A blog about movies and filmmaking.

It’s all made up, for real!

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm

In today’s day and age, it’s hard  to tell what’s truth and what’s fiction. Where movies claim to have been inspired or based on real events – amazingly, most of these seem to be horror stories – which in truth, might have been seeded by something that might have happened, but then they’re filled with made up, hackneyed material to up the box office. 

Then there’s the docu-drama, which is a movie that aims to tell the true-to-life tale of someone that actually lived (or is still living) and the events that make this person worthy of making a movie. Then there’s the two movies which I’m going to discuss – which are about guys pretending to be, or have associations with, someone of “substance”; someone that would deserve to have a movie made of their lives. The truth in these stories are that the people made up the stories that made them famous. 

In 1972, a writer by the name of Clifford Irving, was pitching a novel he had written which was then declined by the publisher. Taking a preemptive celebratory vacation to the Cayman Islands, a certain illustrious figure is brought to Clifford’s attention. Howard Hughes has decided that he wants to also visit the same hotel, and because he owns it; decides that he wants the whole place to himself. Forcing Clifford and the other guests to be relocated to other hotels.  While looking for ways to come up with money – via a new idea for a book – because things like his couch are being repossessed, he is again confronted by the face (this time on a magazine cover) of Howard Hughes. And thus begins a plot to make lots of money with, seemingly a victimless crime – all portrayed in this movie called THE HOAX, starring Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis. 

Directed by Lasse Hallström, the director of stylish dramas such as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, he brings a clean direction to this auto-biography, about a fake-autobiography, told by the liar himself. There are some great visuals here, stuff that helps us get into the mind of the man who winds up getting paid a million dollars for the fake book. The setting of the 1970’s is brought to life  through the actors the settings but mostly just in how it doesn’t try to force onto us that this is a period piece. 

The actors in this movie all do stupendous job! The main female leads – Davis, Gay Harden – do great jobs in the roles they play. There’s just something in the sweet looks and voice of hope Davis that just perfectly works for her being an evil, snide woman. Which, I feel it’s necessary to point out, her character is not the “bad guy” here – in fact the hero of the movie, essentially is the bad guy as he’s trying to defraud Davis’ publishing company out of the money for the book. But, at moments she certainly feels like the villain. Marcia Gay Harden, affecting a Swedish accent for the movie is Clifford’s wife and accomplice in this endeavor. Her role is mostly, to play the broken house-wife who has had to deal with a cheating husband; the person that comes up with the brilliant idea – which unfortunately is what leads to them getting caught – and also as a woman who wants to both be strong and independent, but also loves her husband. 

The supporting actors in this movie, led by Alfred Molina – playing Dick Suskind, Clifford’s main collaborator on the novel/auto-biography and he tried to maintain being the movie’s moral center. He wants to finish his children’s novel – only he can’t figure out what to do with the sodomy – and has helped Clifford with research with his past works. Molina does a great job here of being the hesitant side-kick, highlighted in one moment where he’s so nervous with trying to sell the lie about meeting Mr. Hughes, that all he can say is, “he gave me a prune”. Which becomes a nice running gag through a good portion of the movie. The heart that his character shows really leads us to sympathize more with Suskind, because we know that he’s in way over his head, whereas, Gere’s Clifford seems to be treading water just fine, no matter how many waves overtake him.

Following on Molina’s heels are fun performances (mostly glorified cameos, as they pop in and out of the story a couple of times. Adding to the drama, or making a funny comment.) by Stanley Tucci, playing the owner of the publishing company McGraw-Hill, who wants to publish the book no matter what, because a million dollars is a million dollars. Eli Wallach, playing Noah Dietrich, who was hughes’ right-hand man in his hey-day. In a great few minutes on screen, seeing Wallach – at 91 – being no less sprite and funny than he was as Tucco in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, was nice to see (and looking up his profile on IMDB, seeing that he’s still seemingly acting very regularly). Zeljko Ivanek plays the snotty editor for LIFE Magazine.

The movie, obviously, though belongs to Richard Gere. The sorrowful, sort of condescending demeanor that his face presents to us works well in both making us despise Clifford Irving in parts of the movie as well as allowing us to cheer him on and hope he gets away with this hoax. There’s not much of a transformation, other than kind of a wacky hair-do and the clothes that takes us away from seeing the Gere we all know from the romantic leads that he’s played for the better part of 30 years. He does get to try on his good looks when being seduced by the Julie Delpy, but mostly we get to see how he hops from one hot coal to the next in the plot to stay one step ahead of the publishers, the fact checkers and possibly even Hughes himself. 

The blurring of fact and fiction in the movie itself – not referring to the blurring between fact and fiction between the real world and the movie’s reality – gets really fun as the tension and stress builds leading to the climax. we have scenes of Clifford writing letters in Hughes’ hand-writing, we see him recording fake speeches, which are then to be transcribed as hughes’ words and even Clifford dressing up as Hughes, including drawn on pencil-thin mustache. Soon, hearing recordings of both Hughes and Clifford, we lose the ability to differentiate what is real and what is fabricated. When an appointment is made for Hughes to actually come and see the publisher’s of the book we don’t know if this is an authenticate moment or one setup by Irving and Suskind. Or when there’s a phone call planned from Hughes, in which he denounces his association with the book – which is verified to be Hughes and then is disregarded as part of his mental-problem. Having seemingly, regularly said one thing only to then act against it. It becomes a very tangled plot that Gere manages to keep us at least with him in how to handle this. Some of the best scenes are when Clifford is kidnapped by some of hughes’ men, and told that he has to include documents that Mr. Hughes himself has given to Clifford. Then in later moments with Hughes men, we are assured that these are indeed figments of Clifford’s imagination. 

