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Hal Ashby
Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas
Writing Credits:
Jerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones

A simple, sheltered gardener becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/21/2017

• “The Making of Being There” Documentary
• “Hal Ashby At the AFI”
• “Jerzy Kozinski and Dick Cavett”
• Peter Sellers TV Appearances
• Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
• Promo Reel
• Trailer and TV Spots
• Booklet


Being There: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2017)

For his penultimate film role prior to his death in July 1980, we find Peter Sellers in 1979’s Being There. Here the chameleon-like actor plays Chance, a man who has lived his whole life in the same Washington DC home. Cognitively and emotionally limited, he experiences life via TV and knows nothing else of the outside world.

A major change occurs when Chance’s guardian dies. This leaves him homeless, and he wanders the streets of DC.

As this occurs, Chance gets injured in a minor traffic accident when the car owned by wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) hits him. She takes him home to care for his leg, though she mishears his name as “Chauncey Gardiner”.

While he stays at the Rand residence, Chance gets to know his benefactor and her powerful but sickly businessman husband Ben (Melvyn Douglas). Chance says little more than phrases he absorbed from TV, but those with whom he connects tend to interpret these as homespun wisdom. In an odd twist, Chance becomes an influential figure in business and politics, and his encounters lead him all the way to the president (Jack Warden).

Many have compared Being There to Forrest Gump, and those two do offer an awful lot of similarities. However, I kept thinking that There reminded me more of Big. I certainly see the ways in which There and Gump mirror each other, but something about it gives off that Big vibe in a big way.

In contrast with both Big and Gump, however, There tends to really understate its content. Don’t take that as a swipe at the others, especially not Big, which I think is a marvelous film.

However, There provides a considerably less sentimental affair. It features little score and doesn’t attempt to manipulate our feelings as it goes. It presents its material in a rather matter of fact way that gives it a good spin.

That also allows the movie to cross genre boundaries. It spans drama and comedy in a variety of ways, but director Hal Ashby depicts events in a low-key manner that doesn’t push the viewer one way or another. I like that side of things, as it means the film avoids one-dimensional traps.

In terms of lead characters, Being There and Gump have the most in common, as both feature generally emotionless dullards. That’s one area in which Big clearly has the edge, as Tom Hanks took on the most challenging role there. He was a man who had to play a boy in a man’s body, whereas his Gump and Sellers’ Chance are simply unintelligent men.

Sellers earned a lot of praise for his performance, and I think he does just fine in the part. However, I don’t believe Chance provides a terribly demanding role.

Sellers essentially needed to find one note and play it for the whole movie. The character doesn’t grow in any notable way, and he’s not required to display any range. I can’t fault Sellers for that, of course, since he simply played the part as meant to be, but this does mean the actor didn’t need to show off his talents to a large degree.

Being There doesn’t seem like the sort of movie to bowl over a viewer. It’s so relentlessly low-key that it threatens to make no impact, but it tends to stick with the audience. It features understated and interesting social commentary.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Being There appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Many flicks from the late 1970s tend to look pretty flat nowadays, but Being There provided surprisingly dynamic visuals.

Sharpness looked quite good. Next to no softness ever cropped up, as the movie consistently appeared concise and well-defined. I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and I detected no edge enhancement. Source flaws remained absent.

Colors worked well. The film boasted a natural palette that came across with warm, clear hues. Blacks were tight and deep, and shadows demonstrated good clarity and delineation. This was a terrific transfer.

As for the LPCM monaural soundtrack of Being There, it was perfectly acceptable for its era but no better than that. Speech sounded intelligible and clear, though the lines tended to appear a little stiff.

Effects and music played small roles. The movie offered very little score, so only a few musical elements appeared. They lacked much range but remained decent.

Effects also failed to display much to impress, though they didn’t have a lot to do in the movie. This wasn’t exactly an action extravaganza, so these elements focused on general atmosphere most of the time. The effects represented the source elements in a basic manner. All of this was good enough for an age-adjusted “B-“.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2009 DVD? Audio was essentially a wash. While the lossless LPCM track on the BD offered a smidgen more range, it couldn’t add much to the 38-year-old mono material.

