A Movie A Day: BEING THERE (1979)
This is just like television only you can see much further…
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I don’t have the desire to go back and count them, but I’m sure there’s quite a healthy amount of AMADs that start out with me talking about how I’ve intended to see the movie under discussion that day for a long, long time and it took this column to force me to finally just sit my fat ass down and watch it.
And that’s definitely the case with BEING THERE. I was a little late to the Hal Ashby party, only seeing HAROLD AND MAUDE maybe 4 or 5 years ago. Sure, I saw both SHAMPOO and COMING HOME in my childhood (weird that it’s those two, isn’t it?), but even those I don’t remember much of. HAROLD AND MAUDE I’ve seen probably half a dozen times since that first viewing. It’s an immensely rewatchable movie and I even got to see it this year at the Alamo with noneother than Bud Cort in attendance. He lead the audience in the pledge of allegiance and, to cap off the night, a full 200 part harmony of If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.
I knew I’d love BEING THERE, it was just a matter of sitting down to watch the damned thing.
And I did love it. It’s actually a different movie than I was expecting, but I love it all the more for dashing my expectations. I was expecting a quirkier film, more in the HAROLD AND MAUDE mold, and what I got was a straightforward tale of a fascinating innocence… well, straight-forward until the last 30 seconds when something in your mind should pop when you see what happens.
Or maybe I’m just slow. I certainly see the hints throughout the movie, but I never considered that… well, you know… If you’ve seen it you know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t I’ll be goddamned if I’ll be the one to spoil it for you.
You could very easily see BEING THERE as a precursor to FORREST GUMP, but without the gimmick. The film opens with Peter Sellers looking very old, but somehow even younger than his hey day. It’s the innocence that he wears. There is no winking at the camera or showing off. He’s subdued, natural here.
What’s really odd is Sellers’ Chance watches the same shit I used to watch. I was born in 1981, but the children’s programming he watches in the late ‘70s is the same stuff I grew up with. That era Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, etc. So, immediately there was a nostalgic factor for me.
Turns out Chance since childhood has lived with an old man. He’s never had any formal educating, he can’t read or write, but he tends to the garden and is obsessed with TV. Chance was raised mostly by the maid, who comes down to tell him that the old man has passed away. Chance’s reaction isn’t sad or happy, but neutral. He takes it as point of fact and doesn’t have any strong emotions one way or the other.
The maid leaves and a skeazy lawyer type shows up to evaluate the property, finds this gardener, dressed up in nice, but old clothes. Chance inherits his entire wardrobe from the old man’s even older suits, so he always looks good.
The skeazy lawyer kicks the poor devil out and the fish out of water story really swings into high gear. Chance has never left the house, never been in a car, doesn’t know anybody and bases all his interactions on either what he knows from television or his personal relationships with the maid and the old man.
He also walks around with his remote control. That’s his reality. When he loses interest in people or places he changes the channel, but in the real world for some reason he’s finding his remote doesn’t work quite right.
Ashby keeps this stuff to a minimum, though. The meat of the movie is what happens to him after this brief foray into the world. He is injured by a car and is taken in by Shirley MacLaine, the young trophy wife of a rich, powerful and dying old man (Melvyn Douglas).
The Forrest Gump comparisons come into play here and only in the most surface ways. The two films are radically different, but you do have a simple, innocent lead who is suddenly thrust into a position where he has the ear and respect of the most powerful men in the world.
Douglas’ Benjamin Rand takes to Chance right away. I’m not exactly sure what it is… the humility, the childlike wonder at his surroundings, his innocence… maybe all them combined. Whatever the reason, Old Man Rand trusts him and brings him into his confidence, which also ends up getting him next to the President of the United States (Jack Warden).
Chance only knows gardening, so when asked his opinion on an economic crisis, he translates that into what he knows, describing a season for all things and as long as the roots aren’t severed there will be a bloom in the Spring. This alters the course of the whole country and the President’s policy, shooting Chance (“the Gardener” he says, which people take as his last name so he becomes Chance Gardener) into stardom within the political world.
Everybody’s trying to dig up information on him and that’s essentially the last half of the movie. You have some of the people around Rand worried this man is trying to take him for his money in the waning days of his life as well as the Government trying to figure out who this guy is. The press want info, entertainment shows on TV want him to be a guest, he’s invited to all the parties, etc.
Ashby also balances that out with MacLaine falling in love with him, something that is even encouraged by her husband who just wants he to be happy and with a good man when he’s gone.
Sellers never breaks character… well, that’s not exactly true… we see him crack up in a credits sequence gag-reel, but that doesn’t count. That’s after the story is told. What I’m trying to get at is that Sellers turns in the performance of his life. I love his turns in DR. STRANGELOVE and LOLITA, but his work here is so subtle, so controlled and out of character for him (or at least the image of him) that I have to give it to this film.
