Being There [Import]
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Thanks to an extraordinary, delicately balanced performance by Peter Sellers, Being There received mixed reviews during its theatrical release in 1979, but has since become a celebrated comedy with a loyal following. It's one of the most unusual black comedies ever made, simply because it stretches a simple premise over 130 minutes of straight-faced, strangely compelling commentary on politics, media, and celebrity in media-savvy America. Adapted by Jerzy Kozinsky from his own novel, the movie's about a simple-minded, middle-aged gardener who, after a lifetime of seclusion and safety in a Washington, D.C. townhouse, gets his first exposure to reality beyond the walls of his sheltered existence. His only reference to the world is through his childlike addiction to television, and when a chance encounter brings him into the inner fold of a dying billionaire (Melvyn Douglas), he suddenly finds himself the toast of Washington's political elite. His simple phrases about gardening are misinterpreted as anything from economic predictions to sage political advice, and under the sharp direction of Hal Ashby, Sellers has the audacity to take this comedic conceit to its logical extreme. Being There is not for all tastes--especially not for those who don't appreciate comedic subtlety. But as a showcase for the daring genius of Peter Sellers, this is a classic movie in a category all its own. --Jeff Shannon
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Special Features in my Blu-ray include some time with Melvyn Douglas's daughter, Ileana, who discusses the film. There is also an alternate ending and a gag reel. Unfortunately, there is no material involving the cast and crew.
I can only wonder how long it took director Hal Ashby to dream it up, because I read the original script and it only ends with Peter Sellers walking away from the funeral and tending to a broken tree. Ashby must have had a brainstorm on the set and it was a brilliant one. Watching Peter Sellers walk on water -- as we hear the President end his eulogy with the words: "Life is a state of mind" so effortlessly sums everything up it's almost frightening. When I saw it, I had to rewind the DVD at least five or six times just to savior the meaning. You just don't see that kind of thing in movies anymore.
And to those who think it's some sort of Christ metaphor, I take exception and I think the President's dialogue supports me. The final shot is simply saying that Sellers' character was never told you couldn't do all these amazing things; his childlike innocence was never diluted by doubts about what can and can't be accomplished in this world -- even impossible things like walking on water. He doesn't know it's impossible because no one told him. Indeed, life is a state of mind, and I think thats a mighty powerful idea all on its own.
The image and sound are good. The colours are fairly vivid, though perhaps not as vivid as the film originally looked on the screen.
This "Deluxe" edition is not so deluxe -- the only extras are a trailer and a short "remembering Being There" piece which is mainly an interview with actress Illeana Douglas, granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas (who won the Best Supporting Actor award for the film). This feature is good and informative, but limited compared to a commentary; and while Douglas gives some interesting insights into her grandfather, we don't get much insight into the film itself. One would think that for a film as recent as 1979 there would still be people alive who could provide a commentary, or at least some short features.
The scene menu is better than most, with 36 stops, making the intervals shorter than 4 minutes, which is handy.
The details of the movie itself I won't discuss because all the other reviewers will have covered that. I'll just make the general comment that I hadn't seen the movie since 1979 when it came out, and I think it still holds up today, 35 years later. Camera work, music, script are all excellent, as is the acting not only of the leads but all the supporting players. The IMDb voters give this film an average of 8.0; arguably it deserves more than that, something approaching a 9.0.
This DVD can still be obtained fairly cheaply, directly from Amazon, and from affiliated merchants. Now would be the time to grab it if you have never seen it and want to put your toe in the water in the most inexpensive way.
Playing a straight-man is hard work, especially when he must also play the part with such innocence and subdued intelligence. What makes this so entertaining are the reactions of those around "Chance" (or Chauncy) particularly the President and his cohorts. It's beautiful that only one person is actually "clued in" by the end of the film, and he's smart enough to leave well enough alone.
I won't give anything away here, suffice to say this is the pinnacle of Peter Sellers's skills as an actor, as clearly illustrated by the one scene's outtakes during the credits. It was the only scene that he could not do with a straight face and shows just how much of a character Peter Sellers truly was.
Enjoy the film. :-)
Most recent customer reviews
arrived on time.......very funny.Ipicked this up because of all the political nonsense going reminded me of it.Published 4 months ago by gordon stanley smith
A brilliant movie that only the genius Peter Sellers could pull off and as mentioned by a previous reviewer the final scene was amazing. This movie is a comedic masterpiece.Published 5 months ago by Zola
Peter Sellers is pure genius. Not only my favourite Sellers movie but also one of my all time favourites. Maclaine and Sellers play well off each other.Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
I bought it because of Peter Seller, and have not seen this movie for a long time. Very good acting, and a funny plot.Published 12 months ago by Scarberian