I immediately latched on to watching this when the Ministry gave it to me as one of several options to watch on the weekend with a quiet bottle of wine on the couch.
It’s an adaptation of game show host Chuck Barris’ cult memoir claiming he was also a CIA assassin.
I was taken with the cast list – Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Julia Roberts – and the premise. I mean what the? Who’s Chuck Barris? Why’s he famous? What’s the Dating Game? Is it like the dating show in Mallrats? (Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Generation Y.)
Most importantly, is it true?
I’m always so fascinated by “based on true” stories, especially those that leave you unsure of to what extent you should believe them, and to what extent you should never mind the bollocks.
Most people, it seems, think Barris just cooked up a pile of bollocks, but they differ on why, and he provides no help on either issue by saying he won’t confirm or deny a thing. The CIA, by all accounts, maintains it’s ridiculous.
The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams, self-confessed smartest human in the world, says Barris made a living by being outrageous and the story proves only that he never lost his touch (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2437/was-chuck-barris-a-hit-man-for-the-cia)
Time Magazine’s Joel Stein neatly explains that the lie is the only truthful way Barris could find to express the moral confusion he found in being attacked for doing harmless but peurile work, even as others were getting medals for killing other people (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,404266,00.html#ixzz2LzjmnHdM)
For my part, I was left with an agony of tantalised indecision: it was such a wacky tale, but I was so taken in by it.
Its sense of darkness, hurt and conflict was communicated with stylish cinematography and a convincing performance from Sam Rockwell as Barris, complete with dreamlike end sequence reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream’s film adaptation (2000).
Who knows whether Barris’ book, as opposed to Charlie Kaufman’s script, would have had the same effect on me. It must have been convincing enough to capture others’ imagination too… or was it? Original readers must surely have had more knowledge of the Barris phenomenon, which was perhaps big enough to turn such a book into a cult sensation whether it was a crap read or not.
George Clooney, who directed the movie, supposedly had this to say, according to quotes on About.com and elsewhere:
“I wanted to be able to say I think it’s a really fascinating story – if it’s not true – that someone as successful as Chuck Barris felt the need to write that story.”
That’s what gets me, too. What moves someone to write such a thing? It’s a lot of effort to go to, when you’re already cashed up and famous. Humans are complex creatures and like I said, I love these mysterious stories.
They make me think and that’s why I’ve talked more about that, rather than what it looked like (though it looked great and visuals can convey just as much meaning when done well).
That’s why I downed a bottle of rosê without really intending to then spent the next half hour bugging the Ministry about WHAT IT MEANS AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT MEANS.
I like Stein’s explanation about it being a truthful way to express moral confusion: this seems to me a simple way to describe complicated things.
More people should watch this movie and give me their opinions. Rosê optional.