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|Being There (Blu-ray Disc, 2009) (Blu-ray Disc, 2009)|
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'Being There', starring Peter Sellers in perhaps the best performance of his life (he was nominated for the Academy Award for this), and adapted from Jerzy Kosinski's brief but rich novella, is one of the great, under-rated films that fill video-store shelves, rarely to be rented or purchased, but holding great rewards for those who do.
In the film we come upon Chance as 'the old man' has died, and the lawyers are coming in to close the house. As a man apart from society, there is no record of Chance even existing (which becomes important later). He is a mystery from the beginning, made all the more mysterious by his completely innocent, non-evasive manner. This is rare for Washington, D.C.!
Having been turned out of the house, Chance begins his partial discovery of the real world. He experiences hatred, deprivation, and solitude for the first time, but all of this leaves little impact upon him. He continues his solitary journey until stopped by a store display of television sets, at which time he backs up to watch himself being displayed from the video camera, and is injured by a passing car belonging to Benjamin Rand, wealthy financier and kingmaker. Mrs. Rand is in the car (played astutely by Shirley MacLaine), and insists on taking Chance (who, while taking his first alcoholic drink, garbles the words to the degree that she mishears his name, becomes at this point Chauncey) back to the Rand estate, where doctors and nurses are in attendance at the sick-near-dying bed of her husband Benjamin.
Chauncey floats effortlessly through this world. Without apprehension and without an image to protect and project, he is simply himself, and in so being, becomes a mirror to project the hopes of those around him. While he speaks in terms of gardening almost exclusively, others, from Mrs. Rand to the President of the United States (who ends up quoting him in a speech) believe he is a master of metaphor, and, much like a mystical text, are quick to assign their own meanings to his words.
Because Chauncey is without affectation, well-mannered and, above all, a curious listener, people are charmed by him. The policeman outside the White House respond when he reports a sick tree in the park. The Russian ambassador responds when Chauncey laughs at his Russian jokes. The Rands respond because they both need, above all, hope. Chauncey becomes a cipher for all.
Chance is a mystery. The President quotes him in a speech, after meeting him at the Rand estate. But who is he? The CIA and the FBI cannot find any information on him. Thus, both decide he must be an ex-agent who has 'wiped the slate clean'.
Ultimately, it is unclear, purposefully so, if Chance is in fact mentally deficient or spiritually enhanced. The disturbing message of the film and novel is that even a little learning can be a soul-destroying force; ignorance is bliss, and enables one to walk on water when one doesn't know one can't.
Will Chance succeed, by Chance? Will the Randian consortium in fact propel him into the Presidency? Would you, the viewer, want him as President?
Filmed largely at the Biltmore Estate (pictured as if it were in the centre of the District of Columbia), this is a visually interesting film as well as an intriguing story, with superb acting performances and an ambiguous moral at the end. The very last words of the film are
`Life is a state of mind.'
The near-perfect 148 page novel "Being There", by Jerzy Kosinski, on which his screenplay is based, is brought to life in this DVD by the wonderful acting abilities of Peter Sellers who plays Chance, the gardener, a somewhat mentally-challenged caretaker for a kind "old man" who adopted him as a child. After living his entire life within the confines of an old Washington D.C. Brownstone-style home, Chance faces homelessness when the old man dies. Shirley MacLaine masterfully plays the sexy but staid wife of an extremely wealthy and powerful business man named "Rand", played to perfection by Melvyn Douglas in one of his final screen appearances. Rand, who by a sequence of fortunate cirumstances becomes "Chauncey Gardener's" unwitting benefactor, introduces Chance and his quiet and seemingly brilliant perception to his powerful circle of business and government friends, including the President who is played hilariously by Jack Warden. Mr. Sellers actually suffered a heart attack while making "Being There", one of his last films. In a Johnny Carson "Tonight Show" appearance, Peter Sellers spoke of his near-death experience on the movie set. Shirley MacLaine began her "Out On a Limb" search for proof of after-life existence shortly after making this 1979 film. On many levels, this has got to be one of the greatest stories of all time. Funny and touching, with situations relevant then and now, a timeless movie.
