Mondo Kane #8: Xanadu #2

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Let’s talk about the script. There’s been an EC Comics horror-retribution thing going on with perception of it. First, we are told, Welles tried to bribe Herman Mankiewicz into giving up credit. Despite H.M. very properly retaining his name on the film, critical discourse tended to favour the genius and ignore the man perceived as a hack, or at best, someone with the status of a Buster Keaton co-director, performing a technical function to support the true creative work,

Then Kael wrote her essay, Raising Kane, and quoted Mankiewicz’s secretary who said Welles didn’t write a word. The idea of shining a light on Toland, Mankiewicz and other collaborators was a perfectly noble one, but this didn’t have to be at Welles’ expense — at any rate, had Kael spoken to Welles, or Welles’ secretary, or even Houseman (a Welles enemy by this time, but one who was always willing to concede Welles’ script role), or studied the various drafts, she could have discovered for herself Welles’ sizable contribution.

Welles, in his later years, would also say that John Houseman also deserved co-writer status.

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Now, things have swung around a bit — Welles is the one people are mostly interested in, and the lingering effect of all this intrigue is the stain on his character concerning his attempt to “rob” Mankiewicz of credit (really an attempt to BUY the credit, but still a bit disreputable). It’s something that rankled — when Welles asked a commercials director to annoy him, so he could have the correct emotion for a scene, the guy teased him about his weight to no effect, but the question “Why did you try to steal Herman J. Mankiewicz’s writing credit?” apparently provoked a colossal strop — he had GONE TOO FAR.

Simon Callow, in The Road to Xanadu, observes that Mankiewicz’s contract explicitly stated that for legal purposes the author of any screenplay would be Mercury Productions, with Mank as a mere employee. I expect that was fairly standard practice, because the industry has never been comfortable granting screenwriters the kind of moral rights artists normally have — if they did, an objection from some ink-stained wretch could hold up the whole titanic machinery of production.

He also observes that Welles was in the midst of a savage game of telegram tennis with a man who wanted to publish the script of the War of the Worlds broadcast, and credit Howard Koch as writer. Koch, in his own memoir, describes the writing process for the radio shows as something like (a) He would work all day and all night to adapt the chosen literary source for that week’s broadcast (b) Houseman would edit (c) an assistant would begin rehearsals (d) Welles would come in, take over, and breathe his magic into it.

But he also admits that Welles would be involved at the start of the process, too — War of the Worlds came with an instruction to dramatize it in the form of news bulletins.

Koch, receiving just seventy-five dollars a week, was happy to cede credit — for the first time in his life, he could call himself a professional writer. Mankiewicz, understandably, at his time in life, preferred a substantial credit to a substantial cheque. But considering his previous working practices, and his reputation, and his own contract which stated he was to write, produce, direct and star in a film for RKO, Welles’ rather shady action becomes at least understandable. Like many directors (John Ford: “A screenplay is dialogue, and I hate dialogue,”) Welles possibly undervalued the work of the screenwriter. Yet those who want to give Mankiewicz all of the credit for KANE have to willfully overlook or trash the other films Welles undoubtedly DID co-write or write entirely.

And check out the credit Welles finally DID give Mank (top).

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And so to another shifty character, Paul Stewart as the shifty butler is introduced via an abrupt dissolve to the big K sign (Herrmann accompanies it with what sounds like an anvil strike) and then an equally quick dissolve to Stewart just as a match light his face and his cigarette. Then we’re plunged into shadow again, as if Stewart was trying to out-silhouette our intrepid boy reporter Mr Thompson.

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These speedy cross-fades have been leading up a real quick mix to the screeching parrot — as if Robert Wise wanted to invent direct cutting twenty years before the nouvelle vague pretended they did, but couldn’t quite bring himself to go there. So what should be a shock cut as jarring as the one to the lighting-bolt-lit Susie Kane poster, is instead a dissolve of just a few frames, with the sudden whiteness of the parakeet, the jolt of its squawk, and the peculiar quirk of superimposition that’s robbed it of an eye, all compensating for the unwanted gentleness which the lack of a hard cut tends to produce. It also helps, in a perverse way, that the parrot appears frames ahead of its background, as if it were teleporting in from Long John Silver’s shoulder.