He was nominated, but lost to Dustin Hoffman in KRAMER VS. KRAMER. With all due respect to Mr. Hoffman, an actor I really admire who turned in a great performance in that film, Sellers was robbed. The only other person nominated that year that could have gotten it was Roy Scheider for ALL THAT JAZZ. Melvyn Douglas did win for Supporting Actor (beating out Robert Duvall in APOCALYPSE NOW, how about that?), so BEING THERE wasn’t completely ignored.
MacLaine also turns in quite a performance. Just like Sellers’ work, it’s understated (until her masturbation scene, that is). It’s a haunted and sad performance, but one full of hope.
Chance advertently or inadvertently saves these two people from the hell of self-pity and depression by his very presence. Seeing his influence on MacLaine especially underlines the happiness his character can spread.
Final Thoughts: This is quite an awesome movie, one that really does live up to its reputation and it’s guaranteed to make you sad that Sellers isn’t still kicking around today, having given us another two decades of work. It’s a sweet movie, a touching movie, a funny movie. If you’ve been like me and somehow avoided it until now make it a priority. You won’t regret it.
Here are the next seven in the line up:
THE PARTY (1968)
CASINO ROYALE (1967)
THE STRANGER (1946)
BROTHER ORCHID (1940)
THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)
And another huge one, probably the biggest “What the fudge!?” title of the year. NOTORIOUS also marks the 200th film of the AMAD column.
On that note, I have to pause the column for this weekend. I tried really hard to get the next two days watched and reviewed. I got it half done, but my regular BNAT duties have prevented me from following through. On top of that, I’m leaving BNAT Sunday afternoon and going straight to the airport for over 18 hours of travel… I think I have a death wish, but that all adds up to me not being able to knock out the next installment until maybe Monday or Tuesday of next week.
Sorry to flake out, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m only human!
Keep an eye out Monday or Tuesday for the next Peter Sellers flick in the queue, his reteaming with Blake Edwards in THE PARTY!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 12, 2008, 11:33 p.m. CST
for reminding me how much I love this film. Seller's was indeed robbed when it came to being awarded for this performance.
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:35 p.m. CST
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:37 p.m. CST
And haven't seen this... Now I think I will. Man Shirley McLane was a hottie. And Quint, we'll wait, good job sir. You deserve some slack.
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:39 p.m. CST
by Barrymore Yorke
the use of Deodato's jazz-funk version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" in this, when Chance is first walking down the street after being turfed out.
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:54 p.m. CST
totally. perfect cue, I couldn't agree more.
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:55 p.m. CST
human. born to make mistakes.
Dec. 12, 2008, 11:59 p.m. CST
fails here...as sellers didnt win the oscar...although he should have, as chance was not a full retard...maybe he wouldve won it had they stuck with the sex scene the way it was written in the book...with gay guys...truly brilliant book and movie...and totally stands up today...and im still shocked at many of the movies quint has missed
Dec. 13, 2008, midnight CST
by The Dum Guy
While I don't rate this as one of the greatest movies, I would say that seeing it for the first time is a real... treat.<br><br>I can't say why it was so oddly funny when I first watched it, but it is such a sad and funny piece at the same time. I think I appreciate it even more for seeing that bio-pic with Jeffry Rush (sp?), mostly because of how it (supposedly) the character was like him, although it sounds like Sellers might have been a sociopath (with all the destroying kids toys, and not really 'being there')
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:02 a.m. CST
I remember really really liking it, I think I am going to add this to my Netflix queue now. Anything w/ Peter Sellers is bound to be a safe bet.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:03 a.m. CST
not chance gardner...
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:04 a.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:07 a.m. CST
Adorable perfection in The Trouble with Harry. Loved Being There, too. First saw it as a kid, and it struck me as a very special movie. Unlike anything I'd seen before or since. Great that you're seeing Notorious, Quint. It's reputation, IMHO, is well-deserved.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:10 a.m. CST
he had a severe narcisistic personality disorder...and had absolutely no concept that his actions actually hurt others...which is why he felt he could cheat openly on his wife...he was still a brilliant talent, mostly because he really had personality of his own
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:16 a.m. CST
smells like victory
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:24 a.m. CST
1) Love love love BEING THERE. Thanks for the review, Quint. Glad you finally got around to seeing it.<br><br> 2) NOTORIOUS?!? Oh, dude, I am so jealous that you get to watch that for the first time.<br><br> 3) I caught THE PARTY for the first time on my birthday this past year. It's certainly no BEING THERE, but it has its charms.<br><br> 4) Yeah, I agree with the above. This is the movie that actually had me physically attracted to Shirley MacLaine. That masturbation scene is something! I once listened in on a conference call with Shirley at my production company, and while she was being the tough-as-nails businesswoman, I couldn't help but think to myself: "I've heard you fake orgasm, Shirley!"<br><br>5) I gotta check out that MAD Magazine parody.<br><br>6) This movie inspired me to download the Deodato jazz cover of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" long before that car commercial used it.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:32 a.m. CST
by otm shank
"Charlie don't surf!"