The movie ends, in the way most of the biographical movies do, with post-scripts that reveal where these characters are now and one fun factoid in that a leaked edition of the manuscript for Irving’s book, to the then presidend, Richard Nixon, was made so paranoid that this is what lead to the break-in at the Watergate Hotel – which lead to his resignation. 

The real Clifford Irving, voicing his opinion about the movie, ironically I’d say, was upset with the liberties taken and items made up for the movie. 

Then there’s the more contemporary story of a man in London, named Alan Conway, who for a number of months also chose to benefit from lying about a recluse, only this time it was Alan himself, who told people that he was in fact Stanley Kubrick. He would use the fact that the people he met knew the name – but not the face – of the famous director and use it for sex, or money and even in some cases to offer his services as a promoter and marketer. So, the movie – COLOUR ME KUBRICK – is fascinating for it’s look at an impostor who was too lazy to really do much research on the person he was trying to be (having no real knowledge of the movies that Kubrick made, let alone the actors who were in them) and just banking on the fact that people would be awestruck to meet and hang out with the creator of movies like FULL METAL JACKET and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Starring John Malkovich, as Conway and directed by first time director Brian W. Cook, the movie opens with two thugs walking down a posh street in London, who knock on the door of the address they were given as Stanley’s, only to find an old couple living there and having never heard of Kubrick. Thus we jump right into meeting our star, who is cruising a guy at a local bar who is doing sketches for his latest fashion portfolio. Promising the young man that he must be the costume designer for his new movie, they go home together. 

The movie does an interesting thing of reusing music, or soundtrack from the authentic Kubrick’s movies, or in one instance restaging the famous scene from Spartacus, when Alan says, “I’m Stanley Kubrick” and other people around him start yelling, “No, I’m Stanley Kubrick.” I call this interesting because the movie, and the man himself really has nothing to do with the real Stanley Kubrick – and is therefore an odd homage to give, like this were indeed a biopic about him. 

Malkovich, here plays Conway as a pitiful, alcoholic who is always looking for his next mark – to keep him in a never-ending supply of vodka and cigarettes. The out-of-the-way effort he goes to look nothing like the real Kubrick, is apparently a real part of the events that actually happened. Although, considering that Malkovich, in some scenes, has more of a resemblance to Madonna, I can’t confirm as fact.

The performance itself is kind of dry. It seems like this might have been a fun movie to work on and to poke fun at a man who was so ridiculously able to fool the people he met, but the acting isn’t really that great. It seems like the same Malkovich we’ve gotten over the last decade, with the one exception being in the movie ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, where he was a much more relatable character, and as I’ve not kept too up to date with his “period drama” acting, I can’t imagine that other than putting on more of his faux-european accent, he’s going to be much better. 

The supporting cast in the movie only really gives us one stand-out performance, which is Jim Davidson as Lee Pratt. An aging comedian/singer who travels doing hotels and Cancer benefits – who is trying to break into the bigger markets and jumps at the chance of using Stanley Kubrick’s contacts and resources to get a gig in Las Vegas. Davidson does a good job at selling us on the cheesy act, where he performs songs like “Viva Las Vegas” – or perhaps that one song was in benefit of Kubrick watching from the balcony, only to soon pass out drunk and fall from view. But, it’s really only this character that we feel the most for when the truth is revealed that the man who has promised him the world is in reality a fraud. 

Brian W. Cook and Anthony Frewin, the director and writer, respectively, are both making their first time out with this movie. Both have actually worked on movies with the real Stanley Kubrick and do a good job of a first, cheeky, if flawed, attempt with a feature film. By making Conway and his endeavor’s more cartoonish – not helped much by Malkovich’s under-achieved acting – the movie loses a bit of the drama that could have been had with this story. But, it is a fun jaunt for the under two hour running time. With some fun moments, of seeing this person be someone that he knows absolutely nothing about – although at one point he does say he’s working on a movie called 3001: A Space Odyssey, and he wants to cast John Malkovich in it. 

The movie ends, as they all must in telling us that Alan Conway (whose REAL name was Eddie Alan Jablowsky) died in December, 1998; just three months before the real Stanley Kubrick (March, 1999). Apparently, and not covered in the movie, Kubrick was in fact made aware of this man pretending to be him and found the idea fascinating. And it seems that it was indeed not anyone associated with Kubrick or his family that outed Conway as a fraud, it was a Broadway theatre critic, who met Conway and some of his “friends” in a restaurant and were amazed to meet Stanley Kubrick. 

I like these movies that take real events, try to tell the stories as faithfully as possible, while being fun and, well, y’know changing stuff to make a better movie, despite the facts not backing that up. That’s the magic of movies, and really isn’t it part of memory and reading biographies of any kind. There’s no way of knowing the truth in any situation, unless you were actually there. I like the idea that both of these men got what they wanted (if only for a short amount of time) by being completely ludicrous in their claims and the people around them buying into it. 

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