any mark gullible enough to believe he was the famously reclusive filmmaker.
And there were a LOT of marks, including one whom you might not believe would fall for such hijinks: Frank Rich, the New York Times's then-theater critic and current columnist at large. In Brian Cook's film, Conway approaches Rich and his wife Alex (played by Barry Lyndon's Marisa Berenson) at a London restaurant to complain about the newspaper's treatment of, er, him. "I've shaved off my beard," he says before protesting in Kubrick's defense: "I am not a recluse." The deferential couple talks theater with Conway for a bit before sending him off; the next day, a bit of research reveals the men look nothing alike. The event helps precipitate Conway's unmasking.
In the real-life incident, however, Rich was a little less skeptical. And while I evidently chose a bad time to ask him about the incident ("Today's my first day back of work after a three-month book leave and I doubt I'll have a chance to look at this film this week," he said, kindly and promptly responding to an e-mail inquiry), we will always have Rich's record from the Times' Aug. 15, 1993, edition (which gives us this tidbit: "Like everyone I knew in college in my freshman spring of 1968, I devoted too many nights to meticulous, if stoned, frame-by-frame dissections of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey)." Colour Me Kubrick filmmakers Brian Cook and Anthony Frewin seem to have also read the article, from which it looks they have borrowed liberally:
"I don't see how you can be mad at The Times," I said. "They stood by Barry Lyndon."
Kubrick contemplated my remark, lit up as if remembering a distant but cherished experience, and said, "I loved making that one." Then his mood abruptly changed. "But I don't like being called a recluse."
Are you making a new movie?
I'm in pre-production.
What is it?
I can't say.
Who's producing it?
My own company.
You really should give us an interview.
A few days later, Rich wrote, he spoke with a Warner Bros. executive who "expressed his delight at the news that a tableful of journalists had been duped." Meanwhile, a Kubrick assistant also called to say
Kubrick still had his beard and "was concerned about the impostor, who had been sighted 15 to 20 times over the past two to three years."
Continuing the irony, the actor who plays the critic is anything but a Rich doppelganger himself; Cook tapped the late William Hootkins, a rotund, bearded American actor perhaps best known as Star Wars' doomed fighter pilot Jek Porkins. As far as getting Rich's impression of the dramatized episode, he even declined my Colour Me Kubrick preview screener on account of his massive work backlog. Meanwhile, the 1993 essay bears re-reading (for lucky TimesSelect subscribers, at least), and if Rich ever finds the time to view the film, I promise to ask him for a stoned, frame-by-frame dissection.