Thursday, 24 September 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: American Beauty (1999)

A sharply observed social satire, American Beauty is irresistible in its visual diligence, each frame is flagged with vibrant red imagery, the score a spectral body of melodies, signalling the tonal shifts into the character's psychedelic fantasy. Noted for its acidic humour and rich contextualisations- American Beauty is the quintessential antithesis to the classic suburban drama. It mocks the "American dream", the middle-class suburban cage that entraps adults into a life of routine, depression and dangerous comfort. It entails detailed, electric characterisations of real living people but illuminates each with flagrantly original ideas. American Beauty chronicles the tragedy of ordinary life, the dull and uninspired life lead by the working middle-class, those locked down with conditioned obligation, the conventions and superficiality of sedated living. The film can't exactly be pinned as anti-patriotic, but it is a piercing challenge of the generally accepted standards of a contented lifestyle rooted in mediocrity. However, Mendes' social satire isn't all sharp criticism and dark sarcasm, the feature is sparingly laced with simple moments of pure desire for generic goals of happiness, love and fulfillment. And this is exactly what distinguishes American Beauty from other social satires. It is easy to denounce social norms and mock the standards by which most people live, but Mendes goes further with fervent encouragement of active attempts and pursuits for individualistic gratification.  

In crafting my visual and sound diary entries I have always accentuated the imagery over the music but composer Thomas Newman's understated, ethereal score in American Beauty simply bears greater significance than the spectacular work done by DoP Conrad L Hall in Sam Mendes' debut feature. Newman's score is a dynamic expression of its charged content, integral to the achievement of a balance between tone and story, so that his concepts are both rationally based but also emotional in its pursuit. His compositions range from the curiously percussive to the beautifully simple and unadorned piano pieces. Cinematographer, Conrad L Hall, takes great pleasure in shooting dull, painfully basic set designs - bland office rooms and high school hallways, but can just as easily glamourise and enrich these same landscapes with subtle hues of a representative colour, so that every frame serves as an iconic reminder of a landmark film.