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Indiewood Inside the Studios. Context for American Beauty and 3 Kings. Studios bought into box-office success and award-garnering prestige achieved by indie features of the 1990s

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context for american beauty and 3 kings
Context for American Beauty and 3 Kings
  • Studios bought into box-office success and award-garnering prestige achieved by indie features of the 1990s
  • Certain individual senior executives had a personal investment in widening the bounds of what was permissible, to some extent, within the studio machine.
  • Greater appeal to leading performers and uncertainty about the box-office reliability of some higher-budget ‘event’ movies and star vehicles
social cultural and political dimensions
Social-cultural and Political dimensions
  • American Beauty critiqued aspects of American life through domestic social satire
  • --associated with Social Problem cinema of post 1945 and Hollywood Renaissance
  • Three Kings questioned foreign policy in Iraq.
  • --associated with a more recent strain of foreign policy critique resonating in the 1980s-2000s.
  • Questions:
  • How far can the films offer an an alternative to the Hollywood norm at this level?
  • Do they represent a significant challenge to more conventional Hollywood material, or does the studio location impose constraints greater than might be expected in the indie sector with which each of these examples has at least some connection?
american beauty from script to screen
American Beauty from Script to screen
  • Budget of 15 million made it ineligible for Spirit Award
  • Dreamworks was the highest bidder for the film: originated as a spec script by Alan Ball, an established playwright and tv writer, who sent the script to the producing team of Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, and they sold the film to Dreamworks
  • Variety saw this as a move by the studio towards a lower-budget production and the future prospect of its own specialty arm
  • Script taken to DreamWorks creative exec Glenn Williamson with instructions to read it himself, and he did, as did Bob Cooper and Steven Spielberg (ensuring greenlighting of the project). Does this show DreamWorks as a different kind of Hollywood studio where the marketing department doesn’t rule?
  • Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen took the position that the film was special and shouldn’t be previewed—except by NYT, who loved it.
  • Premiered at the Toronto Film Festival
american beauty as indiewood hybrid
American Beauty as Indiewood Hybrid
  • Fits into tradition of satirical treatments of suburbia found on both sides of Hollywood/Indie divide.
  • Crude opposites turn to cliché: Lester (Spacey) vs. Carolyn (Bening) and Col Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), but Lester ultimately source of sympathetic audience allegiance (Indiewood instead of indie)
  • Critique of shallow materialism like that in The Graduate (1967)—nothing new
  • Most conventional in use of figure of the wife as a negative point of reference—part of wider historical tendency to associate many of the ills of suburban life with its allegedly emasculating qualities.
  • Videotapes produced by Ricky (Wes Bentley) serve as found art, but plastic bag film may be a direct lift from Nathaniel Dorsky’sVariations (1992-8)
  • Aesthetic is luxurious. Conrad Hall’s cinematography characterized by subtleties of lighting and reflection
three kings
Three Kings
  • Bore greater resemblance to mainstream studio material in terms of deplyment of a number of large-scale action sequences, etc.
  • Relied on hands-on involvement and commitment of individual senior executives—interest in David O. Russell as an upcoming filmmaker (see Flirting with Disaster 1996).
  • Warner Brothers a well-oiled machine with Robert Daly and Terry Semel but a younger generation of execs came of age in mid-1990s: Bill Gerber and Lorenzo di Bonaventura, esp.
  • Russell liked one-line summary of a script by John Ridley, Spoils of War. (Russell interested in foreign policy because had lived in Central America in 1980s
  • Variety called Three Kings an exception to the rule that studio projects were influenced too much by marketing and exhibition executives.
  • Not financed by Warner Brothers alone—with Village Roadshow Pictures (Australian)
three kings tensions
Three Kings Tensions
  • George Clooney forced on Russell to play lead
  • Clooney accused Russell of watering down second draft of script (third moved closer to original?)
  • Russell forced WB to include his friend Spike Jonze, who had never acted, and Greg Goodman as line producer
  • Studio nervous about use of Ektachrome stock
  • Current events made WB nervous: American cruise missile attacks in Sudan, bombing of Planet Hollywood in Cape Town.
  • Clooney had to keep senior studio figures from pulling the film
  • Russell had to use a traditional studio crew and play with studio schedule
  • Russell and Clooney had an on-set shouting match and scuffle
  • Film not well-marketed, not lobby for Academy Award, etc.
three kings convention and critique
Three Kings: Convention and Critique
  • A Pointed and fresh take on American war film that demonstrates a distinctly un-Hollywood sensibility despite its more conventional narrative ending.
  • Blends its central narrative premise (gold) with unsettling material and incongruous shifts of focus and tone, raising a number of awkward questions about the American-led operation in Iraq before eventually reaching a more conventionally affirmative and melodramatic conclusion.
  • Distinctive visual texture is key—widespread use of decentred, low and wide angles, composition in depth and devices such as whip pans, employment of different film stocks and processing techniques for a bright, blown-out quality of the desert location (Ektachrome stock—news footage and hyper-stylized aesthetic of music video)
  • Narrative is conventional: Melodramatic mechanisms, ending focused on heroic individual action, a Hollywood ending embracing the dominant American ideology.