Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the out-of-the-way hangout for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So glad you could all join us tonight. I hope the weather wasn’t too bad. Please take a seat and the show will begin shortly. The waitstaff will be glad to take your order. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
There was no game today for the Chicago Cubs after they were swept by the Giants, but I don’t think that getting swept by the team with the best record in baseball is all that terrible. The minors are off as well except for the ACL Cubs, who are lost to the Mariners, 9-8. Second-round pick James Triantos hit a home run.
Last time I asked you who you thought would win the National League’s second Wild Card and 69% of you still believe in the Padres, or at least you did last week. Only 19% of you thought the Reds would get the second wild card, although as I write this the Reds and Padres are basically tied and the Reds have a better chance of making the playoffs according to Fangraphs. Another 8% thought the Phillies would win the second Wild Card.
It seems like any team that wins it is going to be nothing but raw meat for the Dodgers or Giants, but in reality, anything can happen in one game.
Here’s the place where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Tonight’s jazz track is “You’ve Changed” by saxophonist Dexter Gordon in 1961. I don’t really have a lot to say about it except enjoy it. It’s a sad, blues-y number.
Tonight’s film is the 1979 satire Being There, directed by Hal Ashby and starring Peter Sellers as Chance, the Gardner. The screenplay was written by Jerzy Kosiński and was based on the his own 1970 novel.
Sellers was, of course, one of the greatest comic actors of his generation and Being There belongs up with his greatest roles. Despite there being very few jokes in the film, Being There is a terrifically funny film. To be sure, the humor is drier than a Thanksgiving turkey that has been left in the oven until Friday, but it’s there. Chance is about as far a comic character as Sellers could get from Inspector Clouseau or Dr. Strangelove. Sellers could probably get laughs out of reading a terms of service agreement, but he does a lot more than that here. The satire in Being There at least as biting as it was in Strangelove, because the target of that satire is the audience itself.
Chance (Sellers) is a middle-aged man who is, to put it as delicately as possible, an intellectually-challenged man who has never left the Washington, DC brownstone that he has spent his entire life in. He has done nothing in his life except tend to the walled-in garden and watch television. And boy, does he watch a lot of television.
The only people he has any contact with are the old man who owns the house and Louise, the Black maid. One morning Louise informs Chance that the old man is dead. Chance doesn’t really process this information or what it means. Louise leaves and worries what is going to happen to Chance, remarking “you’re always gonna be a little boy, ain’t you?’
Honestly, saying Chance is simple-minded is misleading. Chance is too stupid to be an actual human being. The only things he knows in life is gardening and television, and television is little more than spectacle. He rarely understands anything that is on the television and when there is something that isn’t amusing him, he quickly changes the channel.
Soon the lawyers arrive to deal with the estate and they find Chance. Their immediate concern is that Chance has some claim on the estate (The book, apparently, hints that Chance is the old man’s son, but the movie wisely leaves his relationship to the old man unanswered) and then when they question him, he doesn’t even know what that means. Since the lawyers can find no record of Chance living at the residence or even existing, they inform him he has to leave.
Chance had always dressed in the old man’s clothes, so he gets himself dressed up in some very expensive (but old-fashioned) clothes, packs a suitcase, grabs his remote control and for the first time in Chance’s life, to the tune of Deodato’s 1973 hit version of the Richard Strauss composition “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (or the song from 2001: A Space Odyssey), he wanders out beyond the confines of his home.
(Spoilers for a 42-year-old movie to follow) The neighborhood that the house was in had long since deteriorated, and the juxtaposition of Chance, dressed up in a fine double-breasted coat, umbrella, valise and hat walking through the slums of Washington is this first hint of the kind of humor that we’re in for. Chance is neither scared nor excited about his first trip through the city. He has little reaction other than a slightly-amused smile. Throughout the movie, this is about as much emotion as Chance ever shows.
For Chance, the streets of Washington are nothing more than another television program. This is best illustrated in one of the funnier scenes early in the film when he asks a gang of Black youths for help, but they mistake him for a messenger from a rival gang and threaten him with a switchblade. Chance pulls out his remote control and tries to change the channel on the kids threatening him. It’s all very subtle, but effective.
As night falls, Chance finds an electronics store that has TVs in the window that can actually be controlled by his remote control, as well as a closed circuit camera that puts his own image on a television. While engrossed in this development, Chance wanders out into the street where his his hit by the limousine of Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the younger wife of billionaire entrepreneur Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas). Seeing Chance’s fine (if old-fashioned) clothing, Eve mistakes Chance for a man of means and offers to take him back to her mansion, where there is a trained medical staff on call to deal with her dying husband. Eve gives Chance a martini in the back of the limo and asks Chance his name. Gagging at what is almost certainly his first taste of alcohol, Eve mishears “Chance, the Gardner” as “Chauncey Gardner.”
