Being Chuck Barris

Directed by George Clooney and written by Charlie Kaufman based on the “unauthorised autobiography” of Chuck Barris, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) is a movie that is bookended by a Remington Rand typewriter.


At the beginning and end of the movie we see Chuck (Sam Rockwell) typing his “autobiography” …


At the beginning, he’s a mentally deranged (and naked) recluse holed up in a hotel room …


At the end, he’s cockahoop in a cowboy hat, typing his autobiography in the same hotel room …


According to an article for Time Magazine (Online) Chuck Barris: Lying to tell the truth:

There are a lot of ways to tell the truth, and Chuck Barris has avoided most of them. His 1984 book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was subtitled An Unauthorized Autobiography, and it claimed that while he was creating game shows like The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game and hosting The Gong Show, he was a contract CIA assassin — a claim he still refuses to say was untrue.


Barris does at least acknowledge that Kaufman’s adaptation of his “autobiography” is a departure from the truth (or at least his version of it):

He wrote stuff out of nowhere,” Barris says. “My mother never dressed me like a girl. I was never on drugs. The part about my father being a serial killer? That’s Charlie. He writes such good stuff.

THE GONG SHOW MOVIE, Chuck Barris, 1980

The real Chuck Barris

It’s true. Kaufman does write good stuff. Like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, you could argue that Adaptation (also released in 2002) is a heavily fictionalised “autobiography”, since Kaufman’s subject is himself, Charlie Kaufman the screenwriter (played superbly by Nicholas Cage) grappling with the problem of how to write a screen adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and make it interesting


Of course, he does a far better job of making things up about himself than he (or Barris) does making things up about Barris.

For me the highlights of the movie are Charlie’s arguments with his (fictional) twin brother, Donald, over the merits of attending a formulaic screenwriting seminar (which Charlie nevertheless ends up attending).


Not only is Cage perfectly cast, it’s a good piece of typewriter casting too. It’s hard to imagine Charlie sat at a writing desk, touch-typing on a vintage manual typewriter.


Instead, we see our anti-hero hunched over the keyboard of a large boxy ’90s IBM Wheelwriter


… a typewriter that makes my IBM 6175 electronic typewriter look almost compact …


… but not as compact as the Brotherly wedge favoured by Charlie’s identical twin, Donald …


“It’s self-indulgent, it’s narcissistic, it’s solipsistic, it’s pathetic, now gimme back my thesaurus!”

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