American Beauty is a film that has many theatrical qualities

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‘It’s a movie and I went out of my way not to do theatre with the movie.’ Despite this quote by Sam Mendes there are many techniques implied that are usually associated with the theatre. American Beauty is Mendes’ first film and he has only ever done theatre before so theatrical techniques are obviously going to be instinctively interpreted in the film. Some examples of this are that he arranged a two-week rehearsal before they started filming and that the film was originally written for the stage.

When making American Beauty there was a low budget, which explains why many the sets are very simplistic, calling to mind the simple sets often used in theatre productions. The colours used are quite bland although in almost every scene there is a splash of red, normally in the center of the set. This splash of red represents what eventually happens to Lester. They had a limited amount of space to film, which resulted in re-occurring scenes and environments. This also helps to focus on the characters and relationships between them, which are what leads the film along instead of the run of events.

Mendes mainly uses wide-angle shots and very few close ups, so that the audience can focus on the reactions of the characters when one is speaking. He also uses push-ins to make it seem as if the characters are moving to center stage in the theatre. When close ups are being used the cameras are almost closing in on the characters and invading their space so we can really understand what they are like and what they are likely to be thinking. A steady-cam is only ever used when Ricky is filming Jane and her family, otherwise a dolly is used.

The film is divided into three acts, each separated by a voice over or narration. Act one is the longest and when we meet all the characters. Act two has an increased pace and is slightly shorter. Act three is the resolution and the shortest of the three scenes. I think that act three is when we find out most about the characters and there are the most suprises about what they are really like despite what has been portrayed. The play progresses in a theatrical way being led along by the characters and not the events. The longer scenes all end in a blackout and normally monologues and silences.

Because of the two-week rehearsal beforehand, the actors had got to know each other, their characters and the script. Sam Mendes wasn’t to worried about sticking totally to the script so the actors could ad-lib and improvise, which was quite easy as they had already got to know their characters, therefore they would know how they’d react to things said.

Instead of having all the credits at the beginning to tell you who the producers are e.t.c. like most films, American Beauty starts straight away with the title of the film being the only piece of writing on the screen until the end of the film.

Throughout the film the characters are constantly being framed by a window, computer screen or anything that can portray that the character is imprisoned. This represents that they are imprisoned in their life in which things are always going wrong.

As well as Mendes having an excellent theatre background with many awards, some of the cast share this theatrical background. Kevin Spacey has been in twenty-one theatre works and has won awards for his “outstanding theatrical acting.” Annette Bening and Thora Birch have also done theatre work in the past. Between them, they helped American Beauty to win five BAFTAS including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Three awards at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards including best Best Actor (Spacey) and Best Actress (Bening). It also won six more awards in other American ceremonies.

All of these points add up to why the film is portrayed as having theatrical qualities. Most of the techniques used to produce the film are more commonly found in theatre than film. Mendes said that he didn’t do theatre with the film, but he did, just sub-consciously. This obviously can’t be helped, although the film is theatrical, but he does not see how it is, as he sees theatrical work differently to us.

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