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:40 a.m. CST
I always thought that this movie was robbed of being the sweet swan song for Sellers that it ought to have been, because he lived long enough to star in the turkey The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Fu Manchu after doing Being There.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:43 a.m. CST
by Johnny Smith
I'm not sure what that kind is, necessarily, but it is an absolutely phenomenal achievement and one of the finest films ever made. There's nothing else quite like it. "You wait right here, I'll go get Warren!"
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:53 a.m. CST
1) Best scene to me in the movie is when the head of the FBI and head of the CIA are both arguing to president Jack Warden that Chauncey Gardner could have only learned what he knows by being a ex-agent of their respective agencies. Jack Warden's simple but annoyed reaction to their bragging is priceless. <p> 2) I noticed you didn't mention one of Hal Ashby's other great movies on the list on ones you saw, The Last Detail. See it Quint if you haven't yet. Seriously. <p> 3) Yeah, I love that Deodato version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” A friend of mine actually played it at his wedding just before his bride walked down the aisle. I think I’ll see if I can get it as a ring tone. <p> 4) Notorious rocks. To bad you can’t see it at a theatre, like the Egyptian here in LA. Hitchcock always plays much better at a theatre.
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:21 a.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:22 a.m. CST
Loved this movie, saw when I was pretty young. Can't believe I'm 11 years older than Quint. I grew up on the Pink Panther films, but I remember liking this the best, and I was far too young to get Strangelove. I also loved the book, was required reading in high school.
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:53 a.m. CST
I second seeing The Last Detail. Randy Quaid with baby fat, turning in a damn good performance. Who the hell would thunk it? I love that movie, and one of college professors helped edit it (same guy who wrote Coming Home) so I heard great Hal Ashby stories.
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:16 a.m. CST
... is just the funniest movie ever made! "Howdie pardner" "birdie nam! nam!" cant wit for your review!
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:20 a.m. CST
Is cinematic perfection. IMO, the best film Hitchcock ever made, without a doubt. I agree with everyone else - you're in for a real treat, Quint. But on The Party and Casino Royale, you're going to have to maybe drink some absinthe or roll a fatty to enjoy those two. Oh and yeah, if you haven't seen The Last Detail, let that baby cut to the top of the list.
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:41 a.m. CST
and I'll say it again - Hal Ashby had the most perfect streak of all the 70's directors. His films are not flashy, but they stick to you. Being There was his last hurrah before the studios were taken over by corporations and accountants. He wasn't allowed to be an auteur anymore and was only hired for drek like The Slugger's Wife and 8 Million Ways to Day. He was Norman Jewison's editor for half of the 60's, and in my opinion a better filmmaker. It's sad what happened to him, and sadder still that he's not remembered as often or fondly as others.
Dec. 13, 2008, 3:41 a.m. CST
One of my favourite double bills when I've a spare afternoon is Being There and Local Hero. They just seem to go together perfectly. And damned right about that final scene in Being There. Blew my mind when that happened. A truely great movie moment.
Dec. 13, 2008, 6:05 a.m. CST
I think is my favorite Sellers movie because I found it a such a weird time. School grade ten, I think, going to the movie store browsing for VHS and I've past by the packing a few times and it peaked interest because I've seen Panther in the theater and I loved Sellers but knowing nothing about who or what Alice B. was -- it was a later rental after Eddie Murphy's RAW. But when I finally saw it... <p> Trippy. Day-glo, hot knife hash trippy, man. It was like the drug culture - that, let's face it, every generation *thinks* that they are inventing - was talking to me. <p> In my U2/Duran Duran stage, it taught me drug history. Too stoned to actually *bake* brownies but the vibe was there, yeah?
Dec. 13, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
deserved his win. I love Duvall in Apocalypse Now as much as anybody and his performance has become iconic but It's pretty much one note. Hopefully readers who've never seen Ashby's work will go on to discover what a great all but forgotten director he was.
Dec. 13, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST
That ending really fucked with my head many years ago. It was beautiful film but I couldnt figure out who the fuck was Chance gardener, or what was he? I dont think I get it still, but boy that image was so powerful, it stuck with me for years. Oh and yeah, that remix of Daa Daaa Daaaaaa, DADAAAA, Dum dum dum dum was fucking awesome. I echo everyone else's view that Sellers was robbed of an oscar here. What a great film. Cant wait to see what Moriarty makes out of "Birdy Num Num". My quote from it would be "I dont think who I am, I know who I am".
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:12 a.m. CST
...is still the Elvis Presley version from "Aloha from Hawaii." The orchestra playing it straight and then suddenly vamping into "CC Rider" and all the middle aged ladies going bezerk. Hail to the King, baby.
