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Thread: Mank

  1. #1
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    Mank

    Mank

    Directed by David Fincher

    Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), known more for his contributions to major screenplays than for penning an original, is tasked by Orson Welles (Tom Burk) to write a screenplay in two months. Mank, as his friends know him, breaks his leg in an auto accident and is laid up in a desert cabin with a stenog (Lily Collins) and a German nurse. By now, a reclusive alcoholic and on the career decline, his wife (Tuppence Middleton) and famous brother, Joseph (Tom Pelphrey), support Mank in this effort along with John Houseman (Sam Troughton) who floats in occasionally from the shadows. It’s Houseman’s criticism in the film’s beginning that frames the film’s construction: “You’ve created a series of stories shown in flashbacks that jump back and forth through time… the audience will never buy it.” That is the exact construction of “Mank,” perhaps as an homage to Kane.

    The nickname Mank is one Mankiewicz created when people mangled his last name and to which his friends could easily pronounce. After the film’s opening setting of the accident and desert cabin, we fly back in time to when Mank first attended a soiree at the Hearst castle in San Simeon, on the coast of California. He befriended Marion Davies, although he’d met her prior to his arrival via an invitation from Charles Lederer (Joseph Cross), Davies nephew. Yes, there are lots of writer’s names dropped in the opening scenes, practically anyone who was important in those first days in Hollywood, like Kauffman and Hecht, played out in a hilarious send up of David O. Selznick. Although relegated to one liners, their presence helps to establish the importance Mankiewicz played in those early days, bringing some of New York’s best and brightest to Hollywood, where many made their fortunes. In one scene Herman brings his brother Joe to meet Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) who is portrayed with very little sympathy as he informs workers, they must take a pay cut while telling Joe moments before that “MGM is one big family.” The hypocrisy plays well.

    Mank’s inspiration for “Citizen Kane,” renamed from the original script called “American” comes from his time at San Simeon and his exposure to Hearst. Though he empathizes with Davies’ situation at times (married to demanding Hearst) during their frequent visits, he uses her as the model for Susan Alexander (the last name of his secretary) in the screenplay. In a series of montage flashbacks, we see how Mank came to loath Hearst (Charles Dance) along with Mayer as manipulators of the truth. They use the Republican Party to destroy Upton Sinclair’s run for public office and in the end, one of Mank’s friends commits suicide, which further drives the writer to drink.

    Once he finishes the script, Mank discovers just who his friends are as one by one, they stop by to dissuade him from submitting the script that somehow has made its way around town and even into the hands of his old friend, Marion Davies. They all come to visit his desert cabin, including his brother Joe, trying to convince him that “he’ll never work in Hollywood again” if the film goes forward. While Hearst still has tremendous power in America, what none of them know is that it is on the decline. After the war, nearly all of Hearst’s involvement in the publishing business will evaporate and he dies penniless in the arms of a woman he never married. Mankiewicz, furious when Welles offers to buy him out, demands screen credit. Welles storms out of the meeting. The rest is film history, as Citizen Kane wins only one Oscar for Original Screenplay. On the night of the ceremony, when Mank’s name is announced, the cheer from the crowd is so loud it drowns out the name of the co-winner, Welles.

    “Mank” is a beautifully photographed film by American Cinematography Society member Erik Messerschmidt in his first feature film. Shot in high-definition Red Cinema, Messerschmidt uses the same lighting tricks that Greg Toland used in Citizen Kane (such as on set light fade ins and outs, deep focus, and juxtaposition) that will remind those of us who’ve seen Kane as being familiar. Fincher’s direction not only capitalizes on those camera tricks but also lets Oscar-winner Oldman give an over-the-top performance as the often drunk Mankiewicz, something that is very difficult to do convincingly. The fast-paced dialogue by screenwriter Jack Fincher, director David Fincher’s father, who died in 2003, is brilliant, funny and full of wit. It’s unfortunate, too, because the screenplay is so good, it should be considered for an Oscar; and if it isn’t, mores the pity for the Academy (they don’t often award posthumously). David Fincher had always wanted to shoot the film in black and white, which most studios wouldn’t finance. It wasn’t until two years ago that Netflix finally greenlit the project and another to land Oldman for the lead role, one actor Fincher always had in mind.

