Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fixing Kane

TO: Orson Welles
FROM: George Schaefer, President of RKO Pictures
CC: A. Billingsley, Contracts Dept.

We have just received the results of the test screening and focus group panels and we have a few suggestions that we think will help this very fine film reach the large audience it deserves.

We got a lot of comments on the lighting. Everything seems to be completely dark or completely light. I think the boys in the printing department could take another pass at an answer print and see if we can't smooth all that out.

The beginning is completely confusing. Several of the responders told us they thought they'd wandered into a horror picture with that big spooky castle. Also, the music is kind of downbeat. Maybe you could ask Benny Herrmann to put something peppy in there to sort of counter-balance the gloom and doom.

Big story mistake--you introduce your main character with just his lips, then he dies and you never see him and you never who he is. Actually, the continuity boys tell me that we don't get a good clear look at our main character until about 20 minutes in. I know there's all that newsreel stuff, but with all the make-ups and everything--well, you know, most of our audience only knows you from the radio. They don't know what you look like. Maybe we should look for a chance to show 'em your big beautiful pan right up front.

Then we jump to the newsreel without a speck of explanation. By the time that's over (and by the way, some of that footage likes kind of scratchy--can we do something about that?), we're about 12 minutes into the picture and nobody has any idea what's going on yet. Why not have your Mercury boys run in for half a day and shoot a couple of lines to go before the newsreel--something like, "Is the Charles Foster Kane newsreel piece ready yet?" "Sure, boss!" "Let's have a look." I know I'm no Herman Mankiewicz. You boys can punch up the dialogue. But give the scene a little set-up, a little context, see what I mean?

Then you set your character Thompson off on his quest. A lot of people wondered why you kept hiding his face. I thought maybe you didn't want to embarrass your old friend Bill Alland, as he is no Victor Mature, looks-wise. I know you probably will reject this at first, but I want you to think it over seriously. We have some very good young leading men under contract here--Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, some others--who might be very good for your reporter character. I think we could probably shoot some cut-ins and loop in the new actor's voice, and then you'd have a real leading man instead of this character lurking in the shadow. (Also, can you make him look less Jewish?)

From there on, the picture gets more and more bewildering. There's a whole lot of people telling all kinds of stories, including some people who tell things they couldn't possibly know, and it all whirls by. This guy has money, he gets married--we never even see that love story, Orson, how could you skip a whole love story--then he's middle aged, then he's old, then he's middle-aged again and he's broke and he's still rich and who the hell knows or cares, because he's kind of a creep except that sometimes he's a nice guy.

Was there something wrong with the camera tripods? All the shots seemed to be from down low, close to the ground. Gregg Toland should have had the camera boys fix that. Also some of the takes go on a real long time. We should go pick up some reverse angles to break things up a bit and have Bob Wise cut those in. That would help with all those scenes where everyone is talking at the same time.

All of the above is well and good, but Orson, here's where we have our big problem. This fellow's just not sympathetic. We don't like him, and we're never given a reason to like him except that he's played by a cute guy named Orson Welles. Have Herman write something sympathetic--we never see how he felt when his Mom died. Maybe he could bust out in the arms of Susan. Or when he lost his wife and kid. For heaven's sake--he loses his son and namesake and we never see a thing from him. The only time I warmed up to the buzzard was when he busted up his girlfriend's boudoir.

Igrant you, Orson, this picture may be called a classic someday, but right now we have to get butts into seats. So I hope you'll give these ideas your best consideration and see what we can't do to have an old-fashioned hit.

P.S. What the hell is Joe Cotten doing in the screening room scene?

TO: George Schaefer
FROM: A. Billingsley, Contract Dept.


Did you forget you gave Orson final cut on this picture?

TO: A. Billingsley, Contract Dept.
FROM: George Schaefer


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