Why There Should Never Be A “Citizen Keanu.”

10152632_10152422870181756_1324806910_nEven knowing it was April Fools Day, NPR’s Facebook page still managed to throw me for a loop with the suggestion that Keanu Reeves would be headlining a remake of Citizen Kane. Granted, it was a nicely designed poster, and I give them an A for effort with that tagline about the radio. But still: No. Just no.

But then I threw it up on my own Facebook page (note that clever play on words there), and an old friend from high school asked me who I thought would make a good choice for a modern Charles Foster Kane. My first instinct was to defend the original and be a smart-aleck at the same time (“I think a young Orson Welles could do amazing things with the part, given a chance”), and my second…

Well, my second instinct is still to defend the original. It’s not that there aren’t some great actors working today, including some who would probably be great in a film like Kane. (OK: Liev Schreiber. Happy?) And I’m not one of those purists who think every remake is tantamount to clubbing a cinematic baby seal. Remakes can be thought-provoking. They can explore themes and narrative pathways that might have been unheard of when the original film was made. They can be a lot of fun.

But they can also be crass, shoddy affairs, lacking even a gram of the wit and creativity that inspired the source material. And even the best of them can’t help but crowd the first film, just a little bit: Doppelgangers occupying some of the same space, stealing just a little of the spotlight. They’re Hollywood’s version of recycling, and Citizen Kane doesn’t belong in anyone’s blue bin.

With all the technology-driven changes to the film industry in the last generation – tape players begetting DVDs, begetting Blu-Ray, begetting online streaming and on demand – it’s hard to deny that a layer of magic has been stripped away from the experience of simply watching a movie. In the face of this never-ending revolution, the least we can do is safeguard a few films that deserve a status of permanent exclusivity.

Citizen Kane should be inviolate, as should The Godfather, Casablanca, Annie Hall, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, The Graduate and Pulp Fiction, to name a few. These movies should inspire filmmakers, and generations of fans. They can even inspire knock-offs – but they’ve earned the right to be left alone.