Peter Sellers' masterpiece is rare in that it transcends the very clever and well conceived book upon which it is based; taking it to places that author Jerzy Kosinski may never have imagined or intended. Sellers must have recognized something of himself deep in the character of Chance the Gardener (aka Chauncey Gardner) to have been able to so embue Kozinski's protagonist with additional dimensions; facets that bring the character to larger-than life and elevate Being There from its original satirical take on media and celebrity to a kind of celluloid shamanism. Sellers as medium, leads us to an ethereal vantage point; more Krylov's Fables than Washington Post; more Brothers Grimm than Wall Street Journal. After all the belly-laugh inducing pratfalls, word play, impressions, innuendo and slapstick...subtly, it turns out, was Sellers forte. Required viewing. A true swan song.
Being There, as noted ealier based on the short but brilliant book by Jerzy Kozinski, offers a delightful slice of life based on a chain of preposterous but humorous and believable events.
The story is based on a mildly retarded man, and live-in house gardener (Chance) who's understanding and concept of life originates from watching TV. From the time he was taken in as a very young boy till the time he's forced to leave his surroundings when his benefactor dies, Chance never has any human interaction outside of his benefactor's walled home as he's not allowed to leave. Though a little slow at the beginning for some, the real fun & adventure into how people think and act begins when Chance has to fend for himself when his benefactor dies and the home is taken over by attorneys. By chance (no pun intended), our hero gets slightly hit by the limousine of the wife of the wealthiest and most influential man in America. She easily convinces Change, who is now technically homeless, to accept care and observation in their home by their resident doctor as well as being a guest in the home. Of course, from the perspective of Chance, who's midly retarded, he sees this as someone wanting to take of him as in his previous life. So he's taken in and cared for at the home of the wife and her powerful and wealthy, yet dying, husband (played by Melvin Douglas in an Oscar winning role for best supporting actor). Chance hasn't much to say (remember, he's never gone to school and only likes to watch tv ). However, he's an astute observer and listener, and when he responds with a smile and nod of his head and utters "I understand" to his conversation partner, who might be the American President, the Soviet Ambassador or a big time tv host, people think he's a genius. Preposterous? Try listening closely to the next person you talk to, nod and say "I understand" and watch them thank you for really understand them and knowing how they feel. As a musician, I really appreciate the score by Johnny Mandel (who wrote "The Shadow of your Smile" that Sinatra made famous and also the theme to MASH). It's a dark and comedic score punctuated with some of classical composer Erik Satie piano pieces mixed in that perfectly complements the movie.
The acting of Peter Sellars, Shirley McClain & Melvin Douglas is so perfect both as individuals and as an ensemble. Melvin Douglas won nod for Best supporting actor and Peter Sellars (Best Actor) and Shirley McClain (Best Actress) were nominated but did not win (a big slight I think considering Sellars brilliant, subtle and unique performance). As someone else suggested, make sure to watch through the end credits to see a few outtakes that are a surprise.
A few notable facts; Peter Sellars was dying of stomach cancer when he made this movie (he died a year later). The house belonging to Benjamin Rand is the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, built by George Vanderbilt and considered the largest private residence in America. By all means, please rent or buy this movie and enjoy it! Like a rare wine or good book, this movie is meant to be savored and seen on those special days. Especially a rainy Saturday. The last spoken line of the movie is "Life is a state of mind".
I saw this movie which was still in theaters at the time of Peter Sellers very tragic death...He died too young, but his legacy and scope live on...This was his most intellectually challenging role, right up there with Dr. Strangelove. He plays a character eerily similar to his real-life ability to assume a chameleonlike "hero." He's a hero in all eyes but his own...and those who knew him "back when..." His performance as an autistic, simple Everyman, and his ability to convince everyone around him after he is "let out into the wild" (having lived a very secluded TV-oriented life) is exquisite. When he shockingly discovers that the TV Remote won't simply make people and unpleasant situations "go away," he somehow adapts, where others would have been crushed under. He is saved by Society's assumptions, the vanities of others of social prominence, and by dumb luck. The tortured soul of Jersey Kozinsky, who wrote the book of the same title, seemed to be almost unwittingly captured and cast by Sellers. A MUST SEE...on so many levels...Sellers at his best...mature and childlike all at the same time...Shirley MacLaine is also brilliant in this unsung gem...