Friday, 11 March 2016

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: We'll Do it Live

I have never seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In fact, I didn't even know it was a Charlie Kaufman screenplay until I started research for this series of articles. The only thing I knew about the film was that I recognised the poster and that George Clooney was in it. Well, not only was Clooney in it, he also directed it. Furthermore it was his directorial debut.

Because of my complete and utter lack of knowledge of this film, I decided to do something a bit different for this review. For the first half, I'm gonna look at the backstory of the film's production. Although this is part of my series of Kaufman Musings, the focus will be on George Clooney as a director since there was some dispute between Kaufman and Clooney over the film's script and the final product.

For the second half, I'm going to do a live blog reaction-review of the film. By this I mean, instead of watching the film, thinking about it, then writing my review as I usually do, I'm going to write my review as I watch the film. So my reactions will be in the moment and without any time for reflection or analysis.

"This is going to end well!"
I actually have no idea what the context is for this image. Haven't watched the film yet.

First Half: Confessions of a Dangerous Development

Well, one of the first things that comes up when researching this film is its troubled birth. The script languished in development hell as various directors and actors, ranging from Curtis Hanson, Sean Penn, David Fincher, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Johnny Depp, to Bryan Singer, were attached to the film at various stages but left the project.

Eventually George Clooney, who wanted to star as a CIA agent in the film for years, took over directing duties stating,
"I directed it because it had fallen apart so many times that it wasn't getting made. We were in pre-production, we were about eight weeks from shooting, and they pulled the plug from us financially. We had about $4.5 million against it, which meant it wasn't going to get made, because now it was going to be a $40 million film. So I thought if I came on board as a director, for scale, and was able to bring everybody else on inexpensively, if I could get the film back down to 30, including eating that $4.5 million, then I was going to be able to get the film made. That was a big part of my pitch to Miramax."
Essentially he directed it since he thought it wasn't going to get made otherwise so he might as well do it and do it on the cheap. Plus, while he apparently really liked Kaufman's script, that didn't mean he was above changing it, much to the chagrin of Kaufman.

Was this in Kaufman's original script?
Who knows, I still haven't watched the film yet.

According to Kaufman, while he was completely involved in the process with directors Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, Clooney wasn't interested in hearing his input once filming started. He obviously wasn't happy that if rewrites were needed, that he wasn't consulted (and there is more than one account that Clooney did the rewrites himself). So Kaufman issued this sick burn,
Clooney went on forever about how my Confessions screenplay was one of the greatest scripts he’d read. But if someone truthfully felt that way they’d want the person who wrote it to be on board offering their thoughts and criticisms. But Clooney didn’t. And I think it’s a silly way to be a director.
Clearly Kaufman cuts deep. And although Clooney has gone on record stating that Confessions was a great screenplay, it is somewhat telling that he never once mentions Kaufman during the DVD commentary of the film.

"We never speak his name." - Clooney, probably

So it's not altogether that surprising that when Paramount decided to run a Charlie Kaufman retrospective with participating theatres in the U.S following the release of Anomalisa, that Confessions of a Dangerous Mind wasn't included (neither was Human Nature but we'll get there when we get there). There is some speculation that this is because of the non-credited influence Clooney had over the script and final product.

Confessions is like the bastard child Kaufman acknowledges is his but will never legitimised as a heir to Winterfell. He has all but disowned the film and it is rarely discussed or mentioned as a 'Charlie Kaufman film' which makes it an interesting anomaly in his body of work. An anomalisa, if you will.

Now, with all the backstory of the movie's development and awkward parentage out of the way, let's get into the first ever Musings From Another Star live blog review.

Wait... Both Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are in this?

Second Half: Confessions of a Live Blog Review

The film opens with Sam Rockwell's naked butt and philosophical narration. Which is a good place to start. This follows a disclaimer that the film is based on Chuck Barris' journals and stuff. We then get a separated-by-a-door dialogue exchange between Rockwell's Barris and Drew Barrymore's Penny Pacino.

