Anatomy of a Gag

Being There

On Film / Visual Analysis — Mar 20, 2017

Nearly four decades after its initial release, Being There, Hal Ashby’s 1979 satire of American culture, feels more prescient than ever. A showcase for the subtler side of actor Peter Sellers, the film follows the misadventures of Chance, a childlike gardener who, by a series of coincidences, becomes a media darling and a confidant to a powerful Washington, D.C., businessman. For the latest installment of his series Anatomy of a Gag, filmmaker and critic David Cairns details the nuances that generate laughter in this almost gagless comedy, including the surprising juxtapositions in Ashby’s editing and musical choices, his evocations of everyone from Stanley Kubrick to Stan Laurel, and the carefully calibrated minimalism of Sellers’s performance.

Watch the video above, then check out the series’s previous installments on PlayTime and Le grand amour.