Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0004807, Wed, 23 Feb 2000 10:15:15 -0800

American Beauty (fwd)
From: Brian Guthrie <bguthrie50@hotmail.com>
From: Brian Guthrie

Notes on American Beauty :

Spacey is even better with a second viewing.

Could Ricky Fitts allude to Fitzgerald?

Angela Hayes= Dolores Haze (the angel part is obvious)

The Look Closer sign in Spacey s cubicle echoes the The Great Gatsby s
optometrist s sign in the wastes between East Hampton and Manhattan.

Bening hugging the closetful of hanging shirts- embracing Spacey?
Domesticity? Life? A reference to Daisy hugging Gatsby s shirts?

Burnham: Hugo Burnham was Gang of Four s original drummer

The Nazi plate as military fetish/totem- a reference to Jack Gladney s
department of Hitler studies in White Noise, or to Running Dog s use of the
Hitler film as dark locus/focal point of the plot. Here, it seems to
function as a deft brush stroke of character to shadow the father s
fucked-up predilections.

Suburban kids using technology to transcend the mannered grid of their
landscape- (cf. Ferris Bueller s Day Off ). Ringing a sort of utopian note
off precisely those technologies that have done the most to isolate,
discomfit and disconnect.

Burnham realizes that any attempt to recapture the easy bliss of youthful
sex isn t possible- that certain moments of lost bliss are beautiful
precisely because they are lost- hence their value.

Ironically, Burnham does become a better role model for his daughter, by
doing precisely the thing she most despised him for.

What happens next? Do the kids still decamp for New York? Is Ricky s
father convicted?

Ricky acts as both filmmaker manque and as an exemplar of effective,
pragmatic stealth-individuality. It is telling that his deception of his
father flows from love and not contempt.

The rose imagery is omnipresent but not annoying, as it is tastefully

The rich cobalt blues and reds remind me of Kubrick s oversaturated blues
and golds in Eyes Wide Shut .

Adultery remains the primary engine of drama in films about the bourgeoisie-
disrupts stability- shakes shit up.

Mrs. Burnham s gardening/cleaning/cooking meant to be ironic, obviously-
compulsive parodies of genuinely nurturing behaviors. Ur-mother, by way of
DeLillo and Martha Stewart.

Spacey s line about the James Bond Marathon on TNT got huge laughs (of
recognition, in a wry twist of Gaddis s sense)- operates both as stylized
parodic riff (Spacey sounds archly petulant, aware of the absurdity of his
complaint, yet probably genuine in missing the movies) and a completely
believable statement from a contemporary American man. The preference for
mediated life is too obvious to mention, so I will.

Ricky can be seen as a composite of Nick Carroway (non-judgmental observer)
and as a a more successful version of what Gatsby hoped to become. Ricky
gets the girl, and transcends a lumpen father.

Both Gatsby and Ricky become wealthy by dealing in contraband- moonshine and
marijuana. Neither attaches any moral valence to their act, but maintains a
purely pragmatic stance with regard to its criminality.

Spacey shares with Humbert a sense of formal apartness and superiority to
the world which he inhabits. Humbert s disdain for the self-conscious
decorative kitsch of Mrs. Haze is echoed in Spacey s bemused contempt for
his wife s parallel preoccupations.

Mrs. Haze refers to the backyard as the piazza, while Mrs. Burnham
characterizes an ordinary swimming pool as lagoon-like - a certain degree
of self-delusion apparent in both acts of designation.

Characterizations of beaten-down American woman recur in Gatsby, American
Beauty and Lolita- Buchanan s prole lover, Mrs. Fitts, and the pregnant
Lolita, respectively.

At the end of AB, Spacey moves past self-absorbtion to find himself capable
of genuine concern/empathy for others. This echoes Humbert s belated
tenderness for Lolita-hearing the sound of children s voices rising from the
valley below.

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