Being There is a 1979 American satirical comedy-drama film starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas. Directed by Hal Ashby, it is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosiński, and adapted for the screen by Kosiński and the uncredited Robert C. Jones. Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, and Richard Basehart are featured in support.

Being There
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHal Ashby
Screenplay byJerzy Kosiński[a]
Based onBeing There
1970 novel
by Jerzy Kosiński
Produced byAndrew Braunsberg
StarringPeter Sellers
Shirley MacLaine
Melvyn Douglas
Jack Warden
Richard Dysart
Richard Basehart
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited byDon Zimmerman
Music byJohnny Mandel
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 19, 1979 (1979-12-19)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million[2]
Box office$30.2 million (US)[3]

Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor.[4] 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. In 2015, the Library of Congress selected Being There for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5][6][7]

Plot edit

Middle-aged, simple-minded Chance lives in a wealthy old man's townhouse in Washington, D.C., along with the man's African-American maid Louise, who is kind to Chance. He has spent his whole life tending the garden and never left the property. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from television. When the old man dies, his estate lawyers order Chance out.

He wanders aimlessly, discovering the outside world for the first time. An African-American youth points a knife at him; Chance ineffectually tries to click him out of existence with a TV remote control. Passing by a TV shop, Chance sees himself captured by a video camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a limousine chauffeuring Eve Rand, the glamorous and much younger wife of elderly business mogul Ben Rand. When she asks him his name she mishears "Chance, the gardener" as "Chauncey Gardiner".

Eve brings Chance to their palatial estate to be seen by Dr. Allenby, who is resident there caring for Ben, who is slowly dying from a blood disease. After checking Chauncey out, the doctor invites him to stay to keep an eye on him.

Chauncey’s manners are old-fashioned and courtly, and he wears expensively-tailored but outmoded 1930s clothes he took from his former employer’s attic. When Ben meets him he takes "Chauncey" for an upper-class, highly-educated businessman fallen on hard times. Ben admires him, finding him direct, wise and insightful.

Ben is also a confidant and advisor 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 prominence, attends important events, develops a close connection with the Soviet ambassador, and appears on a talk show during which his detailed advice about what a serious gardener should do is misunderstood as his opinion on presidential policy. Louise tells other African Americans as they watch Chance on TV that he has "rice pudding between the ears" and that whiteness is all that is needed to succeed in America. The President is shown as sexually impotent with his wife when watching the show.

Though Chance has now risen to the pinnacle of Washington society, the Secret Service and 16 other agencies are unable to find any background information on him. Meanwhile, Allenby becomes increasingly suspicious that Chance is not a wise political expert and that his mysterious identity may have a more mundane explanation. Allenby considers telling Ben, but remains silent when he realizes how happy Chance is making him in his final days.

The dying Ben 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 TV. When the scene ends, Chance 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 masturbates for his voyeuristic pleasure, not noticing he has turned back to the TV and is imitating a yoga exercise on another channel.

Chance is present at Ben's death and shows genuine sadness. Questioned by 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."

While the President delivers a speech at Ben's funeral, the pallbearers hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next presidential term, and unanimously agree on "Chauncey" as successor. Oblivious, Chance wanders off through Ben's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling flattened by a fallen branch, then walks across the surface of a lake without sinking. He pauses, dips his umbrella deep into the water to the right of his path, then continues on, while the President is heard quoting Ben: "Life is a state of mind."

Cast edit

Production edit

Casting edit

Burt Lancaster was Ashby's first choice for the role of Ben Rand.[8][9] Laurence Olivier was also considered for the role, but turned it down because of the masturbation scene.[8][10]

Filming edit

Principal filming occurred at the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in the United States, located in Asheville, North Carolina.[11] 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."[12] The original ending as written in the script was filmed; it shows Eve finding Chance by the lake, they declare they have found each other, and both walk back together.[13] However, Ashby was unhappy with this ending so he had a platform submerged in the lake for Sellers to walk on, creating the film's enigmatic final scene.[14]

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.[15] The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.

Music edit

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 pieces of music used are the Eumir Deodato jazz/funk arrangement of the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra and "Basketball Jones" by Cheech and Chong. These pieces respectively accompany the title credits and Chance's first arrival to the Biltmore Estate.[16]

Mandel was also assisted by his cousin and fellow composer Miles Goodman with the orchestration of the film.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

Reception edit

The film opened to positive reviews and gave Sellers a hit after many failed films outside of the Pink Panther series. Film critic Roger Ebert awarded a full grade of four out of four stars in his original print review.[23] Gene Siskel also gave the film a perfect grade of four 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."[24] Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a stately, beautifully acted satire with a premise that's funny but fragile." [25] Variety called it "an unusually fine film" that "represents Peter Sellers' most smashing work since the mid-1960s."[26] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a gentle, exquisitely funny film," adding that "Sellers hasn't been so terrific—or had such terrific material—in years."[27]

Vincent Misiano reviewed Being There in Ares Magazine and commented that "the film's humor never flags and yet its delicately bitter irony is never far away. It satirizes politics and politicians, business and businessmen, and, finally, all the rest of us and what we imagine we see when we look at one another."[28]

In 2006 Roger Ebert mentioned the reaction of his students to the final scene (which is unique to the film, not appearing in the book),[29] stating that they once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. But, 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."[30]

The credits at the film's end roll over an out-take known as the "Rafael outtake." Sellers was displeased that the out-take ran because he believed that it took away from Chauncey's mystique.[31] He also believed that it prevented him from winning the Oscar.[15][32]

