Hal Ashby’s ‘Being There’ screened by BFS

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What film societies do is show meaningful cinema – at a meaningful hour. Befittingly remembering Hal Ashby during his death centenary month, Bangalore Film Society (BFS) screened the intriguing director’s “tantalizing knuckleball” comedy Being There, a few weeks ago.

Shampoo, Bound for Glory, The Landlord, The Last Detail, Coming Home and Being There – with each of his films drastically different from the other, it makes a certain categorisation that erudite critics and viewers like to ‘assign’ to artists and their work, an exercise in futility. However, this could also be the chief reason why he never received as much acclaim as his contemporaries like Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese did.

Being There says so much so effortlessly, which makes it so difficult to review this minimalist yet grandiose film. The case in point is the film’s statement about American politics – the presence of which most viewers easily miss. The movie says a lot more about the American political scene than any other movie by other directors which openly seeks to address the issue.

Story

The film is a hilarious take on the entire human race and their desperation to deliver meaning to everything they come in contact with. The film follows the protagonist Chance (Peter Seller)- a simpleton, who has, most of his living life, been in contact with the human race only thorough television – apart from the ‘old man’ who raised him (whom we never see) and Louise, the maid who serves him his meals. The large part of his bonding has been with the plants in the ‘safe and secure garden which is separated from the street by a high red brick wall covered with ivy’. He knows so much about gardening that, solely on those credentials, in the latter part of the movie, these ‘metaphysical flutters’ bring him to the highest degree of power.

 

As destiny would have it, the ‘old man’ dies leaving him nothing – which is probably just due to forgetfulness – and Chance is asked to leave the house. A forty-plus man, who ‘ignored the streets’ all his life, ventures out for the very first time. “Though he had never stepped outside the house and its garden, he was not curious about life on the other side of the wall,” reads the novel by Jerzy N Kosinski, on which the movie is based. The Polish writer, Kosinski, also co-authored the screenplay for the movie.

Being there, shot from the film

Shot from the film, Being There (pic: Credit BFS)

This excerpt from the book largely summarises the flavour and pace of the film. “Chance went inside and turned on the TV. The set created its own light, its own color, its own time. It did not follow the law of gravity that forever bent all plants downward. In this colored world of television, gardening was the white cane of a blind man.” The events which unfold in the film are a product of Chance’s foray into gardening and non-judgmental television viewing – almost making Chance render a Zen like aura of calm. “He is a sponge. He imitates everything he sees on television and everyone he meets,” writes Sense of Cinema, a great film magazine, on Chance.

Being There is Ashby’s 7th film and whether it is his greatest, is a matter of debate. Obvious in a filmography like his, what remains is that it is a film like no other and we at the BFS are among its biggest fans,” says George Kutty, Secretary, BFS.

Summarising the film for us, Kutty says, “Being There is a tale, a modern fable, a satire of a man who has never ventured outside his employer’s mansion since the day he was born. All that he has ever learnt, he has picked up from TV. When his employer’s death forces him into the outside world for the first time, his journey takes him from the streets of Washington DC straight into the corridors of power.”

As the movie rolls to the end, we faintly hear the words “Life is a state of mind”, which ring long after. Featuring Peter Seller’s greatest and last ever performances, in which he plays a character like himself – that of a straight-faced comic, Being There is simply fantastic.

 

The coming weekend

This weekend, including Friday, BFS is screening three films consecutively. Entry is for members only. The Vertical Ray of Sun which is being screened on Friday is from the director Tran Anh Hung, of the acclaimed The Scent of Green Papaya fame.

On Saturday, they are screening Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s The Road Home. It is a sensitively-wrought portrait of a young woman’s unshakable love. Zhang is known for the 1999 award winning movie Not One Less.

On Sunday, they screen the Turkish German director- Fatih Akin’s The edge of heaven. The film draws comparisons to the work of Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. In the film, the retired widower, Ali, sees a solution to his loneliness when he meets prostitute Yeter, and he proposes that his fellow Turkish native live with him in exchange for a low rent.

The venue is Ashirwad, St. Mark’s Road, Op. State Bank of India.

Film: The Vertical Ray of Sun – 2000 (1hr 50min)

Director: Tran Anh Hung

Date: Friday 9th January, 2009

Time: 6.30 PM

Film: The Road Home – 1999 (1hr 29min)

Director: Zhang Yimou

Date: Saturday 10th January, 2009

Time: 6.30 PM

Film: The Edge of Heaven – 2007 (1hr 52min)

Director: Fatih Akin

Date: Sunday 11th January, 2009

Time: 6.30 PM

Call 25492774 / 25493705 for more information.