Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Gong Show Movie (1980)

Chuck Barris does Fellini

Favorite Joke: Father Ed: Today I'd like to pose a biblical question. Is there reincarnation after death? And if there is, does an individual return to a higher or lower state than he or she held in his or her mortal life?
Chuck:That's an interesting question. What's the answer? Father Ed: Beats the shit out of me.

As a kid, I used to love the The Gong Show. There was an irresistible schadenfreude in watching those no-talents humiliated on TV. American Idol owes loads to The Gong Show. Let's face it, we don't watch the show just for the Kelly Clarksons and Carrie Underwoods. We mainly watch it to see Simon Cowell rip the contestants to shreds.

The host, Chuck Barris, has done quite a lot in his career. He was the creator of other hugely successful game shows; The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He was the writer of hit songs such as Palisades Park and he supposedly was a real-life secret agent. Long before George Clooney made a film about him, Chuck decided to do one himself. He would write(with Robert Downey Sr.), direct and compose the music for The Gong Show Movie.

The hook for this film are some real life Gong Show scenes that were too risque for TV; Judge Jaye P. Morgan flashing her breasts or foul mouthed jokes by the Unknown Comic and Father Ed. At first glance, this would seem like a vanity movie strictly for Gong Show fans. Yet, that observation would be off the mark. The film is dark. It details his distaste for fame and his hatred of fans. This is Barris' 8 1/2.

We know from his autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that living a double life was tough, but in The Gong Show Movie, Barris tells us his one life as the host was too much. During the opening credits, there's a theme song sung by Barris telling us how it doesn't pay to get out of bed. Everywhere he goes, people want to be on the show. Those who do get to audition are usually people who are even less talented than those who get "gonged" on the Gong Show.

Barris complains about the grueling shooting schedule. When he is not holding auditions or filming his show, his boss, Mr. Didlo(James B. Douglas) warns him of "impending slippage" (the ratings will fall this year) and as a result, Didlo has to cut costs. He also warns that the show is getting too raunchy and could lose TV affiliates if Barris doesn't clean up his act. Even detractors won't leave poor Chuck alone. A huge man starts a fight with Chuck and kicks his ass. While the fight is going on, two fans try to ask Chuck for an autograph.

All this craziness puts Barris on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He leaves the show, breaks up with his young girlfriend, and escapes to the Morocco desert. His entourage follows and begs him to come back.

The most shocking moment in Clooney's cinematic adapation of Confessions of A Dangerous Mind was when the real life Chuck Barris says it was miraculous that he didn't kill himself. While watching The Gong Show Movie, you expect Chuck to pull out a gun and blow his brains out. He puts his show and fans on the chopping block, but its Barris himself who appears the more pitiful and vacuous. He is a tortured, empty soul. His face seems devoid of human compassion. He gets his kicks debasing himself. He has a dog attack him, eggs are thrown in his face and he's even pissed on.

The movie is badly acted, poorly written and terribly directed. Although his TV shows were unbelievably successful, the creator turns out to be a confused, depressing excuse for a man. But for anyone who is curious about Barris, this film offers an deep look into his twisted psyche which the Clooney film was unable to do.

Since Barris was doing everything he could to alienate his potential audience, its not a surprise that The Gong Show Movie bombed. Yet I think Barris felt his picture was a success because very shortly after the film's release, his tv Gong Show was cancelled.

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