When Hollywood Made Movies

Chance Gardener & Forrest Gump
Being There Poster
I just watched Being There. Not one but 4 times in order to reboot the mood of its age and when this phenomenal hit of l979 shook the earth.

Melvyn Douglas won an Oscar, Sellers was one of ten nominations, the film got 11 major awards. Superb cast. Peter Sellers (dead a year later) forces himself to be both kind and unfunny. Shirley MacLaine is at her gorgeously whimsical endearing best. Melvyn Douglas, top form. Jack Warden as President, superb and constrained.

I recognize Chance Gardener is Forrest Gump.  In both movies the central figure is a sheltered innocent of limited IQ who manages to draw people of good character to his side. Whereas they may or may not keep him from falling off cliffs, they introduce choices. But it is the hero himself who gently pushes the continuity of his life in absurdly pleasant progress toward ever-expanding emancipation. He seizes one opportunity after another. We discover both are living a more interesting life than can be got by scholarship, luck, Dickens’s touch of unexpected inheritance, and an average brain. The truth is if Gump or Gardener are in trouble they are clever enough not to exaggerate its importance.

In 1979 America was belly-filled reeling with deceptive politicians; Nixon’s 1974 resignation; the country being scolded universally for the sin of existence; repeatedly told we demanded more than we could ever hope for; facing the shaky end of a long and badly conducted war. Worst of all Jimmy Carter was at the helm~~ incompetent and incapable of inspiration.

Being There had the splendid timing of Chaplain’s The Great Dictator in 1940. It resonated big. We reject your master plan, your interference. Leave us alone; we will prosper and we will enjoy life and we know how to do it on our own.

Douglas plays an elderly, virtuous, powerful individualist (MacLaine’s husband in the film), they have taken Sellers in and been enchanted by him. Douglas has died. The funeral is crowded pomp. As they juggle the coffin to it’s final internment, Washington’s political bigs squabble over who to select for the next president. Sellers strays from the noise.

Seller’s/Gardener’s solitude is on target. He has trusted his brilliant survival skills and his individualism his whole life. Chance Gardener remains a man unencumbered by history or credentials.

He does a bit at the edge of the cemetery lake, clearing a dead branch and bucking up a troubled sapling. He surveys the watery expanse then unhesitatingly proceeds on foot across its surface! Momentarily surprised at his new skill he leans over to check the lake’s considerable depth with his umbrella, but ignores the mysterious and continues on his way. There is a voice-over eulogy of Douglas’ words: Life is a state of mind.

Being There, made 33 years ago, gives us a man devoid of expectation, rejecting convention, finding fulfillment. Forrest Gump too, showed us this 18 years ago.

It’s worth loving Sellers and Kosinsky again, and Douglas and MacLaine for demonstrating the promise-rich miracle of the individual who will blaze his own trail.

As MacLaine proudly proclaims at the end of the trailer, “MADE IN THE U.S.A.”  If Hollywood still had courage they’d do more of that, building an audience that loved them instead of expanding disgust for their politically corrected propagandized formerly electrifying celluloid worlds. You just can hardly stand to watch movies these days. Being There  is worth a look.


The David Mammet Situation


I went to Goddard College in Vermont many years ago. Turns out David Mammet, movie director, and that splendid William Macy, actor, went there too not so many years apart.

I wrote a terrifically good novel called NOISE. The synopsis and part of Chapter 3 are here. I thought wow, if I can get David Mammet to read this, us sharing an alma mater and all, I bet he’d be dying to make it into one fabulous movie and that would change all our lives. I’d get paid a lot for the screen rights, do thousands of paintings for the movie and be hobnobbing with a slew of interesting people in no time at all.

I called the Director/Producers Guild in LA. I’m a member. I got Mammet’s agency. I called the agency. I got Mammet’s agent’s name, phone and email for the assistant to Mammet’s agent.. I emailed one ace damn fine hellova superbo letter to  Mammet’s assistant to Mammet’s agent via the assistant to the assistant who worked for Mammet’s talent agency.

Sweet kid, she said she’d be happy to forward my email to the assistant to Mammet’s agent. What a fabulous ten minutes that all was. I thought this is really incredible. The internet age. I don’t have to make up special stationery and copies and write out addresses and type up inquiries and go to the post office, I’m going to be talking to ol’ David Mammet in a couple of minutes here and he’ll fly up to Big Sur and take a meeting with his old Goddard College writing brilliantly cohort.

It was actually faster than that. Almost as soon as I pressed send on an email thanking the agency assistant for assisting in getting my email to the assistant to the assistant to David Mammet I got an email back!

It said, David is tied up with too many projects now to consider anything new. Good luck elsewhere, David Mammet’s Assistant.

Didn’t anybody notice we both went to the same obscure little peculiar school and shared all kinds of Brooklyn and writing serendipities? I guess not. I thought that the assistant to the assistant likely went to his own little peculiar school where the student body was trained for the very moment they would be sending emails to nettlesome writers with just that kind of phrasing, The big guy has too many projects right now….

When I wrote the book ten years ago I had Kevin Bacon in mind for the lead, I almost wrote it for him and Kyra Sedgewick. I spent a year trying to reach him and gave up. I’ll write about that episode some day, too. NOISE would have changed his life and been the best movie he’d ever done. But there it is. Sometimes there are just too many lions at the gate. Maybe I’ll try William Macy next. Goddard isn’t much in the old boy/girl network department.