Being There is a 1979 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby. Based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosiński, it was adapted for the screen by Kosiński and the uncredited Robert C. Jones. The film stars Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, and features Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, and Richard Basehart.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Hal Ashby|
|Produced by||Andrew Braunsberg|
|Screenplay by||Jerzy Kosiński[a]|
|Based on||Being There|
by Jerzy Kosiński
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Edited by||Don Zimmerman|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$30.2 million (US)|
Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor. The screenplay won the British Academy Film Award for Best Screenplay and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.
The middle-aged and simple-minded Chance lives in the townhouse of an old, wealthy man in Washington, D.C.. He has spent his whole life tending the garden and has never left the property. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance naively tells the lawyers that he has no claim against the estate and is ordered to move out.
Chance wanders aimlessly, discovering the outside world for the first time. Passing by a TV shop, he 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, an elderly business mogul. In the car is Rand's much younger and very glamorous wife, Eve, who mishears "Chance, the gardener", in reply to the question who he is, as "Chauncey Gardiner".
Eve brings Chance to their home to recover. He is wearing expensive tailored clothes from the 1920s and '30s, which his benefactor had allowed him to take from the attic, and his manners are old-fashioned and courtly. When Ben Rand meets him, he takes "Chauncey" for an upper-class, highly educated businessman who has fallen on hard times. Rand admires him, finding him direct, wise and insightful.
Rand is also a confidant and adviser to the President of the United States, whom he introduces to "Chauncey". In a discussion about the economy, Chance takes his cue from the words "stimulate growth" and talks about the changing seasons of the garden. The President misinterprets this as optimistic political advice and quotes “Chauncey Gardiner” in a speech. Chance now rises to national public prominence, attends important dinners, develops a close connection with the Soviet ambassador and appears on a television talk show. During the latter, Chance goes into detail about what a serious gardener should do and is misunderstood as giving his opinion about what would be his presidential policy, given the chance.
Though he has now risen to the top of Washington society, the Secret Service and some 16 other agencies are unable to find any background information about him. During this time Rand's physician, Dr. Allenby, becomes increasingly suspicious that Chance is not a wise political expert and that the mystery of his identity may have a more mundane explanation. Dr. Allenby considers confiding this to Rand but, realizing how happy Chance is making him during his final days, he decides not to.
The dying Rand encourages Eve to become close to "Chauncey". She is already attracted to him and makes a sexual advance. Chance has no interest in or knowledge of sex, but mimics a kissing scene from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, which happens to be on the TV. When the scene ends, Chauncey stops suddenly and Eve is confused. She asks what he likes, meaning sexually; he replies "I like to watch," meaning television. She is momentarily taken aback, but decides she is willing to masturbate for his voyeuristic pleasure, thereby not noticing that he has turned back to the TV and is now imitating a yoga exercise on a different channel.
Chance is present at Rand's death and shows genuine sadness at his passing. Questioned by Dr Allenby, he admits that he "loves Eve very much", and also that he is just a gardener. When he leaves to inform Eve of Ben's death, Allenby says to himself, "I understand", but it is left to the viewer to work out exactly what that means.
At Rand's funeral, while the President delivers a speech, the pall-bearers hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next term of office and unanimously agree on Chauncey Gardiner as successor. Oblivious to all this, Chance wanders off through Rand's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling flattened by a fallen branch and then walks off across the surface of a lake. He pauses, dips his umbrella deep into the water under his feet (confirming for the viewer that it is not just a skim of water on the ground), then continues on, while the President is heard quoting Rand: "Life is a state of mind."
- Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener (Chauncey Gardiner)
- Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand
- Melvyn Douglas as Ben Rand
- Richard A. Dysart as Dr. Robert Allenby
- Jack Warden as The President
- Richard Basehart as Soviet Ambassador Vladimir Skrapinov
- Than Wyenn as Ambassador Gaufridi
- David Clennon as Thomas Franklin
- Fran Brill as Sally Hayes
- Ruth Attaway as Louise
- Denise DuBarry as Johanna
- Sam Weisman as Colson
- Alice Hirson as The First Lady
- Arthur Rosenberg as Morton Hull
- Jerome Hellman as Gary Burns
- James Noble as Kaufman
- John Harkins as Courtney
- Elya Baskin as Karpatov
- Richard McKenzie as Ron Steigler
- Oteil Burbridge as Lolo (boy on corner)
- Hoyt Clark Harris, Jr. as Secret Service agent Riff
Melvyn Douglas's granddaughter, Illeana Douglas, visited the set and met Peter Sellers, who is her favorite actor. She has since credited the film for inspiring her to pursue a career in acting. According to Illeana, Sellers and Douglas had known each other since the 1940s, when they first met in Burma during World War II. They often reminisced about their war days while on the set.