As of 2023 the film holds a score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 8.60/10. The critical consensus calls it "smart, sophisticated, and refreshingly subtle."[33] In 2003, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[34]

Awards and nominations edit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[4] Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Won
British Academy Film Awards[35] Best Film Andrew Braunsberg Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Shirley MacLaine Nominated
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosiński Won
Cannes Film Festival[36] Palme d'Or Hal Ashby Nominated
Fotogramas de Plata Awards Best Foreign Performer Peter Sellers Won
Golden Globe Awards[37] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Peter Sellers Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Shirley MacLaine Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Melvyn Douglas Won[b]
Best Director – Motion Picture Hal Ashby Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Jerzy Kosinski Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Hal Ashby Nominated
London Critics Circle Film Awards[38] Special Achievement Award Peter Sellers Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[39] Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas (also for The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Board of Review Awards[40] Top Ten Films Won
Best Actor Peter Sellers Won
National Film Preservation Board[6] National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards[41] Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Nominated
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosinski and Robert C. Jones Nominated
Best Cinematography Caleb Deschanel (also for The Black Stallion) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[42] Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Won
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosinski Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[43] Best Comedy – Adapted from Another Medium Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in:

Home media edit

A 30th Anniversary Edition was released on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2009.[15] The Criterion Collection issued the film on DVD and Blu-ray in March 2017.[45]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Robert C. Jones worked extensively on the screenplay. He has said that both he and Kosiński initially shared a writing credit, but the Writers Guild of America overruled the decision and awarded Kosiński sole credit.[1]
  2. ^ Tied with Robert Duvall for Apocalypse Now.

References edit

  1. ^ Kaufman, Debra (March 1, 2014). "Robert C. Jones: 2014 ACE Career Achievement Award Honoree". Cinemontage. Motion Picture Editors Guild. Archived from the original on November 23, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  2. ^ Beach, Christopher (2009). The Films of Hal Ashby. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-8143-3415-7.
  3. ^ "Being There, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners".
  5. ^ Barnes, Mike (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  6. ^ a b "2015 National Film Registry: "Ghostbusters" Gets the Call". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  7. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Sikov, Ed (2003). Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Hachette Books. ISBN 9781401398941.[page needed]
  9. ^ Dawson 2009, p. 210.
  10. ^ Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 30
  11. ^ Henion, Leigh Ann (March 2011). "A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Biltmore". Our State. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  12. ^ "Shirley MacLaine On What Peter Sellers Was Really Like". Hudson Union Society. November 30, 2013 – via YouTube.
  13. ^ Being There (alternate ending) on YouTube
  14. ^ "Great Scene: "Being There"". July 2, 2022.
  15. ^ a b c Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  16. ^ Stoehr, Ingo Roland (2001). German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781571131577.
  17. ^ "Miles Goodman, 47, Composer for Films". The New York Times. August 20, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Jablon, Robert (August 18, 1996). "Miles Goodman, Film Composer and Jazz Record Producer, Dies". Associated Press. Archived from the original on May 18, 2023. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  19. ^ Oliver, Myrna (August 20, 1996). "Miles Goodman; Record Producer, Film Composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  20. ^ "Miles Goodman: Composer". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 22, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  21. ^ "Record producer, composer Miles Goodman dies at 47". The Daily Gazette. August 21, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  22. ^ Saporito, Jeff (December 7, 2015). "Why does "Being There" highlight "Basketball Jones" so prominently". Screen Prism. Archived from the original on July 27, 2016.
  23. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1980). "Being There". Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  24. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 8, 1980). "Sellers builds on perfection in 'Being There'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  25. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 20, 1979). "Film: Ashby-Kosinksi 'Being There'". The New York Times. p. C20. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  26. ^ "Being There". Variety. December 19, 1979. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  27. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 20, 1979). "A Kosinski Novel Comes to Life". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 36.
  28. ^ Misiano, Vincent (July 1980). "Film & Television". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (3): 32.
  29. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006). The Great Movies II. Random House. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7679-1986-9.
  30. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1997). "Being There | Great Movies". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  31. ^ Kim, Wook (November 26, 2012). "After 'The End': 10 Memorable End-Credit Scenes". Time. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  32. ^ Dawson 2009, p. 226.
  33. ^ "Being There". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  34. ^ The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. The New York Times via Internet Archive. Published April 29, 2003. Retrieved June 12, 2008.
  35. ^ "Film in 1981 | BAFTA Awards". Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  36. ^ "Official Selection 1980: All the Selection". Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  37. ^ "Being There". Golden Globes. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  38. ^ "Critics' Circle Film Awards". The Critics' Circle. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  39. ^ "Awards for 1979 - LAFCA". Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  40. ^ "1979 Archives". National Board of Review. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  41. ^ "National Film Critics Select 'Breaking Away'". The New York Times. January 3, 1980. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  42. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 20, 1979). "Film Critics Cite 'Kramer,' Dustin Hoffman and Sally Field". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  43. ^ "1980 Awards Winners". Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2023.
  44. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs". American Film Institute. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  45. ^ Wilkins, Budd (March 29, 2017). "Being There". Slant Magazine. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  46. ^ Adamczyk-Grabowska, Monika (2001). "The Role of Polish Language and Literature". In Wolitz, Seth L. (ed.). The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer. University of Texas Press. p. 137. ISBN 029279147X.

Bibliography edit

External links edit