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The original "Forrest Gump" came out in 1979 when Hal Ashby's "Being There" was first released. A quietly brilliant, hilarious, heart-wrenching and heart-warming motion picture that showed how great Peter Sellers (Oscar-nominated) was and how limitless his range was. He stars as a gardener at an old mansion in Washington, D.C. who has never been outside of the owner's small piece of property. When the owner dies, he has to leave the only home he has ever known. Sellers has no knowledge of anything except what he sees on television and he has a strange sort of child-like innocence that endears him to all he comes into contact with. After a minor accident, Sellers is taken to the home of a ridiculously wealthy political lobbyist (Melvyn Douglas in his second Oscar-winning performance) who is literally being kept alive as he has a rare form of cancer. Douglas immediately takes a liking to Sellers and so does his much-younger wife (Shirley MacLaine). Sellers is now in the spotlight though as he gets to meet the president (Jack Warden) and slowly starts to gain popularity and political support from those around him. Of course Sellers does not realize any of this as his understanding of such things are beyond his somewhat limited mental capabilities. A simply brilliant film that is carried by Sellers' amazing personal best performance. Everyone else is adequate, but this is Sellers' show. Douglas won the Oscar mainly due to sympathy votes, but surprisingly Sellers would die before Douglas as he passed away less than six months after receiving his Oscar nod of a massive heart attack. As good as Dustin Hoffman was in "Kramer vs. Kramer", I still wish that Sellers would have won the Oscar for this role which is one of the finest performances ever throughout the entire history of the cinema. 5 stars out of 5.
This film is an absolute jewel. The main character, played by Peter Sellers, is the exact opposite of the film itself. Chauncey/Chance is simple, vapid, unconcerned and utterly unselfconscious, yet he radiates an image of being ponderous, calculating, and complex. The film is deceptively straightforward and uncomplicated on the surface, but is rich and complex upon reflection. The film is very enigmatic (even the title seems to make no sense, even though it seems like it should) and lends itself to interpretation. This is one of those films that you have to talk about after seeing it, and you'll find endless points of view to consider. More than that, however, this film is historically fascinating. Taken as a whole, the movie, the book, the behind the scenes intrigue, the place it holds in the careers of the Stars, the writers and the directors, makes this an exceptionally interesting and enjoyable film.
Peter Sellers should have taken home the Academy Award for his role in Being There. A lifetime of comedies behind him, Sellers ended his career as an actor and a comic legend with this classic. Hard to believe that this was made over 20 years ago, it is still as funny as ever. Since then, no other comedian has captured the raw talent of comedy that Sellers could create. The silent comedy and the physical comedy that Sellers made was not only timeless but funnier than most of the comedy we see in film today. Second to maybe his role in Lolita and in the Pink Panther series, Sellers is not only funny, but gives his best performance in Being There. A terrific story with interesting and real characters, Being There is a delight.
When I first saw Being There I was all of 10 years old, and for some reason, I loved it. And yet I could never exactly say why. Several years latter while looking for another movie, I happen across this video and read the review. Chance Gardner played charmingly by Peter Sellers, ( I think that is what the reviewer wrote) stumbles his way into the upper crest where he is mistaken for someone with deep knowledge of the world. Other reviews point out this movie is cynical characterization of self absorbed people in politics and media. As a kid I didn't get that, and now on further reflection what I liked about this movie was how these people where drawn to Chances innocence. In some ways Forrest Gump tried to attempt to tell this story line, but only manages to rehash old stereotypes. Being There depicts in clever, real characters who use a veil of politeness to cover up a cynicisim they have of their world and their own power. But for a kid and maybe why it has a cult following is because the heart of the show, whats addicting about is no matter how self absorbed we become, our best nature is drawn to a simple life, absent of complications. After watching the movie again, the dark comedy is more apparent, but I am happy to say that in the "Life and death of Peter Sellers", Sellers himself interpreted the character as I thought of it when I was kid. Gardner is a man who is sublimely content with no past and no future, and therefore no worries. As a kid I kind of new that as innocence. So if you rent this movie don't just see it as a black comedy, but also see it how a kid might, and for that matter how Peter Sellers saw it.
Even as a kid I loved this movie and upon seeing it again as an adult I found much to re appreciate in this marvelous sleeper of a film. Sellers is in top form as are the supporting cast--the shear farce of it all makes the improbable seem probable--and as a vehicle for political/social commentary it ranks as one of the best dark comedies ever made. The inclusion of all the 70's TV clips make Being There an invaluable period piece and provide the film with some of it's funniest scenes. The movie also provides an interesting portrayal of the trappings of the super wealthy and it's portrayal of the workings of power and money are reminiscent of some of Kubrick's better work. Check out the all seeing eye of the Illuminati on the apex of the pyramid of "Rand's" mausoleum during the funeral scene. Pretty powerful stuff--makes Being There all the more an important and revealing work--as well as spiritual. Like the protagonist, Chauncey Gardner, there's something about this film that makes you feel better about life and , yeah, even about death. Kosinski's, Ashby's and Seller's gift to us all.
"To see me as a person on screen would be one of the dullest experiences you
could ever wish to experience" - quote from Peter Sellers.
Peter Sellers had many quotes like this in which he spoke of his near self-hatred, hated seeing himself, and that when he was not doing comedy, he was dull and unfunny. That makes his portrayal of Chauncey Gardner that much more amazing, because he portrays a very simple man totally comfortable within himself.
