What does HBO have against Peter Sellers?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Lawrence X, May 10, 2005.

  1. Lawrence X

    Lawrence X Stunt Coordinator

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    Peter Sellers has always been one of my favorite actors. From the Pink Panther series to Stange Love to Alice B. to Being There - he was definately one of the most versatile comic actors ever. His mixture of goofball, suavity, timing and supreme likability has gone unmatched over the years IMO.

    So it was with serious anticipation that I brought home the just released from HBO Films DVD entitled "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers". I was in total shock from the first 30 seconds on. This thing had character assasination written all over it. Geoffrey Rush portrayed Sellers as a dull minded, charmless fuddy-duddy, far too witless or unintelligent to even pull off the minor acts of cruelty the documentary would accuse him of.

    And as much as I was curious about the real life of Peter Sellers, it was impossible to believe any of it given the completely false way he was portrayed and the obvious film makers venom dripping from scene after scene.

    There was even a scene where our feeble minded friend Peter Sellers is having a serious conversation with his wife (Britt Eckland) while sitting on the toilet. Something beyond Peter's control splashes in the toilet and Peter looks perplexed and sheepish before saying something feeble like "Splashy Splashy" and giving a stupid grin. Yeah, I wonder what memoir THAT was from.

    The only bit of reality that seems to emerge from this over the top smear job on Sellers is the mystery of why whoever was behind this mockumentary bothered to go to such lengths to assassinate his memory after his death. HBO should really be ashamed of bankrolling this trudge.

    Anyone else see it?
     
  2. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Have you read any Sellers biogs Lawrence? While an undoubted comic genius, Sellers was perfectly capable of both minor and major acts of cruelty against even those that counted him as a friend, husband or father. He was a mother obsessed, egomaniacal, 24-carat sod; which oddly makes him all the more fascinating don't you think?

    And having read, over the years, various catalogues of his psychotic behaviour, I still admire his huge talent. We'd all like our heroes to be wonderful, untainted human beings, but t'aint so.
     
  3. JackKay

    JackKay Second Unit

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    Good Lord, if anyone looked at any of our lives, wound't they find many of the same idiosyncrasies in one form or another? This magnifying glass sort of tabloid movie making could make anyone appear quite queer. Just for the sake of Drama? If you think Peter Sellers is weird, just catalog your own thoughts, for just one day.
     
  4. Thomas T

    Thomas T Producer

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    While we all hate to see our "heroes" tarnished, by all accounts especially by those who knew him, Sellers was simply not a nice man. Not having seen the film, I don't know if this is in the movie but Sellers was extremely cruel to Jo Van Fleet on I Love You Alice B. Toklas, so much so that he drove her to tears. He dated Liza Minnelli for awhile but made fun of her behind her back to his friends and apparently freaked out Sophia Loren by his unwanted attention. This is no reflection on the genuine greatness of his talents. It so often seems the most creative individuals have demons.

    Britt Ekland has seen the film and apparently had no problems with it.
     
  5. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Apparently, they hate him. But, frankly, why do I need to be part of that? Many geniuses are really rather unpleasant persons in real life, so what? Just mention it, if you feel a need to, but don't bother me with it. How many artist are really fine persons anyway? Would they be important artists if they were?

    Frankly, I didn't buy that DVD (or even watch the program on it), for exactly that reason. Exaggerated anyway (would the person who came up with the "officer of the luh" joke really be dull minded, a charmless fuddy-duddy, or far too witless or unintelligent to pull of whatever?).

    BTW, biographies praising actors, painters and musicians, etc. are often exaggerating too - in the other direction, making them too nice by far. Bottom line: I may be interested in the artist, seldom in the personal life (or whatever they try to tell us about that).
    P. Sellers, M. Jackson, M. Monroe - why let my appreciation of their art be ruined by details I do not need to know to understand their work. Especially if those personal details do not influence the appreciation of that work?

    You know what? My plumber may, or may not, be a pleasant man, but I judge him for his plumbing.


    Cees
     
  6. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    So don't. Don't watch it, don't buy the DVD, don't read any biographies, just remember Sellers as the comic genius you see up on screen. Judge him from his 'plumbing'.

    IMHO, Sellers could have been one of the true acting greats, I really believe that. From I'm All Right Jack to Never Let Go, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, Only Two Can Play, the first incarnation of Clouseau, et al, Sellers demonstrates an ability that he very rarely showed us again (Being There is probably the best example) once Hollywood began showering him in dollars and he began tossing off a series of lazy but hugely successful 'Pink Panther' movies.

