Hollywood loves to remake movies. Why watch the 1948 classic, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House with Cary Grant when you can now see Are We Done Yet? with Ice Cube? So sooner or later they'll get around to remaking Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg's brilliant Face in the Crowd. In that film, a scathing look at America in the late '50s, Andy Griffith plays folksy minstrel Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic performer who captures the imagination of the country while off camera shows himself to be a hateful, evil, dangerous egomaniac. At the end of the movie (50-year-old SPOILER ALERT) he trips up, the nation sees him for who he really is and his career is ruined.
This is how I imagine a conference between a Hollywood studio exec and the screenwriter assigned to update Face in the Crowd:
STUDIO EXEC: Loved your first draft. Couldn't put it down...other than for that NCAA championship game. Damn, I was rooting for Rutgers. What heart those gals had. Someone should option them. Anyway, loved it, it was great. Just had a few thoughts. Lonesome Rhodes was such a folksy name. I don't know if "Don Imus" gives us that quality.
WRITER: You said to make it more urban. And there's the subliminal message - Imus ... "I'm us".
STUDIO EXEC: Jesus, that's brilliant. I didn't see it. And I pride myself on that sort of thing. Hey, I bet Don is a subliminal message for "Dawn", right?
STUDIO EXEC: He's a morning man on the radio. Gets up at "dawn".
WRITER: Huh? Oh. Right. Yeah.
STUDIO EXEC: Subtext. I love it. Okay, so I'm good. Now, the script itself. (leafing through pages) Talk talk talk, lots of stage direction here, hard to wade through - just a note for the future. No one in this town wants to read a book. (more leafing) He makes it big, steps on people along the way, screws over the girl - nice. Oh yeah. He's kind of a son-of-a-bitch right on the air. Wasn't Andy Griffith more like...uh, who am I thinking of? ... Andy Griffith?
WRITER: You said this was for Pacino but okay. I'm sure Al Pacino can play Andy Griffith.
STUDIO EXEC: We put him in Levi shirts. Maybe give him a farm. He'll be great. Now my one big problem: the ending.
WRITER: You don't like the ending?
STUDIO EXEC: It doesn't work. He doesn't say anything inflammatory enough.
WRITER: Calling the William sisters "animals better suited for National Georgraphic than Playboy" wouldn't piss people off?
STUDIO EXEC: Nah... not really. It should but no.
WRITER: (thrown) Okay. Well, I was going to have him just call Arabs "ragheads" on the air but thought that might be too much.
STUDIO EXEC: Too much? Try not enough.
WRITER: Are you serious?
STUDIO EXEC: These are cynical times, my friend.
WRITER: Okay, how about this? He calls his Jewish management "money-grubbing bastards"? Look at what happened to Mel Gibson.
STUDIO EXEC: Forgotten. Over. He apologized to both Diane Sawyer AND Barbara Walters. He could run for Pope. Hey, there's one girl on Rutgers who could block a Kobe shot. Did you see her?
WRITER: Oh oh oh. What if Imus says about the Rutgers team, "That's some nappy-headed ho's there."?
STUDIO EXEC: Hmmmm. Maybe. That's promising. (beat) I dunno. He'd probably just get a suspension for that.
WRITER: For calling lovely, dedicated, hard working African-American women prostitutes? That doesn't send out a message of extreme racism?
STUDIO EXEC: Oh, I see. Subliminal again. Like his name. But do you think the audience would really make the connection?
WRITER: Uh...YEAH! They'd protest. Sponsors would bail. Guests would bail. This would be a big deal. He'd be fired for sure. I mean, how could people possibly let him get away with saying something that vile?
STUDIO EXEC: I don't know but okay. Try it. I think you're asking a lot of the American public but who knows? Maybe if it's a slow news day.
You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com