" I don’t want to cross the line, Lou; I just want to move it "
— Dustin Hoffman, Mad City

MRQE Top Critic

November

Walks you out of an emotional underworld back into the light —Marty Mapes (review...)

Cox lives three times in November

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According to his “unauthorized autobiograpy,” Gong Show creator Chuck Barris lived a double life. In addition to his career as a television producer, he worked as a freelance assassin for the CIA. This fantastic assertion may have helped sell his book, but in George Clooney’s directorial debut, it’s as much a distraction as anything.

Miramax is now releasing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind on DVD. Most of the extra features lack the spark of life, but at least one feature gave me a new appreciation for Clooney as director.

The Double Life of Chuck

Happiness is a warm gun
Happiness is a warm gun

 Good movie, good direction, but lifeless extra features fill the DVD
Good movie, good direction, but lifeless extra features fill the DVD
 
Barris starts as a tour guide for NBC, knowing that one day he wants to work in television.

While he pays his dues, he gets support from his freespirited, sometimes-girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore). Their relationship is open, experimental, loving, and often troubled. It inspires Barris to create a new game show called The Dating Game. The executives finally say “yes” and give him the chance to make a pilot episode.

The CIA plot isn’t nearly as interesting as the story of Barris’ career in TV. It works better as an alternate parallel psychological universe, offering glimpses into Barris’ mind. As integral to the story as it is, I often found it to be a distraction. It’s a clever storytelling gimmick, and it’s a great marketing gimmick, but dramatically, it doesn’t really work.

What’s really interesting about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the notion that Barris was not a great innovator in television, but bad influence, lowering the bar for TV. (After all, he correctly predicted that Americans would be willing to embarrass themselves just to go on TV and win a stupid prize.) Today, we have a glut of fame-starved idiots willing to do anything on reality TV shows. Chuck Barris looks like Saint Mozart compared to today’s producers. And yet, 30 years ago, Barris was the lowest of the low.

Just a man ahead of his time, apparently.

Picture and Sound

The Miramax DVD is presented in its original widescreen format (2.40:1 aspect ratio). The sound is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Both picture and sound quality live up to current standards.

DVD Extras

Most of the extra features lack the spark of life. One segment includes footage of Gong Show contestants filmed for the movie. The are presented raw, without a laugh track, and the strange, mildly tasteless acts just aren’t that funny.

Clooney records a commentary track with Newton Thomas Bigel, his cinematographer. Through their conversation, you can learn a little about the infrared photography they used, and even less about the bleach process they used (it’s only mentioned in passing). But both men speak in dry, flat voices that are better suited to bedtime than entertainment. I hung with it for maybe an hour, but after that I had to move on.

The feature I liked best were the interviews with Clooney and his cast and crew. Usually these back-patting, self-congratulatory sessions are superficial and dismissable. But a story emerges from these interviews that gave me new appreciation for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Clooney, for example, loved the script and agreed to act in the picture, for “no” money, to lure good producers and directors to the project. Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) was supposed to direct at one point, but when that fell through, Clooney decided to take the reins himself.

The interview subjects paint the picture of a first-time director who is humble and conscientious, who has such respect for the material that he spends months preparing himself and preparing the production. They tell of an actor-turned-director who has the will and the clout to draw big-name stars and respected craftsmen to a relatively small-budget picture that they all believe in.

Surely reality isn’t as rosy as this flattering portrait suggests, but it does describe the ideal conditions for making good, solid, creative entertainment. I already liked this movie, but seeing that it was a labor of love, at least for the big names involved, makes me appreciate it more.