Delusions of a Ridiculous Mind

Last month, around the holidays, my girlfriend Michele got nostalgic and began re-watching clips of that 1970s talent show spoof The Gong Show on YouTube.  At first, I couldn’t see the point in this.  I was going solely by my memories of the revival that aired a decade later, which never seemed that good.  But then, watching the YouTube videos of the original, which was hosted by Chuck Barris, I soon came to realize how much better, and funnier, the original incarnation of The Gong Show really was.  Really, it’s absolutely ridiculous and insane.

Like Michele, I’d love to see The Gong Show come out on DVD.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were all sorts of rights issues involved that would make a release difficult.  In any case, Michele wrote up a cool blog entry on The Gong Show, so go ahead and check it out.

Chuck Barris Gong Show

I became curious about Chuck Barris, who could be totally off the wall when hosting.  Looking up info on him, I learned that he was also the show’s creator.  In addition, he had devised a number of other famous, successful game shows, among them The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and the even more bizarre The $1.98 Beauty Show.  He has been referred to as “the father of reality TV,” although what he did nearly four decades ago is mild compared to the exploitive crap on television nowadays.  Barris was also the writer of the 1962 Freddy Cannon song “Palisades Park.”  My father is a fan of that one.  So, Chuck Barris had a very long & interesting career in show biz.

Oh, yes, in his autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, published in 1984, Barris also claimed that he had worked as an assassin for the CIA, supposedly committing 33 murders over the years.

It was this last bizarre claim that led to a 2002 film, also entitled Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.  Since Michele was such a fan of Chuck Barris’ oeuvre, and I had also become interested in the man, I surprised her with a belated holiday present, a copy of the film on DVD.  We watched it a few nights ago.  And, wow, was it weird.  Really good, but weird.  (Mind you, if even ten percent of this “autobiography” turned out to have really happened, I would be genuinely surprised!)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind DVD

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the directorial debut of George Clooney, based on a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman.  Apparently there was a lack of communication between the two, which led to dissatisfaction on Kaufman’s part.  Well, at least according to Wikipedia, but that website is often only slightly more accurate in its adherence to reality than Chuck Barris was in his autobiography.  Whatever the case, whoever wrote the final script did a great job.  As far as the direction, Clooney is amazing.  It’s really astonishing that this was his first film behind the camera, because he totally knocked it out of the park.

The cast of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind all do superb work.  Heading up the film is Sam Rockwell, who does an eerily stunning job capturing the persona & mannerisms of Chuck Barris.  He portrays Barris as a veritable con artist, a self-involved, womanizing egotist who eventually descends into paranoia, isolation, and madness.  It’s an amazing performance.  Based on this, I’m genuinely surprised that Rockwell isn’t a bigger name.  But, of course, in Hollywood talent and fame don’t often align with the frequency that they should.

The rest of the film’s cast is also noteworthy.  Drew Barrymore plays Penny, the long suffering girlfriend of Barris who puts up with his constant bullshit.  George Clooney himself plays Jim Byrd, the icy CIA agent who recruits Barris and acts as his handler.  Julia Roberts portrays Patricia, a seductive spy who serves as Barris’ contact in the field.

Now, I am generally not a fan of Roberts’ work.  I honestly think Pretty Woman, which cemented her fame, and which most people seem to regard as a sweet, romantic fairy tale, was in fact incredibly hackneyed and sleazy.  However, watching her in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I was actually impressed.  It was interesting to see her in a darker, more cynical role than she usually plays.  She certainly did fine work with it.  Rounding out the cast is the amazing, underrated Rutger Hauer.  His character Keeler is a philosophizing veteran hitman who befriends Barris.  It’s always a pleasure to see Hauer on the screen.  Even when cast in a relatively small supporting role such as this, he gives it his all, turning in a charismatic performance.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Sam Rockwell

At first, I was genuinely surprised to learn that Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a box office bomb.  I thought it was an amazing film, and so did Michele.  But reflecting on it, I quickly realized that the movie is not easily classifiable.  It starts off as a comedy, but then transitions into a dark, disturbing look at a rather unlikable man living a double life who gradually experiences a mental breakdown.  Is it supposed to be humorous or somber?  Well, both.  But I think that for many viewers, who like to compartmentalize their entertainment into comfortable, easily absorbed categories, a film such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind can be a turn off, as it straddles so many genres.

I definitely recommend giving Confessions of a Dangerous Mind a try.  It really is an amazing film.  Myself, I’m looking forward to watching it again.  I think it is a movie wherein one may find different layers & interpretations on subsequent viewings.

