Being There
1979
Dir: Hal Ashby
"Comedy is a serious business" said WC Fields.

Since the earliest black-and-white silent films, comedy actors have understood that their role is more than just making people laugh.
Films like 'Limelight' and 'The Great Dictator' not only show Chaplin's comedy genius, but also his range - the little tramp could make you cry just as easily as he could make you laugh.
There are many examples of actors who are known for comedic roles giving remarkable dramatic performances. Bill Murray, John Candy, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler come to mind.

And of course there's 'Being There'.

Peter Sellers made his stage debut when he was two years old at the Kings Theatre Southsea, where he travelled with his parents who had a touring variety act.

His comedic talents were put to use in the war effort, when he was part of an entertainment troupe, and became a household name in Britain through his role in 'The Goon Show' a successful BBC radio series.

Film roles followed, most making use of his comedic gifts of accents and guises.

Plagued by depression and insecurity, he hid behind his characters, and was rarely seen as 'himself'

When Kermit the Frog told Sellers he could relax and be himself, Sellers replied:

But that, you see, my dear Kermit, would be altogether impossible. I could never be myself ... You see, there is no me. I do not exist ... There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.
-Peter Sellers, The Muppet Show, February 1978

Perhaps his most famous role was as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the 'Pink Panther' films. However, as the films declined in quality, Sellers became bored of the role and yearned for something that could stretch him as an actor.

He found that role in the Jerzy Kosinski book 'Being There', and was instrumental in getting the film produced.
It was a role he took extremely seriously, recording his voice over and over again to get the right tone, and fanatically practicing his 'walk'.

He felt that finally this was a role which he could be proud of. He was livid when he saw the finished film and the end credits which contained outtakes of Sellers' fluffs and bloopers.
He was trying to establish himself as a serious actor, and felt that this undermined all his efforts. When he lost out on the Oscar, he blamed this end credit scene for the loss.
He had to make do with a Golden Globe.

The story of an ordinary person whose stupidity is mistaken for genius is wonderful satire.
And time and time again, people like Sarah Palin show us that it is not all that far-fetched.
The film includes wonderful performances by Melvyn Douglas, who did win an Oscar, and Shirley Maclaine.
It is said that Laurence Olivier was offered the Melvyn Douglas role, but turned it down because he didn't want to be in any film in which Shirley Maclaine masturbated.

Paul Spurrier