Hef's Movie Notes: American Beauty

By Hugh Hefner

Hef introduces the 1999 film that won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Tonight: Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, with Thora Birch and Allison Janney in the Academy Award winning American Beauty.

The title of the film refers to a breed of roses that, while pretty and appealing in appearance, is often prone to rot underneath at the roots of the plant.

Thus the promotional tag line “Look Closer” tells the audience that when they look beyond the “perfect suburban life” in America, they will find something rancid at the root.

Alan Ball began writing American Beauty as a play, inspired, in part, by the media circus surrounding the Amy Fisher trial in 1992.

The “Long Island Lolita” had shot lover Joey Buttafuco’s wife, Mary Jo Buttafuco.

Ball shelved the play after realizing it would not work on the stage. But revived the idea in 1997 when attempting to break into films, after several years writing for television.

Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen took American Beauty to DreamWorks.

The fledgling film studio bought Ball’s script for $250,000, outbidding several other production bodies.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg personally recommended Sam Mendes to direct.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening were both director Sam Mendes’ first choices for the roles of Lester and Carolyn, although the role of Lester Burnham was originally offered to Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks.

(Tom Hanks would later star in Sam Mendes’s next film, Road to Perdition 2002).

Kirsten Dunst turned down the Mena Suvari role. So did Katie Holmes.

Thora Birch got her part after the originally cast Jessica Biel had to drop out owing to a scheduling conflict.

Thora was 17 and needed her parents’ approval for a topless scene.

Thora’s parents were actually porn stars. Her mother had a major role in Deep Throat with Harry Reems and Linda Lovelace.

Kevin Spacey’s character, “Lester Burnham,” is an anagram for “Humbert Learns,” a reference to Lolita.

The setting of the film is Chicago, but the film makers disguised that fact.

The film was shot at Warner Bros., Blondie Street on the Columbia Ranch and assorted L.A. locations like the Police Academy, South High School in Torrence, Brentwood, Canoga Park, Hancock Park, etc.

Some aerial shots are of Sacramento.

The Smiley Burger in the film is actually a Carl’s Junior.

The production ran from December 14, 1998 through February 25, 1999.

American Beauty was released on September 9, 1999 with an “R” rating.

The film cost $15 million. The worldwide revenue to DreamWorks was $211 million. So it was a big artistic, critical and commercial success.

American Beauty won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Kevin Spacey), Best Director (Sam Mendes), Best Screenplay (Alan Ball) and Best Cinematography.

Plus Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Annette Bening), Editing and Musical Score.

Roger Ebert’s review stated, “The movie is about a man who fears growing older, losing the hope of true love, and not being respected by those who know him best.

“If you never experience those feelings, take out a classified ad. People will want to take lessons from you.”

So now—from 1999—

The American classic—

American Beauty


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