Being There is a great film. It deals with a simple premise - if you act in a certain way, people will make unquestioned assumptions about you. Chauncy is slow witted and has the mind of small child, and all that he knows in gardening. However, he dresses in nice suits, has impeccable manners and is not shy, so he is accepted into social circles. When he speaks of gardening, his ramblings are mistaken for metaphors and he is instantly considered an economic genius.
This is wrapped around a beautiful film, in which Chauncey wanders from one circumstance into another, never changing his demeanor, never faltering. I an reminded of Mr Magoo walking blindly down a succession of steel girders thinking they are stairs. Essentially, he is not in peril because he does not know he is in peril. The charm of this film exists in Chauncey's unwavering personality, and how it affects the world of phonies and bureaucrats he has come to inhabit.
Although the film sometimes comes across as forced, and some of the encounters with Eve (Shirley MacLaine) come off forced, the film is still a masterpiece. Its theme and Sellers' stunning performance lauch it into the catoegory of greatness.
There is much debate amongst the lovers of this film over its final scene. If you have not seen it, rent it, and draw your conclusions. Like many great movies steeped in mood and metaphor, we are left to draw our own conclusions.
The phrase "I like to watch" has become so famous from this movie - it refers to Chauncey's love for TV and the fact that it is his reference point for his existance. (Such has when he tries to click a remote to thwart off muggers). But there is a great deal more to Being There. It is a Top 10 Selection of 70s, Hal Ashby's best film and Peter Sellers greatest performance. **** out of ****.
To learn that Peter Sellers spent the last ten years of his life dedicated
to producing this film, reluctantly taking parts in the Pink Panther series
to gain enough money to do so, is dedication enough to tell you that this
film meant a lot to Sellers.
It is sad that Sellers died just one year after completing the film, which to me stands as a testament to his talent.
Being There was not a successful film, indeed many people have never heard of it. If you haven't seen it, track it down. It is one of the most touching films I have ever seen.
Melvyn Douglas as Ben Rand and Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand were only two examples of the great casting in this film. The best casting of course was to place Peter Sellers in the role of Chauncey "Chance" Gardener. I have watched this film many times and each time I see something else to enjoy in Peter Sellers' performance along with something else to mourn for his passing. In "Being There" Sellers abandons the crowd pleasing slapstick which attracted the droves for the "Pink Panther" series to offer a far more sincere performance that to me is flawlessly in-character and ultimately believable. I am constantly debating with myself whether "Dr. Strangelove" or "Being There" was Sellers' best work. "Being There" is very enjoyable and I never seem to get tired of it. Apart from Sellers standout performance, "Being There" from every angle is an extremely well made film that holds up well to remain engaging 25 years later and is no doubt a source of pride for all involved in any regard. In short, this is a movie that, "I like to watch!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WARNING: SPOILERS! This is an astonishing film. I sat through 'Being
There' chuckling at Seller's wonderful 'Zen-like' performance, enjoying
its gently satirical look at the vacuous nature of political debate,
safe in the knowledge that I was in on the joke: Chance is an idiot but
the real idiots are almost everyone else in the film who see profundity
when they're given pap.
And then, in a scene that completely flips the film on its head, Chance walks on water! That scene is the cinematographic equivalent of staring at one of those stereograms when the hidden 3D image suddenly leaps out at you. It's a shocking moment, beautifully handled, and you're immediately forced to question everything you've seen in the film and your assumptions about it: why does Chance have no concept of time? Is it because an eternal being wouldn't need one? When Eve makes a pass at Chance is he being tempted by, and tested against, original sin? Was the Washington Cop who, we assume, is calling in a report of a simpleton on the loose, actually compelled to do exactly what Chance told him to do? Does Chance speak Russian? How? Is this because all the tongues of man are as one to him? Does Chance have the power to decide when the time is right for Ben to die? Did the 'old man' meet a similar fate, and does Chance lay his hand on the old man's forehead to see if he is cold or to bless him?
If we accept that Chance has indeed revealed his divinity to us then the whole film flips once more and takes on a far darker aspect. Is the decline in the Presidents powers linked to the rise of Chance? Is his TV broadcast the modern equivalent of the 'sermon on the mount'? And, crucially, is all his talk of gardening a chilling metaphor for the immanent fate of mankind?
A shepherd might be content to tend his flock, but Chance is a gardener, and he might have a great deal of pruning and weeding to do before Eden his garden - is restored to its former glory. A great film that fully deserves its high ranking. 9/10.
On the face of it, this was always going to be a cinematic treat. Hal
Ashby, who in my opinion had the greatest sense of humour in Hollywood
directing Peter Sellers, one of the finest comic actors of all time.
What i didn't expect was an excellent supporting cast with superb performances from Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas and a watertight script from Kosinski. What gave me the biggest pleasure was Ashby's subtle portrayal of his own politics. Sellers' character's rise and rise is set against, in the beginning at least, images of the socially deprived. In most of Ashby's films there is a strong sense of the anti-establishment but what is brilliant in this movie is that Ashby gets inside the establishment to ridicule it and yet at the same time bring across a strong sense of humanity in the richer character's isolation and loneliness.
Politics or not Ashby's perfect pacing bring the best out of Sellers whose film career, Strangelove aside, was hit and miss. This movie is definitely a hit from the most underrated film director Hollywood has ever had the arrogance to forget to miss.
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