Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind


Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 5:30pm
-The EGYPTIAN Theatre
 6712 Hollywood Blvd.  Hollywood, CA 90028. A panel discussion will follow with: Jim Bissell and moderator Production Designer John Muto

This is the final Film Society screening this year.

I started taking Clooney seriously as an actor in Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 crime caper “‘Out Of Sight”. If there was any doubt he was a contender, his perf as the dim beefcake Everett in the Coen’s 2000 masterpiece “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” cinched it. Channeling hunky Joel McCrea’s work on Sturges’ “The Palm Beach Story”, Clooney’s doofus Everett was the first great comic turn of the new century.

Clooney had the goods, but I was stunned by his debut as a director. The supple genre bending “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind”, which shifted tone with the expertise of a Sturges film, predated a decade of meta, post-modern films.

His glorious vintage postcard sequeways and cartoon bright sequences created a ‘what if’ world in which Chuck Barris’s unbelievable story fit and made sense.  Faced with the idea that Gong Show host, glad-handing Chuck Barris, had been a covert CIA agent, the mind boggles.

Cloony and scriptwriter Charlie Kaufmann give Barris his bully pulpit. Taking his Baron Munchuasen fabulations as scripture, they turned out a darkly comic deadpan male fantasy, allowing smarmy Barris to bed scores of women, kill marks for the CIA and invent Quiz Shows as his legend, his cover story.  

The film also offered a fascinating character for chameleon like Sam Rockwell to inhabit. The genius of Rockwell’s Barris is he lifts the hood on the sleazy TV Host to show a mind at work, albeit a mind filled with self-disgust, one that escapes his self loathing with fantasy. Rockwell is breathtaking. It’s the best portrait of a nervous breakdown I can remember. He hasn’t had such material to work with again.

I cannot think of another debut of actor turned director that was boldly inventive and truly cinematic. Clooney and his team, most notably designer Jim Bissell pushed the edge of story telling with wry stylization.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel shot the Dating Game” scenes in fruity 60’s pastels and used different film stock throughout in an expressionist way.

Wannabe Barris’s rise to the top is shown in a seamless bravura shot as go-getter Barris tours NBC, then, as a newly hired page, conducts the tour, then ends up at work in his private office.

Bissel, Clooney and Sigel use flying flats and a revolving stage to morph from interiors to exteriors and from work to home, all of it achieved with a grace that eluded Coppola in his equally ambitious 1981 “One From The Heart.” 

Clooney directs with comic energy. His cameo performers Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, both contestants on The Dating Game, lose to a hopeless dweeb who returns as an effective double agent.

As a director Clooney sprung fully grown and armed from Alan Pakula’s head; he directs with zest, gives his actors stunning talky long takes, and devours Kauffman’s absurdist script.

For the record, the CIA has denied Barris was an operative assassin. But who believes the CIA? 

Although the majority of critics were confused by Clooney’s glorious romp back in the day,  way for Clooney’s stately period masterpiece “Good Night, And Good Luck”. Bissel worked with Clooney in this coolly stylish elegiac homage to the muscle years of Television. Their black and white reverie, all smoke wreathed bars with hard drinking alpha males and stiletto and sheathed Manhattan Career Girls spawned Mad Men, also replete with smoking, drinking, cheating adults.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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