    Personally my appreciation of his art has, if anything, been deepened by reading about the man and his life, warts and all.
     
  7. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder
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    From all I have learned when this movie was first
    aired on HBO, it is a very true depiction of what
    Peter Sellers was all about.

    I am a huge Sellers fan. I missed this film when
    it aifred on HBO. Just received the DVD and I look
    forward to watching it.

     
  8. Jay E

    Jay E Cinematographer

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    Sometimes it's tough to handle when someone we admire for their artistic talents turns out to be somewhat of an a-hole in real life. From what I've read and heard, I already knew that Peter Sellers had some major problems in his outside life and wasn't the nice, gentle person I imagined him to be while growing up so I felt this movie was pretty accurate in it's portrayal.

    I suggest that those who hate having their balloons busted avoid any films such as this one.
     
  9. Joey^T

    Joey^T Extra

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    What has HBO got to do with hating Sellers?
    This movie was a collaborative movie between BBC and HBO and it was based on Sellers' biographical book by Roger Lewis. If anything, blame Lewis for Sellers' "bad press".
     
  10. Lawrence X

    Lawrence X Stunt Coordinator

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    My point isn't that Peter Sellers wasn't without his faults, weirdnesses, idiosynchrosies, moments of cruelty, conceit etc. My problem was more with the heavy handed hack job approach used in this documentary.

    Rushes depiction of him was as I mentioned, a slow witted fuddy duddy etc which couldn't be less true of the man. And this mean spirited approach makes all the other points they were making lose credibility - however true they were or weren't.

    As others have mentioned, undoubtedly most top Hollywood stars would have at least as much dirt in the closet. So why this smearfest now of one of cinemas greats and best loved?

    The answer to that question is the one and only interesting thing about this documentary IMO.
     
  11. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    By all accounts, Sellers had absolutely no personality and was a real prick by any standard. Comparing that with his on-screen personae, he was a real enigma, and a good bio of him would probably be very interesting. That said, this film didn't get such hot reviews.
     
  12. Nils Luehrmann

    Nils Luehrmann Producer

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    Has anyone else really mentioned that? While there are probably several famous celebrities with plenty of dirt in their closets, Peter Sellers (and I am a huge fan so this pains me to say) clearly had far more demons and neurosis plaguing his short life than most.

    I watched The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and found it to be a very fair representation of Sellers' life, as one could hope to accomplish in only two hours.

    RIP Mr. Sellers, and hopefully you finally found the peace that avoided you on earth. Bless you, and thank you for at least leaving behind a wonderful legacy of work.

    BTW: I highly recommend a visit to The Goon Show Depository for a nostalgic look back at the budding comic genius of Sellers.
     
  13. Marc Fedderman

    Marc Fedderman Second Unit

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    I didn't have any problems with the way Sellers was depicted and blaming HBO, or the writer on whose book the film was based seems silly. As has been mentioned, to see those whom we admire or idolize depicted harshly can be difficult. Doesn't matter if the depiction is fair or true. Many people still despise Albert Goldman for the hatchet jobs he did on John Lennon and Elvis Presley in his "biographies." Still, you take them for what they are and move on. If I think a film (or book, etc.) might offend me, I either avoid it or live with the consequences of having seen it. Lawrence, I really do understand your indignation, but there's no fault here in terms of the portrayal.


    It's not a documentary, it's a biography with all the trappings of Hollywood, including a great deal of embellishment. Besides, Sellers behaving like a nice, if quirky, guy wouldn't be very entertaining. It's a nasty caricature and certainly preferable to hagiography.

    My problem with this film was that, in spite of Rush's fine performance, it just didn't work in a narrative sense. The movie was all over the place and yes, Sellers malevolence didn't help. I was more disappointed with HBO and the BBC, two paragons of quality fare, for producing this at all than I was with the content.
     
  14. Lawrence X

    Lawrence X Stunt Coordinator

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    There were lots of people that were pretty angry with Kitty Kelly's hatchet pieces in the 80's and 90's. And I don't understand why calling this a biography gives them the right to "dramatization". If the word "biography" is to have any weight or meaning, creative license shouldn't be part of the equation.

    I don't get the strategy of making sellers look like a bumbling, doddering retard. If you followed his career, you knew he was nothing like Rush's depiction. If you didn't, why would you care - or be watching at all?