I guess because a bird’s eye is very dark, effectively black in a monochrome film, it came out transparent while the rest of the parakeet, being white, bleaches out the background. They should have jammed that damn snowglobe into the empty socket.

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The squawker was never scripted, and no record that I know of exists explaining how it came to flutter into the film — seemingly an edit room afterthought like the statue of Thatcher. What it obscure is an atypically planimetric composition with an unconvincing rear-pro beachfront. The weird Xanadu mix of architectural styles is nice here, but I can imagine Welles rejecting the stable, flat, full stop of a shot and grasping around for some way to jazz it up. A shrieking jungle bird fit the bill nicely.

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The following shot, though equally rigid, is a stunner, with the kind of smashing perspective Welles liked. Can a lateral view be vertiginous?

Welles trashes Susie’s room, the only scene obviously filmed with two cameras, to minimize re-takes. It may even have been a one-take wonder, since re-setting and repairing the bedroom would have been quite an operation. John Houseman suggests that Kane’s tantrum was based on Welles’ own furious reaction to Houseman’s dissolution of their partnership, in which case the scene may be part of Houseman’s amorphous but widely-acknowledged contribution to the script (although his script work on the radio shows was more editorial than creative). Welles for his part reported feeling genuine emotion as he smashed up the set, a rare occurrence for him. And yet, the real emotion doesn’t actually photograph, and Kane appears more the lumbering automaton than ever. This works fine, don’t get me wrong — it just may not be what was intended.

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“Rosebud.” Not the snowglobe’s first appearance — it can be seen, prominently positioned, in Susie’s love nest during the Leland flashbacks. So it’s Susie’s trashy taste, but it has an emotional effect on Kane greater than all of his art collection — it reminds him, during this moment of loss, of the original loss, his mother who sent him away to be educated.

Suzie’s ceiling beams have their own menagerie — the The Birds of the Air! The fish of the sea! But no sign of an unconvincing octopus or flamingo-pterodactyl.

Kane pockets the snowglobe, absently, as he wanders off, and presumably installs it by his bedside from now until his death as a constant and painful reminder that he can’t have what he really wants. As he walks past his startled staff, he disappears from frame and is replaced by his own reflection. A walking shadow. And then he’s fragmented into an infinity of reflections, as if lost in a maze of illusions or in the shards of the snowglobe that shatters at the instant of his death.

“Sentimental fellow, aren’t you?”
“Mmm, yes and no.”

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This is the only flashback sequence that opens out into a whole other scene, the dismantling of Xanadu (like a movie set being taken down after the production is over). And that will form the subject of our final installment…

“You can keep on asking questions if you want to.”

Citizen Kane – Screenplay formatted for Kindle
Citizen Kane – Screenplay formatted for Kindle

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18 Responses to “Mondo Kane #8: Xanadu #2”

  1. And now, boys and girls, it’s time to bring up After Many A Summer Dies The Swan

    As is well known, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was Welles’ original choice for adaptation as his first feature film. no point in going into why that was given the go-by. But far less attention has been paid to his interest in Aldous Huxley’s 1939 novel (my fave of all his works and a particular obsession for numerous reasons) which was an a clef about William Randolph Hearst incorporating the continued scandal and resultant rumors surrounding the death of William Ince. In Huxley’s book the Hearst character wants to live forever. Being Huxley the story shows how he learns to do so — with a phenomenally sinister “be careful what you wish for” finale.

    Then Welles met Herman J. Mankiewicz who gave him a different Hearst a clef, without a trace of Ince save for Susan’s cryptic remark that Raymond “knows where all the bodies are buried.”

    I’m pretty much an agnostic when it comes to Ince’s death. The Story as has been handed down by gossip mavens immemorial is that the old man either caught him doing the horizontal mambo with Marion or killed him thinking he was Chaplin — who WAS doing the horizontal mambo with Marion, albeit it quite discreetly. Hearst strikes me as the sort who would have others do his dirty work. The scene in CK where Susan’s room is destroyed suggests how ill-equipped Welles saw him for action.

