Oct. 9, 1999
Having spent the greater
portion of my life studying story structure, when I see an improperly
structured script its like seeing a house with no roof or no walls
-- its very apparent and theres no missing it. Since
most people -- including almost all screenwriters -- know nothing about
story structure, when the structure collapses and the story stops functioning
properly they become somewhat to very confused. This to me is
the interesting part: instead of knowing that what theyre watching
is malfunctioning, they will immediately attribute the problem to their
own lack of intelligence. Its over my head,
theyre thinking. I guess Im lucky because this never
occurs to me. If Im sitting in house without a roof and
the rain is pelting me in the face I never for one single second believe
its my fault -- somebody should have put the damn roof up.
Thus I arrive at American
Beauty, which may be the best film of 1999 so far. But that
doesnt make it a good movie, nor a well-structured one, either.
In fact, it has no structure at all. What it does have is well-observed
characters, which is not something we get very much of anymore.
But just having well-observed characters does not make a good movie.
Kevin Spacey has hit the end
of his rope with his life, particularly his wife, his daughter and his
job. He tells us right away in the narration that hes dead
-- just like William Holden in Sunset Blvd. -- and now,
basically, were just going to wait the entire film to find out
who kills him. Since neither
act two nor act three ever begin or end, what we end up with is a series
of red herrings -- Oh, shes gonna kill him,
No, hes gonna kill him, etc.
Along the way there are a
number of laughs, however about 35-40 minutes in, when act one was supposed
to end and didnt, I started to become annoyed. About 80-90
minutes in when act three was supposed to begin and didnt, I lost
interest. And since there is no structure the writer, not knowing
where he was going or why, simply repeats every scene at least twice,
sometimes three times.
After the film I went out
to eat with two friends, both of whom liked the movie very much.
When I stated my opinion one of my friends got slightly angry and stated
a line Ive been hearing since I was about twelve, Thats
your opinion! Well, yes, of course it is, I just
said it. What she found disturbing, I suppose, was the authority
in my tone when I stated that the script was a structureless mess.
My friend said, I dont give a damn about acts one, two or
three! I liked it! Is it possible you just didnt understand
it? I replied very promptly, No, thats not possible.
I dont give anyone that credit. The minute I stop understanding
is the minute theyve failed. Nobody is going over my head.
I have a quote on my website
by Thomas Fuller from 1732 that says, Things not understood are
admired. I think for most people this is very true.
The second they become confused they attribute the problem to their
own lack of intelligence and consequently begin to believe that what
theyre watching is smarter than them. I used to feel that
way when I was a teenager watching Jean Luc Godard films, but I got
over it. However, Godard is being confusing for the sake of confusion,
whereas the makers of American Beauty are being confusing
and obscure because they know no better.