Once back at the mansion, both Eve and Ben continually mistake Chance’s simple-minded statements about his life, television and gardening for wise metaphors about business and the human condition. Ben takes a great liking to “Chauncey” and introduces him to his good friend, the President (Jack Warden), who regularly comes to Ben for political and economic advice. The President asks “Chauncey” about the economy and he replies, after much hesitation, “As long as the roots are not severed, there will be growth in the garden” and that there is Spring and Summer, followed by Fall and Winter.
Of course, Ben and the President interpret these inane comments about gardening as a wise metaphor about the business cycle and the President quotes “Chauncey Gardner” in a speech the next day. This turns Chance into a celebrity who gets invited to go on talk shows and share to share his wisdom about America today. No one can find any record of him even existing before he showed up at the Rands’ house, not even the president. Everyone assumes there must be some sort of intelligence operation going on to erase his past.
Things get more and more ridiculous as everyone interprets “Chauncey Gardner’s” words in a way that reinforces what they already believe. The doctor (Richard Dysart) eventually figures out the truth about Chance, but he stays silent about this, only enigmatically repeating one of Chance’s oft-repeated phrases, “I understand.”
Eventually, Ben dies (although not before giving his blessing for Eve to take up with Chance after he’s gone) and the President comes to speak at his funeral.
The ending of the film is memorable and famous, to say the least. As the President (who doesn’t have a name other than “Bobby,” probably a reference to “Jimmy” Carter) delivers Ben’s eulogy, Chance wanders off and explores the grounds. Ben’s pallbearers talk of politics and who will succeed the current president. Eventually, they decide “Chauncey Gardner” is the perfect candidate. After all, a past can only drag a candidate down.
Chance, however, is oblivious to everything. Instead, he finds a pond on the grounds and walks out to the center of the water. Chance seems slightly puzzled as to how he is able to walk on water. After he sticks his umbrella into the water to prove that he’s not standing on anything under the surface, the President delivers the final line “Life is a state of mind.”
What does that mean? Is Chance a Christ figure? If so, that’s a really cynical portrait of Christ as a moron. Has Chance become a Christ because others have invested their belief into him? Perhaps. Or maybe Chance isn’t a real person at all? Maybe he’s a ghost or something unbound by the rules of physics, although the memories of Louise the maid would argue against that interpretation. It’s an ambiguous ending to an ambiguous film. Maybe like the way idiots gave meaning that wasn’t there into Chance’s idiotic statements, we the audience are giving meaning to an ending that has no real meaning.
Peter Sellers really makes Being There work with his deadpan delivery of every line in the film. As I wrote earlier, Chance really isn’t a human being. He only has two emotions: puzzled and mildly happy. It’s about as far from the farcical Inspector Clouseau as you could get. All information he has about the world comes from television, and he has a catchphrase of “I like to watch.” You can imagine how Eve interprets that line when she tries to get intimate with Chance.
Being There also takes a shot at white male privilege, long before it was fashionable to do so. Louise the maid makes another appearance later in the film after she sees Chance on television. Her response sums up why people were so willing to read wisdom in Chance’s gobbledygook.
It’s for sure a white man’s world in America. Look here, I raised that child since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I’ll say it right now—he never learned to read or write. No sir, had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between the ears. Shortchanged by the Lord and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes sir, all you’ve got to be is white in America to get whatever you want.
There has been a lot of discussion about Being There in recent years because someone thinks one politician or another is a modern-day Chauncey Gardner. But in reality, there is no politician who is simple-minded or inane as Chance. Heck, there’s no human being over the age of two that clueless.
But the real target of the satire is us. We’re the ones that Ashby, Sellers and Kosiński are mocking. We’re the ones who read wisdom into Chance’s inane comments about gardening and the weather. And we’re the ones who experience life through television, just like Chance. Maybe not on that scale, and maybe the internet has replaced TV, but it’s true just the same.
There’s always been an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in America that praises the “home-spun” wisdom of simple folks over the experts who spend their lives trying to understand complex problems. People gravitate to a five-second quote over a five-page position paper. We’re living through that reality right now. But Being There asks if we’re just interpreting stupidity for wisdom because that’s what we want the truth to be. After all, “Life is a state of mind.”
Here’s the famous ending of Being There. Yes, it’s a spoiler.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
Today I’m going to ask you to vote for the 2021 Cubs Most Valuable Player. I don’t care how you define “Most Valuable,” everyone has their own definition. It would be nice if you shared the reasoning behind your choice in the comments, however.
This is a hard vote for me because there are two teams this year, the pre-July 30 team and the post-July 30 team. I don’t know how one weighs those two different seasons.
I’m giving you several choices, but I’m also leaving an “other” if you think it’s someone else. At the moment, it is entirely possible that Ian Happ will be the only player on the Cubs who plays in more than 125 games this year.
So who is it? Who is your vote for Cubs 2021 MVP?
Who is the Cubs 2021 MVP?
This poll is closed
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Thanks for stopping by. We hope to see you again tomorrow with an abbreviated version of BCB After Dark. Be sure to tip you waitstaff. Drive home safely. Or call a driver.