Being There

Introduction by J. Hoberman
Screening on Film
Directed by Hal Ashby.
With Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden.
US, 1979, 35mm, color, 120 min.

No less enigmatic than the simpleton Chance played by Peter Sellers is the logic—or lack of same—that caused this wildly inappropriate movie to be selected as Reagan’s first post-recovery movie in the White House screening room after surviving Hinckley’s attempted assassination. Was it because Being There satirized Washington society and politics? Was it because Reagan’s peer Melvyn Douglas—something of a political ally during the long-ago 1940s—won an Oscar for best supporting actor? Being There is filled with things that Reagan might well have found disturbing. Still, the movie made something of an impression. In February 1983, at the start of Reagan’s third year in office, a letter to the business editor of the New York Times pointed out a statement by the president that was clearly inspired by Sellers’ character.

Being There introduction post-screening discussion with Brittany Gravely, Eric Rentschler and Jim Hoberman. ©Harvard Film Archive

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