Being There

Hal Ashby, USA 1979, 130 mins

The film that was to make the late Peter Sellars' career - he made the bulk of the Pink Panther films to scrape together the money to finance the film of Jerzi Kosinski's novel (then script) of the same name.

Sellars' penultimate role was, by his own admission, his hardest - mainly because of the lack of dialogue for the simpleton gardener Chance who he plays in the film.

The story is a fable of the wisdom of the innocent and perhaps the vacuousness of society's commentators and those who read far too much into others' actions. The film charts Chance's rise after losing his livelihood, following the death of his employer and the way he almost falls into success.

Chance is a television addict and idiot who manages to flatter those around him by saying nothing and letting them talk and project their opinions unto him - unknowingly letting them believe what they want to believe.

The films makes jibes at the inability of blacks to rise in US society as highlighted by Louise (Ruth Attaway) and shows Chance's comic meeting with a coloured street gang and features a most unlikely disco sound-track.

The action is understated and lets the audience draw its own conclusions (perhaps the best type of film) with towering performances from Shirley MacLaine (as sexually frustrated and lonely housewife Eve), Melvyn Douglas (of Ninotchka fame, who won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Benjamin Rand) and Jack Warden (as the bumbling and neurotic President Bobby).

One for the sharp eyed - does Chance walk on ice at the end or is it something altogether more biblical? Make up your own minds and enjoy one of the sharpest but most understated comedies written.

Stephen J. Brennan
EUFS Programme 1998-99