According to MacLaine, "(Peter) believed he was Chauncey. He never had lunch with me... He was Chauncey Gardiner the whole shoot, but believing he was having a love affair with me."
The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.
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. 6 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.
The film opened to positive reviews, and gave Sellers a hit after many of his previous films outside of the Pink Panther series had flopped. Film critic Roger Ebert awarded a full grade of 4 out of 4 stars in his original print review and 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." Gene Siskel also gave the film a perfect grade of 4 stars, calling it "one of those rare films, a work of such electric comedy that you are more likely to watch it in amazement than to break down and laugh." Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "a stately, beautifully acted satire with a premise that's funny but fragile."  Variety called it "an unusually fine film" that "represents Peter Sellers' most smashing work since the mid-1960s." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a gentle, exquisitely funny film," adding, "Sellers hasn't been so terrific—or had such terrific material—in years."
The film holds a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews, with an average grade of 8.5 out of 10. The critical consensus reads: "Smart, sophisticated, and refreshingly subtle, Being There soars behind sensitive direction from Hal Ashby and a stellar Peter Sellers performance."
Sellers won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for his performance. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well at the 52nd Academy Awards, but lost to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer.
The credits at the film's end roll over an outtake, known as the "Rafael outtake." Sellers was later displeased that the outtake ran because he believed it took away from Chauncey's mystique. He also believed the outtake was what prevented him from winning the Oscar.
An alternative credit sequence has waves on a television set as they would appear on an "unoccupied" channel.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in:
- Kaufman, Debra (March 1, 2014). "Robert C. Jones: 2014 ACE Career Achievement Award Honoree". Cinemontage. Motion Picture Editors Guild. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
- "The Films of Hal Ashby". Beach, Christopher (2009). Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, p. 177, ISBN 978-0-8143-3415-7.
- "Being There, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". SAMPAS.
- Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
- Henion, Leigh Ann (March 2011). "A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Biltmore". Our State. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
- Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
- Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813139197.
- Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 9781476609768.
- Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813139197.
- "Shirley MacLaine On What Peter Sellers Was Really Like" on YouTube
- Stoehr, Ingo Roland (2001). German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781571131577.
- "Miles Goodman, 47, Composer for Films". The New York Times. August 20, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- Jablon, Robert (August 18, 1996). "MILES GOODMAN, FILM COMPOSER AND JAZZ RECORD PRODUCER, DIES". Associated Press. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- Oliver, Myrna (August 20, 1996). "Miles Goodman; Record Producer, Film Composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- "Miles Goodman: Composer". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 22, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- "Record producer, composer Miles Goodman dies at 47". The Daily Gazette. August 21, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
- Ebert, Roger. "Being There". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
- 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.
- Siskel, Gene (February 8, 1980). "Sellers builds on perfection in 'Being There'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
- Maslin, Janet (December 20, 1979). "Film: Ashby-Kosinksi 'Being There'". The New York Times: C20.
- "Being There". Variety: 19. December 19, 1979.
- Thomas, Kevin (December 20, 1979). "A Kosinski Novel Comes to Life". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 36.
- "Being There". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
- Flint, Peter B. (August 5, 1981). "MELVYN DOUGLAS DEAD; ACTOR, 80, WON 2 OSCARS". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
- Reid, Joe (February 24, 2014). "The Oscar Ballot Explained: Best Supporting Actor/Actress". Thewire.com. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
- Kim, Wook (November 26, 2012). "After 'The End': 10 Memorable End-Credit Scenes". Time. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
- Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813173344.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
- Wilkins, Budd (29 March 2017). "Being There". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
- Beech, Christopher (2009). The Films of Hal Ashby. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-3415-7.
- Finkelstein, Joanne (2007). The Art of Self Invention: Image and Identity in Popular Visual Culture. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 9, 98–99. ISBN 1-84511-395-0.
- Nichols, Peter M.; A. O. Scott; Vincent Canby (2004). The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. New York: Macmillan. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0-312-32611-4.
- Sikov, Ed (2002). Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-8581-5.
- Tichi, Cecelia (1991). Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507914-0.