What is immediately noticeable is the impressive lighting with the use of shadow and interesting cinematography in the shot from inside Barris' apartment, with Rockwell's face only partially light. The colour palette is interesting too since Clooney uses different effects to show the different stages of Barris' life.

Also, Michael Cera is young Chuck Barris.

They also drop a nice little nod to Clooney's father's talk show as a tour guide rattles off a list of TV shows in the NBC foyer. The film flicks between the narrative and what appears to be documentary talking head clips for some reason that is a little disorientating at first before you figure out what's going on.

There is a lot of Rockwell's butt in this movie. When his character meets Barrymore's his stark naked standing in a fridge because he has a hell of a butt, you guys. There's then a montage of Chuck and Penny making love in the shower and other places that ends with them completely pashing each other's faces in a cinema full of people dutifully watching a movie. This is a reversal of the earlier shot where Chuck was striking out with a girl in a cinema full of people making out.

What? You thought I wasn't going to put a picture of Rockwell's fine derriere? No way.

After that, there's a neat bit where the camera zooms in for an extreme close up on Rockwell's face as Penny is talking to Chuck as he gets the idea for a TV game show, then zooms out as he is pitching his idea for The Dating Game to a board of television executives.

Here comes the successful TV pilot show montage. Oh wait, no. ABC passed on it for a show called Hootenanny. Better luck next time Chuck. Oooh, there's Clooney! I saw him in the background in a previous shot but now here's his face right and centre.

So of course, Chuck noticed Clooney watching him and accuses his character of pedophilia. They then have lunch together as Clooney's CIA agent tells Chuck he wants him to be an independent contractor working unofficially for the CIA to help stifle the rise of communism.

Naturally, the CIA wants an unsuccessful 32 year old television producer to be an assassin for them. Since Jesus was 33 when he died and came back to life so he better start cracking, as CIA agent Clooney explains. Here follows a rather amusing assassin training montage which is darkly offbeat.

Darkly offbeat and with science!

Alright, talking head who knows a lot about Chuck Barris but won't tell us, don't tell, I don't care. I know it's just set up for the the next scene when Chuck has his first mission in Mexico to kill a bad guy. We know he's bad since CIA agent Clooney tells him so. Cut to the future? with bearded Chuck and Rockwell's naked butt watching TV playing the American national anthem.

Cut back to the late 1960s? and Penny is now a hippie. We know this because she tells us. She is also dressed as a hippie. She had been crashing at Chuck's apartment and informed him the Larry Goldberg from ABC left a call. Oooh, nice split screen effect during the phone call when Chuck calls him back.

His first tapes of the show are too lewd and sexual for ABC's liking so they have to make it less so which leads to a drill inspector scene of some kind. And it's a hit and we've jumped several years. CIA Clooney's back with a new mission for Barris.

He also gives Chuck a new idea to improve the show by upping the stakes for the game show by giving the couple a date in Europe where he would be the chaperon, which would work as cover for his mission.

Oh, there's Pitt and Damon! And they've lost to chubby bachelor number 3. Well, I guess they were technically in the film. For all of 2 seconds.

Hi and bye guys.

And now, we have spy stuff. Haha, Chuck went into the wrong booth occupied by a sexy lady. Now he's in the right booth occupied by a femme fatale Julia Roberts. The musical score in this scene is great, jazzy and noir-ish. Huh? He's just killed someone and I have no idea why.

This is followed by a scene with Robert's sexy spy Patricia which is gorgeously lit by candles and the fireplace fire. Then they have sex, I think.

Now, we have The Newlywed Game, which has something to do with a fridge? Apparently contestants sold out their new marriage for a household appliance. And another fireplace fire lit scene but with Penny this time. She brings up marriage which freaks Barris out.

But just look how well shot both scenes are.

Holy shit, Julia Robert's femme spy just told Barris "kill for me, baby" while he is on a mission in West Berlin. I can't tell what tone this film is going for but it is enjoyable trying to figure it out though. I'm going for satirical with a bit of its tongue in cheek.

Wait, what? Chubby contestant number 3 is a KGB spy? Well, okay then.