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:16 a.m. CST
in All that Jazz is one of the greatest performances in American film, and greater than Sellers's turn here. Roy gets extra points (as, say, Theron did for her work in Monster) for his role completely exceeding anyone's expectations of what he was capable of. Obviously Sellers in Strangelove and various other things is beyond compare (the only actor, maybe the only person whom Kubrick thought was his equal!), but Dustin robbed Roy S. that year. Being There's a good film tho'!
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:17 a.m. CST
I was a lifelong Sellers fan, I had no idea what I was in for when I saw Being There at the theater, but all my buddies loved Sellers so we went with high expectations. We were floored. It was nothing like what we were used to with Sellers, but it was such a great movie, great performances throughout. Sellers was indeed robbed of the Oscar. Maclaine was great too.
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:19 a.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:20 a.m. CST
I really love all his work...Harold and Muade and Being There, but also The Last Detail which I reckon is a truly great forgotten classic. I actually did a pretty extensive essay on Ashby last year at university, which was a bit of a challenge as there virtually nothing written about him. He doesnthave any biographies and the most extensive piece on him was in Biskind's Easy Riders/Raging Bulls....anyways, if anyone wants to know more about Ashby feel free to take a gander at this...it got a good grade so Im happy! http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=73679475&blogID=415404301
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST
by half vader
Oisin, I'm 2 years older than you! Quint just made me feel very old. <p> Although it's interesting that a few of us oldies are actually in the biz. Star Wars and Jim Henson did it for me. I remember watching Being There on VHS and 'getting' the ending, but feeling like it copped out because the REAL meat would have been in what came next. Although now I can see that it's nice to leave it to our own imaginations to continue the story and that that image and the people 'following' him gave us everything we need to know - to know what came next. <p> And I love The Party too. Man, if you love 'cringe' humour like the British The Office, You'll love The Party Quint. Just a shame you didn't watch that before you watched Being There though. "Birdie Num Nums" indeed.
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:28 a.m. CST
by half vader
Finally watched Life on Mars. Funny being about the same age as Sam. Can't imagine an American version - hope it becomes different like the American The Office. What's happening with that anyway? It's still going right? Yes yes, maybe I should put it to Herc...
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:35 a.m. CST
Going to be in my head all day long now. Sweet tuneage.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:17 a.m. CST
by Crimson Dynamo
inspired from Erik Satie's Gnosseine No. 4
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:46 a.m. CST
I read the book first. That Jesus walking on water ending destroyed the whole idea that people read into things more than may be there. Like Obama.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:48 a.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:51 a.m. CST
To fully appreciate being there the novel one must be familiar with the body of Kosinski's work and his life. If ever a biography needs to be made it is his. Even if it may be semi-fictitious.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:54 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
I never read the book. How is the ending different? My take on the movie's ending: While he could be seen as a Christ figure whose purity innocence held him aloft or just that he was so damned stupid, he didn't know that he was supposed to sink.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:56 a.m. CST
Now someone find it and link to youtube. Like a treasuer hunt.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:59 a.m. CST
People he met supplied their own interpretations of who he was. Essentially he was a Tabula Rassa that others would reflect of off. That is kind of a theme in Kosinski's works. Like the tale he tells of pretending to be a mute driver. Or dressing up as a military official and conning his way on an airplane. The idea that we see only role not reality.
Dec. 13, 2008, 10 a.m. CST
The book is all about the man and the mankind surrounding him.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:13 a.m. CST
One of the most memorable books I have ever read. Funnily enough, I used to get good grades in English Lit class but I skipped all the time. To make my grade, my high school teacher made me read the book in library in one sitting to pass his class. Passed the class, skived the book from the library and never looked back. Brillant writer. Highly recommended.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:13 a.m. CST
Let's all bake him a cake.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:14 a.m. CST
To anyone who hasn't seen Harold and Maude - go out, buy two copies of the DVD, and give the other to someone you really like.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:18 a.m. CST
I never even heard of this movie when I browsed comedy section with general release videos on a "pick-a-movie-randomly" night. The video cover art looks weirdly supernatural. I thought, "what is this? I gotta check this out." <p>Little did I know that I was watching a profound movie that is prescient to today's Nixonian cynicism. And the ending was shockingly prophetic and magical at the same time.<p>Peter Sellers should have won a Best Actor Oscar instead of Dustin Hoffman. He was definitely robbed. The whole movie, while deliberately slow-paced, is deadpan hilarious and astonishingly well-made. Hal Ashby's last good movie. "Being There" is unlike any other movie satire I've ever seen besides "Monty Python's Life of Brian". <p>It's tragic "Being There" would never have been produced under the present circumstance because Hollywood loves to produce disposable junk that ends up at Wal-Mart DVD bargain bin. A masterpiece that marked the closure of the great 70's decade for revolutionary filmmaking.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:25 a.m. CST
by Jawa 007
Very profound book and at times just very disturbing. The author actually ended up committing suicide I think (and I believe The Painted Bird is semi-autobiographical. Makes that book all the more disturbing).
