Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Hal Ashby|
|Produced by||Andrew Braunsberg|
|Screenplay by||Jerzy Kosinski
Robert C. Jones
|Based on||Being There
by Jerzy Kosinski
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Editing by||Don Zimmerman|
|Studio||Lorimar Film Entertainment|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||130 minutes|
Being There is a 1979 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby. Adapted from the 1970 novella by Jerzy Kosinski, the screenplay was by Kosinski and the uncredited Robert C. Jones. The film stars Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard A. Dysart, and Richard Basehart.
Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The screenplay won the 1981 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Film) Best Screenplay Award and the 1980 Writers Guild of America Award (Screen) for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the 1980 Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.
Being There was the last Peter Sellers film to be released while he was alive. The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.
Chance (Peter Sellers) is a middle-aged man who lives in the townhouse of an old, wealthy man in Washington, D.C. He is simple-minded and has lived there his whole life, tending the garden. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance is forced to leave and discovers the outside world for the first time.
Chance wanders aimlessly, wearing his former employer's expensive clothes. Chance passes by a TV shop and sees himself captured by a camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a chauffeured car owned by Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas), an elderly business mogul. In the back seat of the car sits Rand's wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine).
Eve brings Chance to their home to recover. Drinking alcohol for the first time in the car ride home, Chance coughs as he tells Eve his name. Eve mishears "Chance the Gardener" as "Chauncey Gardiner". Judging from Chance's appearance and manners, Rand assumes that Chance is an upper class, highly-educated businessman. Chance's style and seemingly-insightful ways embody the qualities Rand admires. Chance's simplistic utterances about gardens are interpreted as allegorical statements about business and the state of the economy.
Rand is also a confidant and adviser of the U.S. President (Jack Warden), whom he introduces to "Chauncey". The president interprets Chance's remarks about how the garden changes with the seasons as economic and political advice. Chance, as Chauncey Gardiner, quickly rises to national public prominence. He becomes a media celebrity with an appearance on a television talk show and soon rises to the top of Washington society. He remains very mysterious, as the Secret Service men are able to learn almost nothing about his background. Public opinion polls start to reflect just how much his "simple brand of wisdom" resonates with the jaded American public.
Rand, dying of aplastic anemia, encourages Eve to become close to Chance. At his funeral, while the president delivers a speech, members of the board of Rand's companies hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next term of office. As Rand's coffin is about to be interred in the family mausoleum, they unanimously agree on "Chauncey Gardiner".
Oblivious to all this, Chance wanders through Rand's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling and then walks off across the surface of a small lake. The audience now sees Chance physically walking on water (with connotations of the Roadrunner cartoon he watched on television earlier: he will not be forced to obey the world's laws until he realizes he is defying them). He pauses, dips his umbrella into the water under his feet as if testing its depth, turns, and then continues to walk on the water as the president quotes Rand: "Life is a state of mind."
Closing credits are now superimposed over a television screen of static, but were originally shown over a series of out-takes of the scene wherein Chance is speaking to a doctor after Eve takes him to an emergency room after clipping him with her limousine. The scene is supposed to show Sellers (as Chance) relate a message from a street thug he encountered before the accident, which he does verbatim. The scene in the movie is ultimately shortened because, as shown in the out-takes, the cast and crew cannot contain themselves at Sellers' comedic rendition.
- Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener, a.k.a. Chauncey Gardiner
- Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand
- Melvyn Douglas as Ben Rand
- Jack Warden as The President
- Richard A. Dysart as Dr. Robert Allenby
- Richard Basehart as US Soviet Ambassador
- David Clennon as Thomas Franklin
- Ruth Attaway as Louise
- Denise DuBarry as Johanna Franklin
- Sam Weisman as Colson
- Arthur Rosenberg as Morton Hull
- Jerome Hellman as Gary Burns
- James Noble as Kaufman
- Fran Brill as Sally Hayes
- Elya Baskin as Karpatov
- Oteil Burbridge as Lolo (Boy on Corner)
Incidental music is used very sparingly. What little original music is used was composed by Johnny Mandel, and primarily features two recurrent piano themes based on "Gnossiennes" No. 4 and No. 5 by Erik Satie. The other major piece of music used is the Eumir Deodato jazz/funk arrangement of the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, in the scene where Chance leaves the house and ventures out into the world for the first time.
The film opened to positive reviews and helped revitalize Sellers' comic career after he landed many movie flops, except for the Pink Panther movies. Film critic Roger Ebert mentions the final scene in his 2005 book The Great Movies II (p. 52), stating that his film students once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. Ebert writes, "The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image, it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier — a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more."
Sellers won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his performance in Being There. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well at the 52nd Academy Awards, but he lost to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer. Hoffman, upon receiving the award, remarked that he refused to believe that he had beaten Sellers.
- "Being There, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". SAMPAS.
- "Being There (Peter Sellers) opening scene (schubert 8th unfinished symphony)". YouTube. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
- Ebert, Roger (2006), The Great Movies II, Random House, Inc., p. 52, ISBN 978-0-7679-1986-9
- Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1997). "Being There review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 12, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
- "100 Years…100 Laughs". American Film Institute. 2000. Archived from the original on December 12, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
- Mad #218, October 1980, MadCoverSite.com.
- Finkelstein, Joanne (2007). The Art of Self Invention: Image and Identity in Popular Visual Culture. I.B. Tauris. pp. 9, 98–99. ISBN 1-84511-395-0.
- Neupert, Richard (1995). The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2525-4.
- Nichols, Peter M.; A. O. Scott, Vincent Canby (2004). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. Macmillan. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-312-32611-4.
- Sikov, Ed (2002). Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8581-5.
- Tichi, Cecelia (1991). Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507914-0.
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