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.
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 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.
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.