    Be that as it may, After Many A Summer is STILL ripe for move adaptation. It would work without reference to Hearst or the then-contemporary 1930s.

    Has anyone seen the TV adaptation that Wiki mentions?

    In any case the “come on” line for the ad campaign would inevitably be Do You Want To Live Forever ?

    Nothing beats THAT!

  2. I haven’t seen the TV version. Or read the book. I recently read the very odd Ape and Essence, which is mostly written in the form of a rejected screenplay.

    Bogdanovich, of course, filmed the murder story (a candidate for the Late Movies Blogathon? But PB is at last at work on a new movie!)

    Welles at one point claimed that he toyed with featuring the murder. He said that if he had done so, Hearst would have been afraid to come after him for fear of incriminating himself. He wouldn’t have wanted to say “That’s me!” But since Hearst attacked indirectly, through underlings, I doubt this insurance policy would have worked.

  3. Read the book ASAP. Huxley, as I trust you recall, died the day JFK was assassinated — thus obscuring the passing of an individual of inestimably more value than that warmongering womanizer with back trouble.

    “John Houseman suggests that Kane’s tantrum was based on Welles’ own furious reaction to Houseman’s dissolution of their partnership” This is on par with Kael’s declaration that Toland “caught” Welles eating on the set and started to shoot the scene because of it. It never cease to amaze me the way presumably intelligent people adamantly refuse to see conscious artistic creation, preferring the fantasy of the “real.” I’m sure Welles was mad at Houseman. Over the years a great many people have had a great many reason for being mad at Houseman. But Kane’s destruction of Susan’s room is as scrupulously prepared for as anything else in the film. In fact I’d even say the parrot is a “call back” to Susan screaming at Charlie across the vast living room of Xanadu as she plays with her crossword puzzles.

    As for the eating, Welles can be credited with a great many things, but the invention of “cinema verite” is not one of them.

  4. The thing that gives Houseman’s suggestion some weight is the fact that he was the third screenwriter on the picture. So I’m assuming HE was thinking of that tantrum when he was party to the discussions about the screenplay. Welles, of course, may have had no such thing in mind, but as he reported getting quite worked up during the scene, maybe it did connect to an “emotional memory.”

  5. I don’t think so. Houseman was always a “Drama Queen.” That’s why Bridges’ casting him in The Paper Chase was so perfect. He was forced to “underplay” and the tension he feels from this restriction is palpable.

    BTW, Houseman has a walk-on in Andy Warhol’s Tarzan and Jane Regained (Sort of) in which he, Jack Larson and a few others are seen running about excitedly — Houseman looking quite like Welles in that famous bedroom destruction scene.

  6. Houseman also runs about excitedly as a Keystone cop in Too Much Johnson — worth the price of admission alone.

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    “Old Man” Kane didn’t look like Old Man Welles. “Old Man” Kane looks more like Old Man John Houseman (“The Paper Chase.”

    Funny that.

