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A real Gong Show of a book

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Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

An Unauthorized Autobiography by Chuck Barris

Miramax Books 2002 (from a 1984 manuscript)

240 pages + 6 blank pages (for notes?)

Paperback $19.99

Review by T.J. Smith

Chuck Barris has definitely left his mark. Composer of a ’60s top-40 song (Palisades Park), inventor of the staged "reality" game show (The Dating Game), he has also created a universally accepted English language metaphor. When someone says "That was a real Gong Show ," they probably don’t even realize the phrase was coined by Barris as the title for his short-lived television show. Few people remember that ’70s show of his, and yet the name lives on. His current book, though, might not be too enduring.

Publications like these, which coincide with releases of feature films, are sometimes known as "novelizations." A true novelization is written as a kind of expanded version of the film’s script, usually by someone other than the scriptwriter. It’s a way of increasing revenues. "Watch our movie and buy our book to learn even more about our characters."

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is supposedly not one of these. It purports to be an actual autobiography, and autobiographies are supposed to be non-fiction. If the title and the fact the publisher is Miramax Books, part of Miramax Film Corp., doesn’t make the reader at all suspicious of what lies between the paper covers of this novel, then the reader needs a few lessons on how to tell realism from fraud.

Despite the book being a fabrication, or maybe because it is, it’s still an entertaining read. Barris spins a pretty good yarn most of the time. Occasionally he even manages to divulge – or invent – some pretty deep insights into his psyche, and this is some of his more engaging writing. His descriptions of the behind-the-scenes world of network television might even be true, and it’s in these vignettes that his humour surfaces. His description of using an actor to impersonate a Federal Communications Commission officer as a means to intimidate contestants is quite brilliant.

When Barris delves into the cloak and dagger world of the CIA, though, he flounders badly. His portrayal of the heartless, but fearful, killer is far too distant from the picture he paints of himself in the rest of the book to be believable. And the factual errors are so abundant you wonder if there really was any intention of passing this off as real. You’d think Miramax could have at least hired a fact checker, but maybe he’s thrown that stuff in just to see if anyone would notice. For instance, in one chapter he tells the sad story of a woman he loves who dies in an Air France crash in 1976, where a passenger plane collided with the Greek military plane. Don’t remember that? You shouldn’t, because it never happened. In another chapter he writes about Torontonians receiving broadcast television from Duluth, Minnesota (1,200 km away), apparently confusing the Little Apple with Thunder Bay.

This novel could have been quite a bit better if Barris had stuck to what he really knows. It could have been a legitimate autobiography in fact. The story likely will work perfectly for the movie of the same name, but as a book it seems more like one contestant’s tale on To Tell The Truth.

A good holiday read.

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