Now we have The Gong Show which seems like a precursor to American Idol if it was limited to just the opening auditions with all the terrible singers. Chuck isn't happy that he was lowering the bar of American television by giving people the lowest common denominator.

"I hate that which I have created and there is no redemption for what I have transgressed," - Barris, probably.

And we're back to spy stuff. Meeting with another spy to discuss why they do the spy stuff they do. Again, the lighting is exquisite. Oh, and now the tone has gone really dark as the older spy describes his first kill and we see a flashback of Chuck's first kill.

Shit, the older spy just committed suicide. Where did this dark turn come from? Like, seriously. I was enjoying this relatively light film that just went suicidal on me.

I like the clever double romance montage with Penny and Patricia set to a terrible performance of "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" by an Elvis impersonator. It's quite funny seeing Chuck and Patricia flirt while assassinating people and a little moving to see Penny and Chuck's relationship.

And now it's heavy again as Penny catches Chuck having sex with another woman. In their house. Where they live together. Not cool. But again, shot cleverly as Chuck and the other woman are shot in silhouette. This is followed by a touching reconciliation scene with Penny and Chuck where he tells her she loves her in his own way. Which is a dick thing to say but Rockwell sells it.

Still really like having them shot in dark silhouette to symbolise their guilt or whatever.

CIA Clooney and Chuck have a confrontational scene where he tells him to go after the mole who killed the suicide guy from earlier (oh, yeah, it wasn't a suicide). But now Clooney, CIA agent has killed himself in an absolute gorgeous shot by the pool as blood flows delicately into the water...

Minor key piano single chord doodling dominates now as Chuck spirals into paranoia and the film puts out a number of impressive visual tricks as we get a montage of flashbacks and glimpses of Chuck's mind. This is the closet the film has gotten to feeling like a pure Charlie Kaufman film.

Why did he go to Patricia when its obvious he should be with Penny and he feels bad about how their relationship turned out? Also, their relationship is cuter. Although Patricia does know him more since they've spied together.

She just poisoned him. Apparently she's the mole and killed everyone. Oooh, wait. It's a bluff. He knew the was poisoned and made it look like he switched the cups so she would switch them and poison herself. Well-played.

Oh yeah, Chuck and Penny get married!

Hmm, that was a weird wedding. Oh, it transitioned to Chuck and Penny's wedding where the pastor just listed off all the shows Chuck has made over the course of his career... and he's just told Penny he killed people for the CIA and she doesn't believe him.

The last game show idea Chuck gives in the film is called the Old Game, where a group of old men come onstage with loaded guns and describe their lives and how close they came to realise their dreams. The winner is the one who doesn't blow his brains out. The film ends with a shot of the real, aged, Chuck Barris in 2002.

Cue the fun "There's No Business Like Show Business" credit music song!

End of Film Thoughts: 


This whole film is a testament to Clooney's visual sense and how closely he works with his cinematographers while directing. It's a bit crazy this is first film considering how clear his sense of how to use the camera is.

That said, aside from a couple of scenes, the movie never really feels like a Charlie Kaufman film since Clooney's directing sensibility is quite at odds with Kaufman's writing. That doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable, because it is, even if the tone is a little inconsistent. But it is quite clear why most people often don't include this film when they think of Charlie Kaufman movies.


Musing Rating - 3 Musings

There's enough going on the film that it's quite an enjoyable watch and Clooney definitely impresses for a first time debut by an actor turned director. But there isn't much left to say once the film ends aside from, "that was interesting" and "damn, Sam Rockwell has a nice butt".



References:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Wikipedia page

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - IMDb

George Clooney Confessions of a Dangerous Mind interview - BBC

George Clooney talks about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - About.com

Sam Rockwell talks about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - About.com

Drew Barrymore talks about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - About.com

Inside screenwriter Kaufman's Mind - BBC Online

Charlie Kaufman Wasn’t Pleased With ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’ - Slash Film

Do Not Miss Charlie Kaufman Retrospective - Slash Film

Man With a Mission: Get the Film Made - New York Times

26 Things We Learned From the 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' Commentary -
Film School Rejects



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