  8. Haven’t seen The Cat’s Meow, but here — according to Wiki — is the “real” story:

    “On Saturday, November 15, 1924, William Randolph Hearst’s lavish 280-foot (85 m) yacht, the Oneida, set sail from San Pedro, California heading for San Diego. Among his guests that weekend were his mistress Marion Davies, silent film star Charlie Chaplin, newspaper columnist Louella Parsons, author Elinor Glyn, film actresses Aileen Pringle, Jacqueline Logan, Seena Owen, Margaret Livingston, Julanne Johnston, actor, choreographer and ballet dancer Theodore Kosloff and Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, Hearst’s film production manager. It is ironic that Ince, the guest of honor as it was his 42nd birthday, was late due to a production deal he was negotiating with Hearst’s International Film Corporation and the yacht left without him.
    Ince finished his business in Los Angeles and took a train to San Diego, where he joined the guests the next morning. At dinner that Sunday night, the group enthusiastically celebrated his birthday. Sometime later, Ince suffered an acute bout of indigestion on the yacht. Determining that Ince was quite ill, he was taken ashore in San Diego by water taxi, accompanied by Dr. Goodman, a licensed though non-practicing physician, then quickly put on a train bound for Los Angeles. While en route Ince’s condition worsened. At Del Mar, he was removed from the train, then taken to a hotel where he was given medical treatment by Dr. T. A. Parker and nurse Jessie Howard. Ince informed them he had drunk liquor on the Hearst yacht. Afterward, he was taken to his home in Hollywood where the next day, November 19, he succumbed to a heart ailment.
    Three days after leaving the Oneida, Ince died in his “Dias Dorados” estate in Benedict Canyon, officially of a heart attack.Two days before his death, Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies and Hearst visited Ince who believed he would soon be well. Dr. Ida Cowan Glasgow, his personal physician, signed the death certificate citing heart failure as the cause of death. However, the front page of the Wednesday morning Los Angeles Times told another story: ‘”Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht!” headlines that mysteriously vanished in the evening edition. Without further ado, Ince’s body was cremated, after which his widow Nell left for Europe.
    The first stories in Hearst’s newspapers about Ince’s death claimed the producer had fallen ill while visiting the Hearst ranch in San Simeon and had been rushed home by ambulance, dying in the bosom of his family. The rumor mill in Hollywood immediately went to work. Several conflicting stories began circulating about the incident, often revolving around a claim that Hearst shot Ince in the head by mistake.
    The story goes that Hearst suspected that Davies and Chaplin were secretly lovers. In order to keep tabs on the two, he invited them both on board the yacht. It was reported that he found the couple in a compromising clinch and went for his gun. Davies’ screams awakened Ince who rushed to the scene. A scuffle ensued, followed by a gunshot, and Ince took the bullet intended for Chaplin. According to Charlie Chaplin in his Autobiography, he wasn’t aboard that day and his friend Elinor Glyn told him that Ince had been merry and debonair, but during lunch had been suddenly stricken with paralysing pain and forced to leave the table. A second version of the story had Davies and Ince alone in the galley late Sunday night. Ince, who suffered from ulcers, was looking for something to ease his upset stomach when Hearst walked in. Mistaking Ince for Chaplin, Hearst shot him. A third version tells of a struggle over a gun below decks between unidentified passengers. The gun fired accidentally and the bullet ripped through a plywood partition straight into Ince’s room where it struck him.
    Chaplin’s secretary, Toraichi Kono, added fuel to the fire when he claimed to have seen Ince when he came ashore. Kono told his wife that Ince’s head was “bleeding from a bullet wound”. The story quickly spread among the Japanese domestic workers throughout Beverly Hills. Whether Ince was killed in a fit of jealousy or by accident, the story stuck, and with many believing Hearst used his power and influence to cover up the incident. One month after Ince’s death, the rumors ran so rampant that the San Diego District Attorney’s Office was forced to take action.
    The D.A. only interviewed Dr. Goodman, who explained that once ashore, he and Ince caught a train for Los Angeles. According to Goodman, Ince got sick on the train so they disembarked in Del Mar and checked into a hotel. Goodman then called a doctor, as well as Nell Ince. Concerned for her husband, Nell agreed to come to Del Mar immediately. Goodman, unclear whether Ince was suffering from a heart attack or indigestion, claimed he left Del Mar before Nell arrived. The D.A. quickly closed the investigation.
    Rumors and suspicions continued to be fueled by the very people who celebrated with Ince that weekend. Chaplin denied being there, insisting that he, Hearst and Davies visited the ailing Ince later that week. He also stated that Ince died two weeks after their visit. In reality, Ince was dead within 48 hours after leaving the Oneida with Chaplin attending the memorial services that Friday.
    Davies also added to the mystery in her attempts to deny the incident. She never acknowledged that Chaplin, Parsons, or Goodman were aboard the yacht that weekend. She insisted that Nell Ince called her late Monday afternoon at United Studios to inform her of Ince’s death.
    When the Oneida sailed, Parsons was a New York movie columnist for one of Hearst’s papers. After the Ince affair, Hearst gave her a lifetime contract and expanded her syndication. Hearst also provided Nell Ince with a trust fund just before she left for Europe. She refused an autopsy and ordered her husband’s immediate cremation. Rumor has it that Hearst paid off Ince’s mortgage on his Château Élysée apartment building in Hollywood. D. W. Griffith said of the incident:
    “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name. There’s plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big.”
    The circumstances of Ince’s death tainted his reputation as a pioneering filmmaker and diminished the way in which his role in the growth of the film industry was remembered. Even his studio could not survive his death. It shut down soon after he died. The final film he produced, Enticement, a romance set in the French Alps, was released posthumously, in 1925. In summarizing Ince’s career and the potential for his future in the movie business had he lived, David Thompson wrote in A Biographical Dictionary of Film:
    “His shameless self-aggrandizement seems the original of a brand of ambition central to American film. In that sense, he was the first tycoon, more businesslike than Griffith and much more prosperous. Remember that he died in early middle age, and it is possible to surmise that he might have become one of the moguls of the 1930s.”

