The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2317  Wednesday, 20 November 2002

From:           Martin Steward <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 19 Nov 2002 14:58:45 -0000
Subject: 13.2297 Re: "Speaking Shakespeare"
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2297 Re: "Speaking Shakespeare"

Until Sam's post, I had found that all the Americans I knew described
Mendes's American Beauty as pessimistic and grim, whereas all the
British thought it optimistic.

Sam wrote: "Mendes was also harping on that threadbare string, so often
plucked by English middle class chatterers, that suburbia is the Devil's
own community of sin." But because I saw it as an optimistic film, I
came away with a much more positive notion of Mendes's attitude towards
both America and suburbia. I thought the film was about "American
Beauty", without irony, whereas my American friends all took it to be
bitter and satirical. (It should be noted at this point that Sam has
recently confessed a hankering after emigrating to the other side of the

Sam also described the film as "Full of overstuffed stereotypes",
charging that "Mendes has no real understanding of individuals -
everything is translated and interpreted in terms of mythical groups",
and that for this reason he should "leave Shakespeare alone". But this
seems to be the root of my American friends' misunderstanding (as I see
it) of American Beauty - they were not aware of Mendes's work in
Shakespearean Romance, and so were unable to put the film into the
context of his developing career. As a result, they seemed to miss the
positive aspects of the trials with which the film dealt, the notion of
redemption through everyday values of sympathy, etc.

I can't imagine that anyone who saw Mendes's excellent production of The
Tempest with the RSC in (I think) 1997 can have failed to have
appreciated the "beauty" of American Beauty...

martin s.

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