The Gong Show Movie (1980)

When George Clooney made Confessions of a Dangerous Mind , someone should have had the smarts to re-release The Gong Show Movie. For years I thought of tracking this film down. It has always been one of those can-you-believe-they-made-this titles, but having heard few rare film fans rave about it I simply assumed it was one of those bad movies that is so bad it’s not even fun to watch. Stupid me. This movie is extremely fun. It comes across as a combination of Penn & Teller Get Killed (another title desperately in need of a legitimate DVD release), Jackass: The Movie, and a rare film worth checking out called 1988: The Remake.

The Gong Show Movie shares the same meta-qualities of Penn & Teller Get Killed only here you have Chuck Barris going about his week, constantly being barraged by would-be contestants. You don’t have Arthur Penn directing the film, like you do with Penn & Teller Get Killed . However, you do have Robert Downey Sr. as one of the writers. Had I known this years ago I would have put this at the top of my most sought after list. How did this fact escape me?

Most people wouldn’t watch a movie like this for the writer. I get that. The attraction is the contestants and their outlandish…skills? Is that the right word. I wouldn’t dare call what the contestant have as talent. The one common factor is that none of them are afraid to make fools of themselves. In this way the antics of those performing for Chuck Barris are like those auditioning in Rick Schmidt’s 1988: The Remake. This underground American Independent film is about a potential remake of Showboat. For legal reasons, parts of the performances had to be censored, which only adds to film’s eccentricity. Those try-out for the re-make are some of San Francisco’s weirdest. Imagine the regional talent searches of American Idol, when people tune in to see just how awful people can be. It’s that bad.

However, this is all part of that brand of bad that captivates. The movie itself is not awful. Forget that critics bashed it. There are certainly far worse films, one’s that bore. Sure, this is not a master piece of mta-filmaking or even narrative story telling, but it’s serviceable as a vehicle for Chuck Barris to take The Gong Show to extremes he was never allowed to do on television, much like on Jackass: The Movie. Both Jackass and The Gong Show started as television programs. Neither was well-liked or seen as being high-art, let alone redeemable. If anything, they were shows that opened new roads, ones that many never wanted culture to travel down. On the big screen they are both able to push the limits of what they could do on TV. The one limit that gets pushed the most is the limit of good taste. The only exception is that Jackass’ spectacles mostly revolve around a motley crew of masochistic daredevils. The participants on The Gong Show were less about physical punishment and more about performance; really really punishingly bad performances. Many are do bad (on purpose) that they become brilliantly entertaining and well worth tracking down this video just to see. Plus, how can anyone turn down a chance to see more of The Unknown Comic?

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