‘Suburban Dreams and Nightmares’ examine the way the suburbs have been portrayed since the 1950’s, I have chosen to explore the Welcome to Suburbia’ scene in ‘American Beauty (from: 00:40-2:35, into the film) and the opening scene of the pilot of ‘Desperate Housewives’ (from: into the episode). I have chosen these two scenes because they are very similar to each other and show how composers use a range of techniques to engage the audience and create meaning. American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes, is a film that is set in America, in an ordinary suburban like neighbourhood, following the rdinary life of Lester Burnham, who is living the typical ‘American Dream’.
He appears to have a great Job, big house with an immaculate garden full of luscious red roses, a loving wife and daughter and even a white picket fence, but it’s not until we ‘look closer’ that we see that this is not what it seems.
The film begins in the same manner that it ends, with a monologue by Lester.
In this initial speech by Lester we are informed of the normality and comical misery of his current existence. Lester’s sarcastic and indifferent tone is complimented by the beginning of the movie’s soundtrack composed by Thomas Newman. This cheerful and almost tribal sounding portion of the score echoes Lester’s tone with a sort of irony that seems to enhance the sadly humorous nature of his life.
At the close of this monologue Lester describes himself as feeling “sedated”, and again the deep sounds of this initial piece in the soundtrack complimented by a combination of piano, drums, and various strings, confirms the strangeness and numbness of his sensation.
Visual techniques are a constant feature in the Welcome to suburbia’ scene of ‘American Beauty. Once we take a closer look into his home, through his red door that symbolises hidden ruths behind the facade of everyday life, we realise his ‘perfect life’ is actually one filled with misery as he claims to be “dead already’.
Colour is important in this scene, while red is the main colour used to subconsciously manipulate audiences, blue is often present in the scene as it is the contrast colour that sets off the red, making the red more noticeable, such as the blue shutters on the Burnham house, making the red door more of a dominant image and help symbolise the little touches of humanity still present in their home. The colours of the Burnham house: red, white nd blue also refer to the American colours, which influences the idea of the ‘American Dream’.
The first time we see Carolyn, she’s cutting her luscious red roses. Alan Ball, the screenwriter of ‘American Beauty refers this introduction to Carolyn as a concept: “the life force, which, by nature tries to defy the suppressiveness of suburban life”. As IVe stated that’s why, the first time we meet Carolyn, she’s cutting red roses, she’s cutting the life force. Camera angles used, manipulate the audience’s opinions on characters by the camera subconsciously alerting people.
Low-angle hots were used to show authority figure and dominance, and high angle shots were used to show weakness and flaws. In the opening scene the audience is introduced to Lester taking a shower. This is the tirst Jail cell setting the audience sees Lester in. The glass in the shower resembles jail bars, the effect of Lester imprisoned suggests he is isolated and removed from the world around him. The camera angles used exaggerate this and highlight Lester’s deflation of power against the significant people in his life.
My other chosen scene is from ‘Desperate Housewives’. Directed by Marc cherry, this show is an American elevision drama series, the setting of the show takes place on the street of Wisteria Lane, in the fictional American town of Fairview. It follows the lives of a group of women seen through the eyes of their dead neighbour. They work through domestic struggles and family life, while facing the secrets, crimes and mysteries hidden behind the doors of their seemingly perfect suburban neighbourhood, which reinstates the idea of the ‘American Dream’.
Desperate Housewives opens with a zooming in shot of Wisteria Lane, with a school bus driving through and neighbours out in the street saying hello to each other. Already in these first few seconds we get an impression of a community, and the idea of the typical ‘American Dream’. Just like ‘American Beauty there is also a white picket fence around the protagonist’s house, and we then begin to hear the voice over of a typical suburban housewife, Mary Alice Young.
The voice over of Mary Alice and Lester are very similar, they both talk about life and their death. Mary Alice, a typical suburban housewife broke the thin layer of perfection covering Wisteria Lane the day she put a gun to her head and shot herself. Naturally, Mary Alice does not share all her knowledge with the audience, especially er own secrets, this is manipulation of the most conventional kind, the director and producer hold back essential information to better to excite the audiences curiosity.
The music in the opening scene compliments the theme of the ‘American Dream’, it helps reinstate the idea that this life is perfect, but it is ironic when, a suburban housewife commits suicide. In examining the chosen scenes from ‘American Beauty and ‘Desperate Housewives’, I have achieved a greater understanding of the composers abilities to convey meaning using techniques, and the way the suburbs have been portrayed since the 1950’s, known as the ‘American Dream’.