Holiday daze

So, another year comes to an end.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I would be happy to see 2012 pass by.  The past twelve months have had so many personal highs and lows, a total rollercoaster.  I’m looking forward to 2013.  Hopefully it’ll be a better year, and I’ll be a better person, as well.

In any case, the last week has been pretty good.  Michele and I invited her parents over for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Michele is one hell of a cook.  This year she made a turkey, stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, and several vegetables.  It was a really good meal.  The cats went totally crazy, of course!  Squeaky and Nettie love their turkey.  Squeaky even ended up jumping on the kitchen counter in an attempt to get at the turkey before Michele had even had the opportunity to cook it yet!  Anyway, there were plenty of leftovers, so the cats had a chance to gobble down plenty of turkey.  We also gave a few pieces to the turtle.  Yes, Meeshee Gamera refuses to eat vegetables, but she loves poultry.  We gave some food to Michele’s parents to take home.  From what Michele tells me, when they got home, Little Ginger the kitten went nuts when they fed her some turkey.

Michele's delicious turkey
Michele’s delicious turkey

Finally, a few days later, there was only a little bit left.  After I threw out the carcass, I made the mistake of leaving the remaining turkey on a plate by the stove, planning to give it to the turtle the next day.  Well, when I woke up the next morning, it was all gone, except for the wish bone.  Michele and I were looking at each other, puzzled.  “Did you eat it?”  “No, I didn’t, did you eat it?”  Finally it dawned on us that in the middle of the night one of the cats must have jumped up and taken it!

Between the cold weather and the turkey rendering us semi-comatose, we ended up watching a lot of television.  When Michele’s parents came over for dinner, I turned on Animal Planet for the Too Cute marathon.  That show features oodles and oodles of kittens and puppies.  I think I overdosed on adorable.  Then Michele put the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland aka March of the Wooden Soldiers on the DVD player.

Christmas morning was pretty much dominated by our yearly tradition of watching the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS.  Somehow, we never end up viewing the movie from beginning to end.  Instead, we catch 15 minutes here, a half hour there, and by the end of the day, when you add up all the bits & pieces, we’ve seen the entire movie at least once.  That really is a hysterical film.  As with so many other great cult classics, it apparently did poorly in the theaters, only to find new life on home video and television.

Other viewing material that day was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode of Santa Claus, a truly bizarre 1959 Mexican movie which features the war between St. Nick and the Devil.  Yes, really!  It is a strange, strange film.  To quote Mike & the Bots, “This is good old fashioned nightmare fuel!”  Then it was time for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special.  It was pretty good, albeit uneven.  I may review “The Snowmen” on this blog in the near future.

Another show on Animal Planet that I’ve gotten into recently is Pit Bulls & Parolees.  I really like that one.  I think pit bulls are misunderstood.  If you treat them kindly and train them properly, they really can end up being very sweet, loyal dogs.  Another reason I like the show is that it gives people who have been to prison a second chance.  Maybe I’m too sappy, but I honestly believe that there are some people who have made mistakes, but who now genuinely want to turn their lives around.  I honestly feel that they should be given that opportunity.

I think the cats have been happy to have us home, since they’ve been leaping onto the couch to watch TV with us.  Nettie has been sleeping in my lap.  At one point Michele was relaxing on the couch under the blanket, and, as can be seen below, Squeaky curled up on top of her head.  I think she was actually very comfortable there.

Michele and Squeaky
Michele and Squeaky

In the last few days, Michele has gotten a nostalgic craving for that late 1970s series The Gong Show, hosted by Chuck Barris.  She’s been watching all of these clips of it on YouTube.  I’ve never actually seen the original version of The Gong Show before.  I saw a few episodes of the 1980s revival, which never impressed me, so I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.  But Michele pretty much forced me to watch those clips of the original incarnation and, yeah, it is a million times better.  I have to agree with her, the people involved in making the show must have been on some serious drugs!  Of course, while we were browsing through all these old television clips, we happened to learn that a serial killer was once a contestant on The Dating Game.  Oh, wow, truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m surprised that this never inspired an episode of Criminal Minds.

So now it’s New Years Eve.  I have no plans yet.  Since I quit drinking, it just feels really weird hanging out at bars or parties with people who are getting smashed.  A couple of nights ago, we were at The Cobra Club in Bushwick again, hanging out with some of Michele’s friends.  It was fun, yeah, but after a couple of hours I just started to get edgy, being around all that booze.  And, y’know, if you aren’t drinking, bars are kinda boring.  I don’t know, maybe I just overthink these things.  Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m going to end up doing tonight.  Perhaps I’ll hang out with Michele for a little while and then call it an early night, catch the Twilight Zone marathon or something.  We shall see.

In any case, I hope everyone has a wonderful 2013.  See you next year.