On the other hand, the visuals offered clear improvements. Though I liked the 2009 DVD, the Blu-ray seemed tighter, cleaner and richer. The Blu-ray made a good transfer great.

Though billed as a “Deluxe Edition”, the 2009 DVD skimped on extras. The 2017 Criterion release rectifies that, and it starts with a new documentary called The Making of Being There. It fills 47 minutes, 39 seconds with comments from producer Andrew Braunsberg, screenwriter Robert C. Jones, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and editor Don Zimmerman.

In “Making”, we get notes about the source novel and its adaptation, as well as how Ashby came on board and the movie’s path to the screen. From there we go to editing and cinematography, cast and performances, music, locations, Ashby’s style as director, and other topics.

Despite a semi-limited roster of participants, “Making” covers the film pretty well. We get a nice overview of expected subjects and learn a lot about the production. “Making” offers a solid take on the movie’s creation.

Under Hal Ashby at the AFI, we get a 32-minute, 14-second audio-only clip from the director’s January 1980 seminar. In this Q&A, Ashby discusses an alternate ending, working with Peter Sellers and other actors, his shift from editing to directing, and other movie-related areas.

Ashby proves to be blunt, profane and engaging. He covers the material in a lively, frank manner that makes this a very enjoyable and informative chat.

From February 1979, we get a TV segment with author Jerzy Kozinski on The Dick Cavett Show. During the 19-minute, 32-second reel, we learn about his childhood and other aspects of his life as well as the adaptation of Being There. This becomes a less than enthralling chat, mainly because both participants seem awfully full of themselves.

Peter Sellers splits into two segments: “Today” (10:31) and “The Don Lane Show” (11:55). During both, Sellers discusses his career and Being There along with some impersonations, voices and general silliness. The clips offer entertainment and information.

Within Deleted Scenes and Outtakes, we find four clips. This area provides “Deleted Scene 1: Kids Playing Basketball” (2:00), “Deleted Scene 2: Bedroom” (0:50), “Alternate Ending” (2:04) and “Outtakes” (3:25).

“Kids” actually offers two parts. In the first, Chance does watch kids play basketball, and he comments on the game. It continues with more of the existing sequence in which Chance goes past a strip club and asks a random woman for food.

In the extra footage, a prostitute approaches Chance. Neither the basketball nor the hooker snippets add anything memorable. I do hope screenwriter Jones watches it, though, so he’ll know Chance mentions Elvin “The Big E” Hayes and not Oscar “The Big O” Robertson.

With “Bedroom”, Eve gives Chance a pep talk before his TV appearance. It seems wholly superfluous and forgettable.

Given the final film’s unusual finale, the “Alternate Ending” comes with the potential to be the most interesting piece of unused footage. In truth, it’s fairly boring. It gives the movie a much more conventional conclusion, so I greatly prefer the provocative finish found in the theatrical cut.

As for the “Outtakes”, they expand on the bloopers found over the movie’s end credits. We already see Peter Sellers “corpse” during one particular scene, and the “Outtakes” add more of the same. Since we already get so much of this during the actual credits, these bits aren’t especially useful.

Next comes a Promo Reel. The two-minute, 51-second piece features Sellers and Ashby as they create a filmed piece to welcome distributors/exhibitors to a resort retreat. Sellers handles almost the entire piece and makes it amusing.

In addition to the movie’s trailer and two TV spots, the package finishes with a booklet. It boasts an essay from critic Mark Harris and it completes the set well.

If you look for broad comedy and social commentary, stay away from Being There. The film provides a fairly clever and insightful project that delivers the goods in an understated manner. The Blu-ray provides excellent picture as well as adequate audio and a reasonable roster of bonus materials. Being There creates an involving tale and the Blu-ray presents it well.

To rate this film visit the Prior Review of BEING THERE

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