Being There - FLNWO #39

10/17/201615 Comments

Julian Charles of joins us this month to discuss Being There, the 1979 film by director Hal Ashby that follows the story of Chance the Gardener, a simple man with no experience of the outside world who is suddenly thrust onto the national political stage. Despite his complete lack of knowledge and experience (or precisely because of it) the powers behind the scenes float him as a potential candidate for next president of the United States. So is this a reflection of political reality, or broad satire? What does the movie tell us about the way modern media shapes the political landscape? Find out in this edition of Film, Literature and the New World Order.

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Being There - Roger Ebert

Rockefeller obelisk

Barack Obama: The Ghost of Columbia University

Lying: A Life Story - Review

The Rise and Fall of Jerzy Kosinski

Interview 600 – James Corbett on The Mind Renewed

Last month’s episode and comments: The Purge: Election Year

Next month: American Tabloid by James Ellroy

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Comments (15)

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  1. Corbett says:

    Let me kick this converstaion off. For those of you interested in the 2001 allusion that we discuss in this podcast I just discovered that Rob Ager did a video about it:

    Interesting stuff!

  2. pablo says:

    Hi everyone, just a comment about the image of Chance the Gardener walking on water, its reminds me the following part of Orwell’s 1984:

    “O’Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation—anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.’”



  3. sjb says:

    Hi James,
    Great to hear your review of Being There one of my all time favourite films. I honestly can’t remember when or where I 1st saw the film. But I do know as soon as Baby Bush was Selected I could see Chance, right there. The guy who wrote the book, as you both gave some interesting info about, was an immigrant to the US. Surely this book/film was his vision of politics in the US? Bush II was the future he could see coming. Obama has merely shown us the puppet that he has allowed himself to become. Or maybe he had no choice. Now we are all so much more on to the ridiculousness of 21st century politics we are able to see the facts more clearly. Having just read The Jungle one can see that immigrant eyes are more aware/open to strange customs/ways in their new land.
    Cheers Sandie

  4. m.clare says:

    Chancey Gardener and Maurice Strong have a lot in common.

    What is comedy?

    I think human beings laugh when they are shocked or surprised with absurdities that provide novel perspective on those aspects of their reality they take most for granted. I believe Bill Hicks and George Carlin were often surprised and, at times, even dissapointed that their truths were received with fits of laughter.

    Regarding the “point” of walking on water, could it partially be to challenge the viewer to think? Was the point simply to be the catalyst for conversations such as the one I enjoyed between James and Julian? High art (and this film is rich poetry) invites its patrons to revisit their assumptions.

    It is very encouraging to view two respectful, brilliant gentlemen engaging in a stimulating conversation.

    I mean no disrespect….. and I am certainly less a gentleman than Mr. Corbett…. thus I feel compelled to point out the irony of a Christian asking whether or not we are being conditioned to believe certain things. I don’t mean to single out Christianity nor do I suggest there are not a great many redeeming qualities in the religions. For me, what is sacred is the pursuit of truth… no matter how painful, humbling, frightening….

    A final point: this movie reminds me that a certain fraction of the population has always been aware of the many public deceptions that have existed for thousands of years. This message is a recurring theme in the arts.

    “fascist theorcracy”

    I worry for the hypothetical individual who earns respect in a quantity deemed dangerous by TPSB. The threat of crucifixion is a constant reminder.

  5. pierre_lefeuvre says:

    It is an interesting view to use an Idiot to get your dirty work done, and certainly W. Bush come to mind, but lets face reality, it is even easier to control and manipulate someone ambitious and corrupt, lots of choices here. From LB Johnson,Nixon, Ford, B. Clinton, Daddy Bush, Obama, and now both candidates, Hitlery or Trump, did I miss anyone? Fell free to add to the list, this is just recent History.

