Saturday, May 21, 2016

He Found Something Else to Do: Gong Show Movie


The Gong Show was a popular though short lived game program where contests did crazy acts
to get on television. Some of the acts were risqué

These girls went down on popsicles for two minutes and somehow made it past censors.

The show was kind of like the worst acts of America's Got Talent (the only parts anyone cares about anyway). In the film version of The Gong Show, which is four stars better than Springer's Ringmaster, the show act clips are cut down to their bare essence, about ten seconds each, recalling Vine videos.

If the show seemed ahead of its time, what it actually did was incorporate the theatrics and heckiness of Vaudeville but in a modern context.

Nixon had left office, Vietnam had just ended. We needed some goofy laughs.

The show was widely popular along with a number of other productions from host/producer Chuck Barris (The Dating Game, The 1.98 Beauty Show). When Barris started work on a film version of the Gong Show featuring many of the show's popular acts, it seemed like it could be a crafy parody of media. After all, Robert Downey co-wrote the script and was listed as director. An early scene involving an exec telling Barris (who co-wrote, directed and stars) that he will not get a raise this year because he sees slippage in the ratings.

Barris: But ratings are up!

Executive: Yes that are, but I sense impending slippage.

Barris fired Downey after a week or so because he wanted to direct the thing himself. And he does an admirable job.

Barris, it is said, was self-conscious in front of the camera so war a hat that covered his face. Hiding or disappearing is a theme in the film, faces are covered with hands, hands, towels. Barris, after a breakdown, hides in the middle of the desert.

The trappings of fame are discussed often. The film predates Stardust Memories by four months, and is a much better film in my mind because the Fellini-like encounters with fans actually make sense with Barris, as every weirdo wants to audition for him.

Also, the ending in Stardust has Woody accepting things as they are and maybe going back to making funny films.

The ending of Gong is far more moving with a tinge of bitter wistfulness. As Barris is hiding out in the Morocco desert after ditching his show.


He is finally alone, but then, his producer shows up with a helicopter and about forty of Barris' friends to sing him a ditty and convince him to go back to his show.

As Barris sits in the sand

"Don't get up. Don't get up for me. But if you do, I'm telling you, you'll make me happy through and through but no, don't get up, don't get up for me."

His side band that he records with sing

"Don't get up. Just sit there in the sun. Guess we'll never get that album done."

His receptionist who always drags her mom with her sings

"Don't get up. Being out of work won't us. Having no food won't cause no fuss..."

Every guilt inducing indicates that celebs have a responsibility to their crews and people around them. The song is catchy, hilarious and meaningful.

In the film, Barris goes right back to his show with a sense of purpose that being reminded of responsibility can provide

In real life, Barris cancelled all his shows, even the popular ones, right before the movie came out.

He did not get up.

The women in Stardust Memories are played by great actresses (Ms Rampling and Ms Harper) both play unsympathetic nuts. Woody writes amazing parts for women, just not in that film. To contrast, Barris has written a a fully realized girlfriend role in Red (played by Robin Altman, Barris' real life gal and a first time actress!). She knows how to handle Chuck even if he is a bit clueless on how to handle her. Barris' daughter makes an impression. And Lillie Shelton brings great humor and dignity to the role of Mabel's mom, despite having only one line, "That's Right"