Imagine a fiftysomething gardener, a slow minded and illiterate gardener, retarded even, who has worked all his life in a wealthy family’s Washington town house’s garden, cared for it with the greatest attention possible, and kept it blossoming and blooming for decades. Imagine that gardener now being laid off, his employer dead, the attorneys have put him on the streets. What do you expect him to look like? Broke. Miserable. Shabby. You’re sadly mistaken.
That gardener may stray through Washington without any destination, completely lost, but he’s wearing a double-breasted coat and a three-piece suit from a distinguished New York tailor, handmade from the finest cloth, supreme distinction, the kind of cashmere that glistens in the sun, with silky suppleness, I only encountered that refinement once in Paris, in the eighth arrondissement, near Parc Monceau, on a gentleman leaving one of those stately buildings that only take in swish attorneys or an old kingdom’s ambassador, but I digress, as I was saying, our gardener’s outfit is particularly exquisite, from head to toe, his silk tie shows a pattern that practically screams old money, and he’s carrying a shiny crocodile suitcase that makes those by Louis Vuitton look like a very sad approach to luxury, and while he’s loitering without any intent, his destiny is settled. 125 minutes later he’s going to be the next president of the United States. In 1979, this ending must have come as a surprise to the audience, but as sarcastic as it was, its social criticism is from a bygone age, it’s out of date, or worse, it makes us realize how times have changed. In those days, some style still made the man. Today, you don’t need even that.
Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine in Hal Ashby’s masterpiece “Being There” from 1979.