  6. Moxa4 says:

    An intersting movie, indeed. I must admit, that I didn’t know it until now.
    From my point of view Chance is a “healer”, a kind of “saint”. (I am quite shure, that this has been observed ba many)
    And he is also a “boy” and a “fool”. Both are inocent and therefore closer to God by nature, as one can read in the mystic literature.
    Plato thought that actually philosophers should govern in a state because of ther intellect and they carefulness. In “Being There” it would be the opposite: a holy fool. Both never happened in reality. Maybe it would be nice. But it is not plausible. Sooner or later Chance would have been crucified. sfmbe*

    *sorry for my bad English=-)

  7. Regarding the anecdotal evidence presented here about Obama’s Columbia University attendance, has this:

  8. dave_voce says:

    I love this film. To me, aside from the political and social implications, this is a religious film. And it explores the idea that if God was going to do another Jesus then it would be essential for him to be an idiot otherwise he would be corrupted by life.

  9. nosoapradio says:

    Mirror Mirror on the wall,
    What’s the meaning of it all?

    walking on water as a rorschach test
    reflecting your state of mind, your state of being…there…

    Smile at the world and the world smiles back at you…

    God helps those who help themselves…

    As Chauncey walks on water, like a giant Mirror, because he didn’t know he couldn’t,
    nobody witnesses the miracle

    as everyone, compelled by convention and culture, is looking and listening to death and futility, in the other direction.

    See the lily among the thorns…

    See yourself devoid of culture, society, convention…

    See your reflection outside the televised reflection of society and culture…

    In the absence of the reflection

    there is just yourself… a facet of the miracle of life…

    Just like Chauncey Gardner

    Try not thinking about it,

    Try just

    Being there.

  10. nosoapradio says:

    or maybe… things could be read from the classic three-point perspective:

    1: The universe,
    2: the image of the universe, as filtered and imprinted through
    3: the prism of Egos.

    People love Chauncey as the image they see of themselves in his eyes is not altered or distorted by his Ego. Only by their own. As Chauncey has no Ego. He sees the world. And the Ego-distorted televised reflection of the world. But unfiltered through his own Ego as he does not seem to Exist as an Ego entity with all its advantages and drawbacks.

    So when he sees the world, it exists. And when he doesn’t see it, it ceases to exist. Including himself. Because the reflection of his experience is not printed onto his Ego. The only imprint of the world for him is television, one altered reflection of the world. And suddenly he becomes part of that reflection, and for that instant, exists in his own eyes as he’s reflected in the TV screen. And he also has his deeply-ingrained muscle-memory experience with Gardening. But no subjective recording of his own experience. Or almost none.

    Well…it made sense to me as I was writing it…

  11. daflammas says:

    I think the puppet theme was very strong, right from the beginning of the film. Chauncy changes channel from Schubert to a puppet show, then to another, and finally to a puppet show where the hand of the puppet master could be seen, and to this one his face becomes animated and he laughs. His responses are learned, not instinctive, like an autistic child. I think the blank slate analogy is very good with everyone projecting their beliefs and wants onto him. Equally though a puppet can be whatever you want once you take hold of the strings.

  12. hce says:

    Loved the movie and the discussion. Slightly off topic, but “Being There” was referenced in the debate on the history of science in an interesting (if dense) academic article by Steve Fuller in 1992 “Being There with Thomas Kuhn: A Parable for Postmodern Times”. He argues that Thomas ‘Paradigm Shift’ Kuhn’s ascent to prominence was due to the “Being There” Chauncey effect.
    Reading the conclusion alone will probably be enough to give you an idea, and also make your head spin.

  13. HEDGE110 says:

    Just watched ‘Being There’ along with the Corbett / Charles commentary whilst also reading C.S. Lewis essay ‘Willing Slaves of the Welfare State – Is progress possible?’ There is a lot of meat on the sandwich of this film. However, I think a key theme is enslavement. In many ways, Chance is twice a slave. The first half of his life spent house-bound, tending a garden with no record of him ever classed as an employee or tenant. The second half of his life entails willing enslavement to Rand and then the Oligarchs. He perhaps represents the ‘useful idiot’ that we all are to some extent.

    C.S. Lewis essay is here –

  14. nickhw says:

    I’ve been trying to get this movie, ii live in Portugal but have UK vpn and can get their version of Prime but it’s not there, any help anybody?

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