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    Paul Stewart had one of the great voices, and presences in film noir. I love him in KISS ME DEADLY and THE WINDOW.

  10. His appearance in KANE is certainly a case of “Start as you mean to go on.” Nobody else in the movie had such a consistent career, did they?

  11. He also pops up in F For Fake

  12. The Cat’s Miaow is good fun and has a delightful tipsy commentary track featuring Joanna Lumley, who’s also in P-Bog’s forthcoming Squirrels to the Nuts.

    As to the truth of the Ince case — No Man Can Say!

  13. ‘Claimed’ nothing, the first draft (called “American”, written by Mankiewicz based on story meetings with Welles) included the murder.

    It seems clear you haven’t read Robert L. Carringer’s essay The Scripts of Citizen Kane and you really should. He traces the full course of development via the paper trail and it’s very interesting. It’s also not what many have made it out to be.

    Welles didn’t have to credit Mankiewicz at all (as you noted, his contract precluded the necessity and he withdrew his complaint to the SWG when controversy started to kick up) and it was Welles’ own choice to do so, and he did it very generously indeed if you know the actual history of the script.

  14. I should… and here it is in front of me, so I shall.

    Welles would have been very wrong to deprive Mank of credit, since the screenwriter initiated the writing (nowadays he’d be automatically guaranteed credit for a first draft, even if the finished film used NOTHING). But what’s more important is the generous credit Welles gave him, more than his momentary temptation to take sole credit.

  15. According to her biographer, Brian Kellow, Kael plagiarized much of RAISING KANE from the work of Howard Suber, who did much of the original research. Contrary to your assertion that Houseman always conceded Welles’s script role, Houseman was Kael’s main source (Huber’s main source was Sarah Mankiewicz, Herman’s widow). As late as the 80′s Houseman was telling Welles biographer Barbara Leaming that Welles “never wrote a word” of KANE. Houseman also lied to Welles biographer Simon Callow.

    Mank’s contract was written so as to preclude any Welles enemies at RKO from breaking his contract, which specified that he act, direct, produce, and write. Correspondence between Welles and his attorney, Arnold Weissberger, makes it clear that Welles always intended Mank to get a co-credit.

    There is no ambiguity about this issue – it was resolved in Welles’s favor long ago. An interesting side note – the first published piece to extensively criticize Kael’s thesis, Peter Bogdanovich’s THE KANE MUTINY, was actually written by Welles!

  16. Not so much plagiarism as outright theft, it seems. So should we blame Suber for the flaws in her research? The guy is likening himself to a rape victim, which strikes me as excessive. Still, another serious black mark against Kael. This shoddy piece http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/howard-suber-pauline-kaels-research-theft-it-felt-rape-32647, which rewrites the movie’s plot incredibly, cites her observation about “Rosebud” being uttered in an empty room as being stolen, but doesn’t give any more details. Ironically, if the research had been more thorough, the storyboards would have helped enhance the understanding of that lacuna.

    The point is made that Kael doesn’t seem to have done this elsewhere, but her other works weren’t film-historical, so research wasn’t really required.

    I didn’t imply that there was any ambiguity about Welles having contributed heftily to the script. I think paragraph 2 is clear on that.

  17. Absolutely brilliant commentary D. As with all great film writing, you’ve made me excited to watch an oft-viewed favourite with fresh eyes… look forward to the final chapter (where you reveal the sled was played by Alan Ladd)

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