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:34 a.m. CST
I read some of Jerzy Kosinski's books many years ago and, specifically, The Painted Bird really stuck with me. Great author, very sad end. As for Notorious? Excellent film; my favorite Hitchcock by far. I'm looking forward to Quint's review.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:44 a.m. CST
by Catbarf the 12th
That image seemed more like what everybody's perception of Chance had become by the end of the movie, not what he actually was. A metaphor displayed "literally" on the screen.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:45 a.m. CST
You are in for such a treat!
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:53 a.m. CST
Of The Painted Bird - far too violent and disturbing. But what a classic book, that isn't just about shock value but really says something about the torment of being a "survivor" of the Holocaust. Having seen that level of barbarity how does one go on? The boy literally, through indirect action, has to kill a trainload of people before he can 'move on' with his life. Jerzy must have known some ugly shit to write that book. I recommend it to everyone. Uhm, even though I just gave away the ending.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:59 a.m. CST
Look up his Wikipedia entry. But even the controversy is more interesting than any of the recent fiction as fact author scandals.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:59 a.m. CST
The night of the murder.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:01 p.m. CST
You people really need to read more. Painted Bird was just the start.Some freaky stories that may be true in his works.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:02 p.m. CST
Without giving away too much the ground glass is a good example.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:06 p.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:07 p.m. CST
True, I probably expressed that wrong. He took a very deliberate action...and killed people in the only way a little boy could. An unbelievable ending. Are you saying other Kosinski books are "sequels" with the same lead character?
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:16 p.m. CST
Nevermind the poetic/metaphorical prose of the painted bird itself but the images it instills haunt me: the bladder, the Russians, the jewess girl and the bottle...really, should a teacher have let a girl in high school read those things?? I am thankful that I read it though, however traumaticly scarred. <p> Also weird by that time, I could recite the entire Evil Dead movie by heart and not be it mean that much.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:17 p.m. CST
you should check out some of his early dramatic work like 'Never Let Go' where he plays a vicious head of a car theft ring.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:19 p.m. CST
Read it later but still didn't fuck me up like Bird did.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:21 p.m. CST
I'm not sure if someone mentioned this, but reportedly, Sellers deeply resented the gag reel's inclusion, which he felt took away from the tone of the film and especially the power of the ending. Not knowing this, I was unwittingly incredibly privileged to see BEING THERE for the first time at the AFI Silver, where they had the *original* credits: fuzzy TV clips and commercials, all somewhat muted. Much more powerful than any gag reel could be, I imagine. Such a shame the DVD's not the same.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:27 p.m. CST
I'm 24, just to lower the age average on this thread a bit ;)
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:42 p.m. CST
But that gag reel doesn't half kill the vibe you get from that wonderful ending. It almost seems like Hal Ashby telling the audience what he had to work with, and that this movie worked in SPITE of Sellers.<p> And that ending! (The real ending). My explanation: it's like the Egyptian's version of the Gate of St. Peters- the only people who could make their way into "heaven" were those whose hearts, after being weighed against a feather, were lighter than the feather. In a way Chauncy was too simple, and lighthearted, to sink.
Dec. 13, 2008, 12:48 p.m. CST
A beautiful capper to this masterful film.
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:06 p.m. CST
Gabin's made some of the best French movies ever made... Hell, you could have watched Port of Shadows and followed Michel Simon (who I was named after) onto one of the best movies EVER: L'Atalante. Le sigh.
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:15 p.m. CST
I remember laughing, limbs flailing, when Sellers loses his shoe. I saw Being There, Party, and Mouse that Roared all together about twenty years ago. I will take any ten minutes of those films up against anything thrown out today. The new Jim Carrey, Yes Man, is nothing more than a George subplot from Seinfeld. Keep digging for the classics.
Dec. 13, 2008, 1:49 p.m. CST
Thank you for summing up my feelings about the ending. It is just a metaphor for how everyone has come to view him even though he is still that same dolt who can't even realize he is doing something Divine.
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:39 p.m. CST
The fact that nearly half of the entire movie is nothing but ambient noise from the party is testament to how great an actor Sellers was. And how trusting Edwards was of his star's performance, too.
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:51 p.m. CST
Read all his stuff.
Dec. 13, 2008, 2:54 p.m. CST
In Pale Fire the main character interprets everything in the poem to be about himself. In Being There people create meaning from the main characters simplistic statements. David Carradine did the same thing in Kung Fu.
Dec. 13, 2008, 3:48 p.m. CST
I have four French words for you: Touchez Pas Au Grisbi. Or, Hands Off The Loot! A classic movie of honor among thieves.
Dec. 13, 2008, 6:01 p.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
I Never Was A Big Fan Of Peter Sellers And Less So Of Shirley MacLaine. Which is the more remarkable that I loved BEING THERE. Bought it on VHS back in the day and tried to show it to anyone who would watch it. Sadly, few takers. GUARDING TESS was a surprise as well. I liked it, all but the Hollywood ending with Nick Cage. I guess it would be akin to BEN AFFLECK haters likeing a BA movie. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Dec. 13, 2008, 6:07 p.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
MICAEL CAINE is my favorite british actor. However, I do include Peter Seller's BEING THERE on my top 100 movies of all time. Not damned by faint praise here, mind you.
