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Show Business Meets International Intrigue in <i>Confessions of a Dangerous Mind</i> - 2003-01-25

Show business and international intrigue intersect in an oddball biographical film starring Sam Rockwell and marking the directing debut of George Clooney. Alan Silverman has a look at Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Chuck Barris is a real person. As a young enthusiastic TV producer in the 1960's he created landmark entertainment that's still imitated today.

Programs like The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and, the showcase for the under talented, The Gong Show earned Barris the scorn of critics who accused him of "polluting the airwaves with mind-numbing, puerile entertainment." But he claims it also brought him unexpected, undercover attention.

In his "unofficial autobiography" published 20 years ago Chuck Barris writes of being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and trained as an assassin. For the record, the CIA dismisses the story as imaginative nonsense. Barris, now 73, won't confirm or deny anything.

"I don't talk about the CIA and I don't talk about killing, " he says. " I wrote that book in 1981 or something like that and it was a really bad time for me. I lost all my shows on the air. I had just made a movie and it came and went in a weekend. I was really bummed out and I wrote Confessions."

" It was basically a cathartic thing for me," Barris added. " I got it down on paper. It took me two or three years and that was it. Now it's 20 some years later and whatever was in the book became the movie and I think th emovie is just terrific and what people think of what I did or didn't do is something I care about. As long as you enjoy the movie and enjoy the book, that's what I feld would be good enough."

In the film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Sam Rockwell portrays Chuck Barris; and the actor won't say whether he believes the often-outrageous claims or whether it is all in Barris's mind.

"I don't know and I don't care because the story is compelling and interesting to me either way," said Rockwell. "So as an actor, in order to buy into those imaginary circumstances, I chose not to know and I want to leave it up to the audience."

It's the first time directing for George Clooney, who also co-stars as the shadowy secret agent who recruits and then "runs" Barris. He won't say what he believes to be true, either.

"I made it a point of never asking Chuck because I thought it was incumbent on me not to," explains Clooney. " I thought if I was going to tell the story, I wanted to tell the story without knowing the answer. I have opinions on it, which I'm not going to tell you; but my thought was that it's a pretty fascinating story either way."

" I thought it's pretty interesting if a guy as successful as Chuck needed to tell this story and it's not true," added Clooney. " I thought that was interesting and I tried to make the film based on that. We wanted to leave certain things open for interpretation."

Sam Rockwell says one thing is clear: despite his success, Barris wanted to be appreciated.

"The thing that's interesting about Chuck is he wanted that respect from the critics. That was really important to him," explains Rockwell. " A sort of self-loathing was a big key in playing Chuck."

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman. The cast also features Drew Barrymore as Chuck's ever-optimistic lover and Julia Roberts plays a seductive spy.