the net guide for creative
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
FilmFour Books, 153 pages paperback £7.99
review by Cari Crook
Having found the film American Beauty unsettling, to say the least, I tiptoed
warily round this book for several days lest it jump up, bite me and infect me with
another severe dose of existential angst. But a girl must do what a girl must do and
I eventually wrestled it to the sofa with a coffee, an emergency bag of doughnuts
and got on with it. I'm glad I did.
The screenplay was much as it was on the screen but there were a few
subtle differences which were fun to spot, if sometimes difficult to fathom. Why
exactly, for example, did we have to have Kevin Spacey fully clothed in an armchair
on the screen when we could have had him in his underwear on the sofa? Just asking.
As Sam Mendes and Alan Ball explain in their foreword and afterword respectively,
although this version of the screenplay is close to what we see on the screen changes
were made during rehearsals with the collaboration and input of the actors as well as
the director and screenwriter. The creative process seemed to be, at least in part, a
communal effort that carried on until the last minute. Apparently whole scenes were
shot and then excised and new ones created. Sam Mendes is quoted as saying, "It's
like the movie is letting us know what it wants to be."
In fact, the script apparently underwent some dramatic changes during the
pre-production period. The original framework involved Jane and Ricky being tried and
convicted of the murder of Lester. Sam Mendes found this a "mite cynical", while Alan
Ball admitted that what "started out as a satire of middle-class American values...
eventually revealed itself to be something entirely different." Interesting, though,
how hard it is to really let go of a concept. Two or three reviews I read of the film
claimed its only weakness is the 'who killed Lester Burnham' framework. Something I
found a bit distracting, I must admit.
In the end though, as interesting as it was, it wasn't the story of the
script's development that made this worth reading for me, it was the script itself.
Without doubt the writing is just wonderful, the characterisation complex and utterly
convincing. It was possible to see, in the written word, connections and nuances I
entirely missed in one fraught viewing of the film and to appreciate just how
cleverly the whole was put together. Where I'd left the film not wanting to think
about it at all if I could help it, I've not stopped thinking about it since reading
It still made me cry at the end though. But having been carried away by
the script I no longer think this is such a bad thing.
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