HAL ASHBY’S BEING THERE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Masterpiece. I loved every single moment of this brilliant piece of work. I viewed this film once, roughly 25 years ago, and it went way over my head. Not this time. Yet another reminder of how skilled Hal Ashby was as a director. This is an endlessly funny, heartfelt, and genuine piece of work, a film that dips into the spiritual towards the end without ever being preachy or overly sentimental. The final shot and final spoken line of dialogue were note-perfect. Peter Sellers was extraordinary as Chance the Gardner, and everyone around him provided wonderful supporting work, especially Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas. Caleb Deschanel’s fantastic and darkly lit cinematography stressed wide master shots as opposed to an overabundance of close-ups, and as a result, one is left with a sense of the grand (especially when inside of that obscenely large mansion) while the screenplay stressed the intimate. As usual for an Ashby film, the tone was a perfectly calibrated mixture of quirky, dark comedy and straight forward drama, while Jerzy Kosinski’s wise and graceful screenplay, which he adapted from his own novel with uncredited assistance from Robert C. Jones, provided all of the characters with exceptional individual scenes and more than once chance to provide some big moments. This film is so sensitively observed at almost every turn, and it’s easy to see why it has inspired so many other films that have come after it; the Forrest Gump connection was something that sprung to mind very early, as the naiveté on the part of Sellers’ character seemed to be some sort of direct inspiration. There are so many fantastic bits in this film: Sellers leaving his house for the first time to the jazzy tune of Eumir Deodato’s remix of Also sprach Zarathustra and having any number of interesting encounters; the dryly hilarious meeting Sellers has with Jack Warden (portraying a flummoxed President of the United States); the entire subplot of various government agencies and media members trying to find background info on Sellers; MacLaine having a go with herself on that bearskin rug with Sellers passively watching TV in the background. I could go on and on with this film, as every scene felt true and correct, even with the overall plot straining credibility at times. But I didn’t care about that; the heart and soul of this movie is what makes it special. And in only two scenes, a crazy amount of Ruth Attaway POWER – her speech in the lobby of that long-stay hotel stung with piercing wit. Viewed via Blu-ray, and the transfer was spotless.

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