Being There

Recommended

Rated NR

Hal Ashby was—on film, if not in life—an optimist despite being a realist. His optimism was so powerful and palpable as to constitute not just a worldview, but an aesthetic philosophy: optimism-ism. It may simply be a narrative conceit torn from the pages of Biskind to say that such an artistic stance had no place in Reagan-era Hollywood/America, but it doesn't feel like a coincidence that Ashby's incredible streak stopped cold in 1979. Though he made films that were more personal, the image that strikes me as the most revealing of Ashby's relationship to the world of art and commerce is from Being There, when Chance exits the house into the dirty D.C. streets. Dressed like a 1930s dandy—topcoat, homburg, gloves, umbrella, and alligator bag in tow—he strides tentatively through streets grimy with debris and walls marked with unrecognizable graffiti, each step an uncertain gamble for a vulnerable stranger meeting the real world for the first time. The music is a disorientingly alien Brazilian disco-funk arrangement of Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra." He clearly doesn't belong in this environment. But he's bound for glory.

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