Citizen Kane Warehouse

 

What better moment than Easter weekend to indulge in a Christmas gift?

Spare your mental images of stale chocolate Santas or rock-hard fruitcake. This Christmas gift that prompted indulging was a copy of “The Citizen Kane Book” by Pauline Kael that my brother was kind enough to find and put under the tree for me.

The book was actually my first exposure to Kael’s writing – but I’ll save my reactions to her work for either a discussion with Jandy, or at least a different volume of her work. The reason I’m saving my thoughts for now is because this was less of a Kael book than it was one long essay of hers followed by the full CITIZEN KANE script (twice). So while I enjoyed my time with the book, that format doesn’t lead to a whole lot of talking points for a post.

But there was one thing…

The book actually contains the KANE screenplay twice over; first the shooting script, followed by the cutting continuity. “What’s a cutting continuity?” you ask? Essentially, it’s a fancy way of saying “final screenplay”, this one reflecting the camerawork and any changes to detail or the story that may have occurred on-set. So if a scene is written in the script, but doesn’t make the final cut, it’s not in this draft.

Reading these two documents was rather interesting – mostly because I had a moment where I thought a film I know pretty darned well had been hiding something all along.

When I got to the final scene of the shooting script, I saw something that made me do a double take and read a paragraph all over again. It occurs when the reporters are gathered in the warehouse of Kane’s effects, commiserating their failed attempt at unlocking the mystery of the man’s final words. In this scene, the original shooting script says the following:

Thompson: “We’d all better get along. We’ll miss our train.”

He picks up his overcoat – it has been resting on a little sled – the same sled Charles Foster Kane hit Thatcher with at the opening of the picture. Camera doesn’t close in on this. It just registers the sled as the newspaper people, picking up their clothes and equipment, move out of the great hall.

Wait, what??!! All this time, all these viewings, and I never noticed it before? Was it always there mocking the reporters…mocking us as the “missing puzzle piece” right under our nose? My mind was slightly blown.

 

Rosebud sled

 

Happily, my mind was unblown later that day when I read the cutting continuity. In this version, there is no mention of the sled until its final date with the furnace, and when Thompson picks up his coat, there’s no mention of what it is sitting on.

For a moment there though – I thought that all this time I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I thought that like these reporters, I wasn’t looking carefully enough, and missing that crucial puzzle piece. I wasn’t quite convinced, so I tossed on the blu-ray when I finally got home (I’d been reading this book on the subway) to give the scene a watch. As the finale plays out, you do see Thompson pick up his coat, but what it’s sitting on isn’t clear. It’s not unclear in the “camera doesn’t close in on this” sort of way, it’s unclear in the “what it was sitting on doesn’t matter at all” sort of way.

My guess surrounding the change between the two scripts was that Welles felt that final kick in the nuts to the reporters was too unbelievable…to contrived…maybe even too mean. Sure, the answer they were looking for was right under their nose when they gathered in this warehouse, but putting it right under their nose might have been too cruel for press who had been looking so hard for something so elusive.

See for yourself below, but if nothing else, it’s amazing to see that even the most finely-tuned machines had a few bolts tightened on their way to movie majesty…