IS THIS AN ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY?
Most novels are published by a single author who has final decision over most aspects of the finished work, however a long list of credits at the end of a movie reminds us of many voices involved in the cinematic process. In the case of American Beauty, the screenplay contains many (unacknowledged) parallels to notable screen characters that came before it, and then during production, the script’s storyline has been altered and manipulated to such an extent that it no longer resembles what first-time screenwriter Ball intended. The result is what can best be described as the Director’s adaptation. Although the recipient of the Academy Award Oscar (2000) for Best Original Screenplay, it is debatable if the final cut, with significantly changed character focus and outcomes, in fact remains the writer’s own work.
Alan Ball, coming from a background as a television sitcom writer (Sybil, Grace Under Fire) wrote a screenplay that told of the demise of suburban life in no-name America. His original script, after being sold to Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks was (as is usual) no longer his property, the writer ceasing to be the owner of his creation and powerless to prevent rewriting or editing. However, before the process of adaptation begins with the new owner, the original screenplay’s parallels to other writers’ screenplays must be explored. These influences may or may not be intentional, and in the case of American Beauty, the screenplay contains unacknowledged homage to great screenplays. This is not freely admitted by Ball, who claims his work is wholly original without external influence (with few exceptions).”It all developed very organically out of my own subconscious” insists Ball. The director, Sam Mendes, however, proudly and freely acknowledges the cinematic homage he pays to others (for example, still shots of family portraits are homage to “Badlands”[writer/director-Terrence Malick, 1973] and dance sequence...