Dec. 13, 2008, 6:08 p.m. CST
by Red Dawn Don
Dec. 13, 2008, 6:59 p.m. CST
and i liked it when it came out...but it wasnt academy material...it was a nice little movie
Dec. 13, 2008, 7:57 p.m. CST
The gag reel was added by the studio, who felt the movie was too subtle and not comic enough for a Sellers flick. Sadly, he wanted the opposite, thinking this would be his chance to win an academy award. Remember he was in a frail health already.
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:04 p.m. CST
He's from my country, you know.
Dec. 13, 2008, 8:57 p.m. CST
I can understand why Kubrick thought Sellers was his equal because he was the best actor he ever worked with, the only other contendor would be Jack Nicholson but Jack is a charisma-reliant movie star type of actor who plays himself moreso than a chameleon like Sellers.
Dec. 13, 2008, 9:35 p.m. CST
by Fineus Fog
My father, myself and my son all find this scene freakin hilarious. My son saw it a few years ago when he was 4 and spent the next few months "Birdie Num Num - ing" at any opportunity
Dec. 13, 2008, 10:20 p.m. CST
Kramer vs Kramer was all about a situation then experienced by the Baby Boomer Me Generation<p> It was a movie all about the divorces so popular during that time. Hell everyone was getting one. And people were finding out that getting a divorce wasn't as fun and liberating as everyone said it would be.<p> So, the narcissistic generation valued the movie that was all about them, over a movie (like "Being There") that well crafted and ... well ... spectacular.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
The sequence where Chance first ventures out of "the house" is one THE most perfect marriages of music and image ever committed to film. If that scene doesn't give you goose-bumps, you're simply not human.
Dec. 13, 2008, 11:28 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
Kirk Douglas? Malcom McDowell? Patrick Magee? Shelley Winters? George C. Scott? Sterling Hayden? Peter Ustinov? John Gavin? Tony Curtis? Laurence Olivier? James Earl Jones? Vincent D'Onofrio? Charles Laughton?!!!!
Dec. 14, 2008, 12:19 a.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
Dec. 14, 2008, 8:42 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
You forgot James Mason but you made your point!
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:10 a.m. CST
Sellers was great
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:17 a.m. CST
I agree...I didn't take the ending literally either.
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:41 a.m. CST
Did anyone in the Academy want him to get one? NO. Apparently he was one of the biggest assholes in Hollywood, despite his staggeringly immense talent.
Dec. 14, 2008, 10:30 a.m. CST
I remember writing this on school folders, bathroom stalls, anywhere that could produce a WTF. My friends named several parakeets Birdie num num 1, 2. and 3. On a different note I wonder if anyone caught the Miser Brothers new special, I deemed it worthy. Stop action animation and no mention on this site?mmmm This section is the only thing keeping me here after a decade. The movie a day thing reminds me on my 5 years at the video store in the early nineties plus the discipline of actually saying you will do it and actually doing it. Perhaps the Sellers string of films will lead you to the Ealing Studios, Alec Guiness comedies. Keep it up
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:46 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
... but other than his turn as Humbert Humbert, I've never been that impressed with James Mason, amazing voice and elegant accent not withstanding. He was perfect in "Heaven Can Wait" but he was basically playing himself. And Jack Nicholson (with a couple of notable exceptions - Cukcoo's Nest "5 Easy Pieces" and "China Town" spring to mind), always kind of plays "Jack Nicholson" IMO. I enjoy his turn as "The Joker" in Burton's Batman for example, he's palpably insane, and creepy as hell, but he dosen't "disappear" into the role like Heath Ledger did. I'm always aware that I'm watching Jack Nicholson PLAYING The Joker. I'm not in anyway saying that this is a 'bad' thing, just a different approach to acting than the players that really blow me away. Take the subject of this TB for example. I don't see Peter Sellers at all in this film, he BECOMES Chauncey Gardener.
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:49 p.m. CST
It was the quintessential 70's ending, provocative and thought inducing, but ambiguous and open for multiple interpretations. That is why I love it. Hal Ashby doesn't tell you flat out what to think, he lets you come to your own conclusions what that scene means. You can look at it as figurative or literal, or even as just a joke. One friend thinks he is walking on a shallow puddle of water that looks deep, symbolizing how everyone views him. Maybe he is right, who knows? <p> I once heard that a bad director makes you feel nothing, a good director makes you feel what he wants you to feel, but a great director makes you feel what you want to feel. By that definition, Hal Ashby is a great director.
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:52 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
That should have been addressed to P. Bucciarelli, not Prossor.
