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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Must Rent: Confessions of A Dangerous Mind (2002)

According to Sartre it is nearly impossible to describe a person, other than with the statement "He is what he is." That is pretty much how has-been Chuck Barris is described to us in the fascinating biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The film is a pastiche of bizarre imagery and cryptic dialogue that, in the end, only hints at who Barris may be. This isn’t a film about a man; like so many great works (like Babbit or The Great Gatsby), it is a film about American culture as told through one man’s journey.

We meet a disheveled and desperate Chuck Barris (played by Sam Rockwell, shown with Barris in the above photo) in a hotel room in 1981 as he sits over a typewriter and contemplates his meaningless life. The film goes on to depict Barris’ Halcyon years as the successful creator of “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game,” and “The Gong Show.” Just as his career in television begins to take off, Barris is approached by a CIA operative (George Clooney) and recruited as a cold war spy and assassin. His work is “the perfect cover.” Barris trots the globe as a chaperone for Dating/Newlywed contestant, killing enemy agents in Finland, Germany and Mexico.

This might just be the most cynical film I’ve seen in the past year. It starts out by telling us that Barris’ experience trolling for trim at amusement parks was the inspiration for his sickly-sweet pop song “Pallisades Park.” It goes on to parallel the crumbling of American culture--as manifested in the rise of Barris’ shows—with murder and cold war paranoia. On one level, the film compares Barris’ literal assassinations with his figurative murder of American morals and mores. On another, more ironic level, the film points out that Barris, who supposedly fights to keep America “American,” is also rotting his nation from the inside out.

Confessions is the first film directed by George Clooney, who is quickly earning my respect as one of the coolest and most creative men working in Hollywood today. The screenplay, adapted from Barris’ controversial autobiography, is by Charlie Kaufman, the king of surreal, nonlinear storytelling. As Barris, Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Heist, Charlie’s Angel) is absolutely fantastic. While many of his costars come off as actors playing parts, Rockwell disappears into the role. Drew Barrymore, as his long-suffering common-law wife, is excellent. I wish we had seen more of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but hey, I’m biased that way. I liked the fact that Clooney didn’t show us too many clips of the game shows. After all, if his point is to show that these shows permeated the public consciousness, there’s no point in showing them all over again. For those unfamiliar with the shows (bless you if you are), the film still shows enough to satisfy the requirements of the story. Speaking as someone who has seen the modern Circus Maximus spectacle that is “The Gong Show,” I can say with confidence that it does not bear a second look (except the unnamed comic. That guy was awesome).

Bottom line: Confessions might not be for everyone, but that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Go rent it now!!


Blogger BiggSeester said...

I loved Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Go and Google Chuck Barris for a load of truly fun information about the dude. The scene I think everyone should see is the scene in which Barris comes up with the idea for The Gong Show--it's exactly how I feel about 99% of reality shows!

6:33 AM  

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