Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Shout! Factory - THE GONG SHOW MOVIE on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shout! Factory - THE GONG SHOW MOVIE on Blu-ray

THE GONG SHOW MOVIE (1980; Chuck Barris)
This film has become a thing of slight legend over its many years of not being readily available to the movie viewing public. While not anywhere near as mythical as something like an uncut version of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, it is still a bit of a curiosity with cinephiles and fans of bizarre stuff. I had only seen pretty awful bootlegs (taped off television) floating about so I never bothered to hunt them (or the movie) down. With the release of CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, I became slowly and increasingly interested in Chuck Barris. He seemed such a fascinating dude to me. His celebrity was before my time, so I had no sense of him or how beloved he was at the height of his popularity (or not). All I was left with the impression you get with a guy who wrote an autobiography that makes him out to be some kind of international special agent. He seems like an odd gentleman, and perhaps a little sad. So I started to look back at old clips of The Gong Show and reminded myself that I had seen a couple partial episodes on cable as a high schooler. It seemed like kind of a mean show to me. It just had a flippant (if occasionally funny) attitude about the talent acts on the show and seemed to veer towards being a daily sideshow carnival at a certain point. It was a hit though right? That seems crazy to me, but then we are still watching the modern descendants of the show to this very day, so I guess some things about TV never change. Everybody loves a freak show. And I must admit that I do too, and I began to strengthen my resolve to find a decent copy. I had seen only seen a few scenes from it and wanted more. Then I started to notice it was airing on MGM HD, which shocked me so much at first that I thought someone had made a mistake. The network had screwed up and somebody accidentally put in the wrong tape (or played the wrong digital file if you like). They would realize that they aired it and issue some kind of formal/legal apology. I made sure to DVR it more than a week in advance once it first popped up in the schedule. I thought that maybe when I went to play back my recording, instead of THE GONG SHOW MOVE, I would have gotten some other nonsense instead.
The movie was written by Chuck Barris and Robert Downey Sr. (yeah, you-know-who's filmmaker father). Barris himself directed and stars. The film is one of those strange visions that you can't help but see some kind of auteurship in. It's not like a John Ford or Howard Hawks auteurship, but more the specific stamp of a single misguided (if well-intentioned) individual. 
Format-wise, it's a mix of film, videotaped audition footage, and excerpts from the TV show itself. It mostly consists of people auditioning for Chuck Barris on the street and everywhere he else goes. Barris is not necessarily an amazing screenwriter or director (or actor) and a result, the movie is a bit of a mess. Some might call it an irredeemable misfire, but I would never go that far. It is a cinematic curio from many years ago and it's strangeness and clumsiness are what make it memorable. It's not really quirky enough to be a true cult film, but it will still be a draw for a certain group. It's ine of those rarities that you really just have to see, especially if you grew up in the era of VHS and before. THE GONG SHOW MOVIE isn't twisted enough to be a WTF movie, but it is still not like anything you are likely to see anytime soon.
Special Features:
This Shout! Factory disc features an audio commentary by Pop Culture Historian Russell Dyball. Dyball speaks to the mythicism and ongoing saga of THE GONG SHOW movie with lots of detail. He also talks a good deal about Chuck Barris and his television show(s). I was interested to learn that Barris actually brought on Robert Downey Sr as not only a writer, but also a director initially and eventually the two parted ways when Chuck decided he wanted to direct. Dyball has clearly done a lot of research and has lots of interesting tidbits to offer throughout the commentary.

THE GONG SHOW MOVIE Blu-ray can be purchased here:
http://amzn.to/1KZCfTs

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