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:55 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:56 p.m. CST
I agree with you to a degree about Jack, but mostly that is do to the fact that he became such a big star and had such lasting power, we are no familiar with all of his tricks and mannerism. Even such protean actors as DeNiro, Pacino and Hoffman are pretty much one note nowadays. At Jack's peak he had a very wide range, besides "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest","Five Easy Peices" and "Chinatown", he also had the "Kings of Marvin Garden's","Easy Rider", "The Fortune Cookie", "The Shooting", "The Last Detail", "The Passenger", "Carnal Knowledge", and even "The Shining" which introduced insane Jack to the world. A pretty wide range of roles if I do say so.
Dec. 14, 2008, 1:57 p.m. CST
"we are KNOW familiar with all of his tricks" not "we are NO familiar". Damn abnormal brain.
Dec. 14, 2008, 2 p.m. CST
"We are NOW familiar" not KNOW. Going FULL RETARD people, look out.
Dec. 14, 2008, 2:24 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
I like Nicholson quite a bit and have seen all the films you mention. My memory is a little foggy, but isn't his character in "The Last Detail" sort of like "RP McMurphy in a sailor suit"?
Dec. 14, 2008, 5:09 p.m. CST
I would put DeNiro in the same camp as Nicholson, more of the movie stars who have a very watchable natural chsrisma, while someone like Pacino, Sellers, DDL would be chameleons. Yes Pacino has had his yell-fest mode in the 90s but during his 70s/early 80s streak approximately from Panic at Needle Park to Scarface he has had the most varied performances of any actor ever, whereas DeNiro, speaking purely on performances and not their filmographies, lacks the range. Sure Travis Bickle was a powerhouse role and when under Scorsese's eye he does his best, but there's too much of the toughguy. I think the reason why many people pick DeNiro over Pacino is there's more of him to see since he has about twice Pacino's filmography, and has taken bit parts in a lot of the mainstream bigbudget type movies where Pacino is more picky since he goes for ones only if he likes the role.
Dec. 14, 2008, 8:31 p.m. CST
Ok, the character of "Bad Ass" Buddusky is pretty much R.P. Mc Murphy but with 100 more F bombs. <p> I won’t disagree with you Possor that Pacino had a very wide range of characters in the 70s, each vastly different from the other. In fact, in range of performances I don’t any actor can top what Pacino did 1971 (Panic in Needle Park) to 1983 (Scarface). I mean the same actor who brought us the controlled, ruthless and Machiavellian Michael from the “Godfather” movies is the same actor who played the the anxiety-ridden, desperate gay bank-robber in “Dog Day Afternoon” without reducing his performance into a joke. No wonder John Travolta had a poster of him on his wall! <p> But while DeNiro’s range might not have been as showcased as well in that period as Pacino’s, he still displayed a wide range. I mean Jon Rubin from “Greetings” & “Hi, Mom” is a far cry from incompetent baseball player in “Bang the Drum Slowly”, the self-destructive, impulsive Johnny Boy from “Mean Streets”, the dead on Brando reinterpretation in “The Godfather Part II”, the Irving Thalberg like movie mogul in “The Last Tycoon”, or the ambitious priest in “True Confessions”. And that isn’t even calculating his ability to literally physically transform himself for a part, which he did for “Raging Bull”. <p> A teacher of mine once told me that while “Birth of a Nation”, “Citizen Kane” and “Breathless” were the films that changed the language of cinema and how one made films, certain performances changed how one views film acting. Lon Chaney used groundbreaking makeup and characterizations to bring people to life; James Cagney in “Public Enemy” & Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caeser” put the wooden, bland actors to pasture; Henry Fonda in “Grapes of Wrath” introduced us to a more naturalistic approach to acting; Brando in “On the Waterfront” showed us method acting; and DeNiro in “Raging Bull” introduced the concept of actors actually physically transforming themselves to resemble and actor instead of resorting to makeup, camera tricks or the audiences willingness to suspend disbelief.
Dec. 14, 2008, 8:53 p.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
Regarding True Confessions, I remember reading an article at the time that talked about DeNiro putting on just enough weight to suggest that his character didn't engage in much physical activity. He moves in very precise and leisurely pace and has this slightly doughy look about him that's perfect.
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:21 p.m. CST
He did fall into that habit of playing himself a lot but I really enjoyed him in A Star is Born. His facial expression toward the end of the film when he overhears his wife's (I know, I know, Judy Garland, who was robbed for the Oscar for this) conversation about him was striking.
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:33 p.m. CST
These guys get bored after a while and start taking the easy roles and cashing checks. If you think about it after you win a boat load of awards and aclaim and there is nothing left to prove it must become terribly boring.
