RIP Chuck Barris, one of the all-time strangest figures in the history of global pop culture. Ah, to be 18 again and watching THE GONG SHOW on television in the late 1970s! Anyone who did not experience the surreal, subversive charm of this program - and the shambling antics of its creator-host, Barris - may never know the sweetness of pop life.
Apart from his TV adventures, Barris was the author of a truly remarkable book, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, first slated for screen adaptation way back in the mid ‘80s (by the writer-director team of Jim McBride and L. M. Kit Carson - the project was eventually realised in 2003 by George Clooney & Charlie Kaufman), when Barris’ cult glory was still a fresh memory. An “unauthorised autobiography”, Barris’ crazy memoir is structured on a grand, fictional conceit: during the time that he produced TV hit shows (including The Dating Game and The Newlyweds Game), he was also a hitman for the CIA, rubbing out enemies of the free world‚ in between chaperoning his contestants in foreign locations.
What is this incredible book really about? Barris’ brilliant idea was to invent a truly psychoanalytic fantasy, comprised in equal parts of repression, denial, self-loathing and wish-fulfilment. The entire story is a kind of extravagant, suicidal apologia for perpetrating 'trash culture' like The Gong Show. Barris’ deepest wish - when he is not quoting Nabokov in sleazy bars and wishing he were a respected New York intellectual - is to turn television against the society (and the self) he inchoately despises.
The dream of being a paid murderer is a delirious transposition of what he did in reality: ‘killing’ contestants with the almighty gong, and scoring a mass media ‘hit’ as a result. At the end of Clooney's film we memorably glimpse Barris in his old age: still full of nihilistic cynicism about the world that made him one of the oddest celebrities of the twentieth century.