    And once you realize the depiction is false, you don't have much faith in the "facts" they're presenting anymore either. This thing just didn't work on so many levels. But then again when a film is obviously mean spirited it had better work perfectly on every other level operating as it is without the goodwill of the audience.
     
  15. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Are you confusing Sellers' onscreen persona with his actual persona? Just because he was likeable as Inspector Clouseau in no way implies that he was likeable as Peter Sellers.

    Shall we assume that Bruno Ganz is an insane Nazi?
     
  16. Joe Szott

    Joe Szott Screenwriter

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    Lawrence,

    It sounds like the only thing misrepresented in the viewing was your expectation of Seller's life. From what I gather he was quite, well, dull and seemingly dim witted. That he could put on such airs in front of the camera is amazing no doubt, but so is an autistic child who can't even talk but can play Mozart note for note after hearing it once. I'm not calling Sellers retarded, I'm just pointing out that one area of genious doesn't ensure it is present in others. Plus his wife and friends (as far as I know) have all confirmed that the bio is fairly accurate, so if they don't know who the heck would?

    For all I know David Hasselhoff is a genious with quantum physics, doesn't mean I stop (start?) enjoying Knight Rider.
     
  17. Nils Luehrmann

    Nils Luehrmann Producer

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    There were several documentaries on Peter Sellers and this film on BBC TV that included interviews with family and friends that suggested the biography and films were quite accurate.

    In addition, from what I have heard, everyone involved with this film had a deep appreciation and even love for Peter Sellers.

    (click here for a collection of short interviews with the director and cast)

    As for the quality of the film, it was nominated and won several notable awards for many of the performances, writing, direction and production. These awards included winning the Golden Globe for best made for television film and was nominated for Cannes' Golden Palm award.

    Geoffrey Rush was nominated and won several acting awards for his portrayal including winning a Golden Globe and SAG award.

    Personally I thought it was an excellent film, and instead of a character assassination, it showed meaningful insights into a troubled, yet astonishing man.
     
  18. Marc Fedderman

    Marc Fedderman Second Unit

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    I was simply pointing out the difference between a biopic and a documentary. Fairly or not, creative license is almost always employed in the former and should be used sparingly, if at all, in the latter. When liberties are taken the results can be flattering or not, but they are almost always taken in such films. When A Beautiful Mind came out, there was a minor uproar over the sympathetic portrayal of John Nash. The consensus, however, was that it was meant as entertainment and, as such, should not be subject to the same strictures as other more rigorous disciplines. Not taking sides, just pointing out what to expect with such fare.

    You certainly have a right to your indignation, but as huge fan, this shouldn't have blindsided you. From much of what I've heard and read, Sellers was difficult and, err unbalanced shall we say. If this truly amounted to the character assassination you see it as, surely there would have been some objection from his family.

    The film really focused on his shortcomings, but for those who know better, like you, it shouldn't detract from his genius in front of the camera. Who cares if he was a schmuck away from it?
     
  19. BrianRi

    BrianRi Stunt Coordinator

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    I watched the dvd and thought the movie was mostly a typical show-biz biopic: maudlin, sentimentalized, hokey, and boring. The fact that the director tried to get fancy-shmancy with the trick of Rush portraying Sellers portraying different people giving monologues about Sellers added a touch of innovation, but didn't make the movie work any better. I've seen very few biopics of movie folks that were any good; Ed Wood and Lenny are the only two I can think of off the top of my head. Biopics about comedians are even more difficult to make. Most of them try to underline the "tragedy" behind the clown, and the actors playing the comedian are rarely funny themselves. I thought Chaplin (notwithstanding Downey's excellent performance), W.C. Fields and Me , The Buster Keaton Story , Bud and Lou , and the Three Stooges and Martin and Lewis tv movies were all dreadful.
     
  20. Lawrence X

    Lawrence X Stunt Coordinator

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    Brianri - excellent points. Maudelin, sentimentalized, hokey and boring sum it up nicely. It was just these flaws that upset me with the film (biopic whatever) rather than the fact that it raised negative points about Sellers. It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone that hugely famous (and even not so famous) stars are massively neurotic, insecure, and by necessity ruthlessly ambitious.

    No surprise to me that Sellers was that way also. But completely ignoring the huge contribution this artist made to the world which goes beyond anything anyone attached to this project could possibly dream of for themselves - makes the whole effort come off as petty and worthless IMO.
     

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