Dec. 14, 2008, 9:45 p.m. CST
My father is a big Peter Sellers fan, so he took the whole family to see this film when it first came out. Don't know if my 11 and 12 year old siblings liked it, but I was 9 and I dug the film. I didn't understand why Shirley MacLaine was giggling and laughing on the bed at the time, but when I saw the film as an adult I felt sorry for my parents taking me to that film! I'll bet they were glad I never asked them to explain that scene at the time. <p> The film was run on TV when I was a little older, and I remember wanting to see the credits to watch the gag reel at the end. They didn't run it - they just showed TV static and unfocused images behind the credits. Was that the original ending that Sellers wanted? That whole "I have a message for Raphael" bit was just so hilarious, but it didn't fit the tone of the film at all. <p> This was one of the first films I bought on Laserdisc (!) in the early 90's. When Forrest Gump came out I made a point of showing this flick to my movie-buff friends, as Gump was often compared to Being There. It's a great film - can't wait to watch it again! Time to fire up my laserdisc player - anyone out there still use there LD player besides me?
Dec. 15, 2008, 11:50 a.m. CST
Quint: I've been checking in on this column sporadically (and thoroughly enjoying it), so I'm not sure if you've mentioned (or seen) "The Children's Hour," the Shirley McClaine/Audrey Hepburn film about an evil little girl who empties out a girls' boarding school when she accuses the two teachers of being lovers. Strangely, I began it Saturday night, after having seen "Milk" in the afternoon, which centers on the defeat of CA's Prop 6 (the same year "Being There" came out--came out!--I think), which would have denied (accused) gay people the right to teach. Anyway, "The Children's Hour" blindsided me with its intensity, despite its obvious stage origin. I though McClaine was by far the best of the cast (and, I'm sure others have already pointed it out, but doesn't the young Shirley McClaine, with just those few more angles on her face, look like a hotter Michelle Williams?) until the penultimate scene, or montage rather, of Hepburn walking, then running, back to the boarding house, her expressing changing heart-breakingly as she realizes what's happened to her friend. There's a Godard feel to the editing there, but incredibly (for the content of this film too) this was 1961.
Dec. 15, 2008, 12:22 p.m. CST
Casino Royale is quite possibly the worse movie I've ever seen! Really, it's that bad! It's beyond spoof, it's just awful! At least with crap like Remember the Spartans it fails because of a lack of creativity and talent; this one sports Woody Allen, David Niven, Sellers, and a few other names. That talent and a potentially interesting plot makes the execution much worse in comparison. Don't watch it! Ever! <p>Ye been warned.
Dec. 15, 2008, 12:24 p.m. CST
it's so bad it trancends morbid rubbernecking. You feel stupider and less human after seeing it. Seriously! I cannot emphasize this enough!
Dec. 15, 2008, 5 p.m. CST
I own about 250, still have my Pioneer Elite hooked up. I have two others my original Sony and an old pioneer that I have to flip. I mainly use the covers for autographs then frame them. I met Billy Bob Thornton and he said he still had his hooked up while he signed my Sling Blade Criterion. I had to explain to almost everyone what I had in my hand when in the line. The Disney deluxe sets, and several commentaries are different than when transferred to dvd, plus I got Caligula unrated on laser, I hooked the player back up to see if I wanted to upgrade to DVD when it came out, Nope. Watched The Party last night just to refresh, one never goes bankrupt underestimating the amount of beautiful women in a Blake Edwards movie. yummy , I remember Skin Deep and Switch in the theatre.
Dec. 15, 2008, 6:33 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
Dec. 15, 2008, 10:43 p.m. CST
by half vader
Nice post, Big E. Even if I totally disagree on Gump. I think many here are American and just don't see the inherent jingoism and arrogance in that film. I'll leave it at that. Having said that though, yeah I've got my Pioneer (and another I bought cheap for parts when the end was nigh), and there are still many many titles that haven't even come out on DVD, not to mention for many years there if you DID get all the extras on the DVD they were (uncredited) taken from the Laserdisc masters anyway. <p> All the snobs seem to forget that the only thing DVD offered that was actually new was animated menus. Whoopee. Hey, I love DVDs and they definitely are better (you'd hope so a decade or two later), but I think over 10 thousand titles for such a supposedly 'niche' market was pretty damn good. And it gave us Criterion... I don't understand why even now people are pissing on BD and the early adopters (many of whom are those same Laser people), when they should be down on hands and knees thanking them for bringing better quality down to an affordable price. I completely understand why Laser never become mainstream, but without it, etc. etc... <p> Oh and Geoffrey Rush was pretty awesome in that Sellers bio.
Dec. 16, 2008, 3:22 a.m. CST
So glad you enjoyed it. Probably my favourite Sellers movie. As you say such a controlled performance. The hilarious thing for me is I went with my, then, new wife and her Sister and my, about to be, brother-in-law. He and I laughed hysterically throughout it but our respective ladies thought it was so unfunny. I was nearly sick with hysterics at the lift scene. The girls just didn't get it. Thanks for bringing this one back. Have it in my DVD collection and will watch it again now.
Dec. 18, 2008, 5:54 p.m. CST
u r not very bright. go watch forrest gump...nothing between the lines there.
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