    The movie is a reminder of how great movies used to be in terms of dialogue. No one writes such witty and verbose dialogue any longer. Mankiewicz was one of the last of the Algonquin Round Table to write for that era New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called “her favorite in film history, thanks to the style [Mankiewicz] instilled into so many scripts, uncredited.” He influenced such movies as “The Wizard of Oz” and “Dinner at Eight” and many others from that era. While he never wrote another original screenplay again, although he collaborated or adapted many films after that including “Pride of the Yankees” (1952) and “The Enchanted Cottage (both versions). He died in 1953 due to complications from alcoholism. His widow passed in 1985.mank_k5sa.jpg
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    AMANDA SEYFRIED, GARY OLDMAN AND CHARLES DANCE IN MANK

    That's the image you had in mind, isn't it? Came out a little small, so I thought I'd help you out on it.
    Thanks for explaining so much to us, cine. You know the lore of old Hollywood so well.
    You beat me- I'm just watching it now. May have a word to say later.

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    MANK (David Fincher 2020)

    DAVID FINCHER: MANK (2020)


    CHARLES DANCE AS WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST IN MANK

    A trip back to old Hollywood

    You can't get away from the fact that this film was scripted by the director's father, Jack Fincher, who is dead (1930-2002). This picture is a labor of love, a touching tribute, and long in the making. And this is a movie about the writing of a script, a very famous one, for Citizen Kane. Did David Fincher fiddle with it? Did Orson Welles add anything for this one aspect of that famous film that won the Oscar, in 1940, for the two men? Most important, the matter at hand: was David Fincher up to the task of bringing his dad's screenplay to life? A big budget movie in black and white wasn't easy to get by the studios. The result is dazzling in some ways, its sheer complexity of staging, its period feel, its cinematography, its lighting, its cars. But does it entertain? Was it all worth it?

    Mank juggles many balls in the air. It provides an essential footnote to the making of one of the world's most admired films, Citizen Kane, an homage to how movies used to be made that constantly recreates the look of period Hollywood and period picture-making, and it skewers the old studio system, and the new one. It shows us a glimpse of what it was like when talkies were talky.

    It's a rich and complicated portrait of the thirties and very early forties. Like Citizen Kane itself, this movie jumps around in time, making free with flashbacks, while at its center is that boring topic for a movie, an artist at work: Herman J. Mankiewicz, AKA "Mank," a funny guy and former correspondent in Berlin, an Algonquin Round Table wit in New York, a swift script doctor in Hollywood, and everywhere a gambler, pretty loyal husband of "poor Sara" (Tuppence Middleton), and an alcoholic in his early forties who would drink himself to death at the age of 55 - lying inert, dictating a script. A lot of busy flashbacks are needed to liven that up.

    The movie also takes time to review the leftist writer Upton Sinclair's audacious campaign for governor of California, which he lost decisively. It also takes time to depict some of Manks's bad drunks and disastrous bets. He's said to have once bet five thousand dollars on the fall of a leaf. Here he makes an even more disastrous wager.

    Meanwhile, at center stage, in the main time-line, Mank has two months, in bed with a broken leg, to dictate the script, with a stenographer, Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), a sympathetic Fräulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann) to mind him and a fussy Brit, Welles' theater collaborator John Houseman (Sam Troughton) to monitor the writing process.

    Fincher hired Tom Burke, a good actor (he played Anthony in Joanna Hogg's terrific 2019 The Souvenir to play Orson Welles. He makes little effort to look or sound like the man whose looks and voice we know so well, though - a missed opportunity, because what this movie lacks is contrasts. There are beautiful grays, and the interior lighting, the deep focus in homage to Kane cameraman Gregg Toland, is pretty, if not as dramatic as Toland's.* But this script, and this film, lack big moments.

    I come back to the cars, and the landscapes. The exterior studio spaces are memorable, as are crowd scenes in the Upton Sinclair sequence and the well-evoked grand mealtimes in the baronial dining hall of Hearst's San Simeon. (For this is the revelation for some of us: Mank was a friend, or rather the favored "court jester' of the media czar, and hence his screenplay arguably a betrayal.)

    A long drunken speech by Mank in that baronial hall is difficult for even the great Gary Oldman to make convincing. As Marion Davies Amanda Seyfried is acceptable and and as Hearst Charles Dance adequate, but the casting isn't this film's strong point. I'll remember a long thirties limo, stretching out its proud length. And Marion Davies in a chauffeured car arriving in the country to see Mank and beg him to shelve his script, after she's learned it's about Hearst and her (no nice).

    Fincher's film evokes the old California landscape better than any contemporary film has ever done. It really, really takes you back there. Whoever chose the locations was brilliant. As dp Erik Messerschmid (Gone Girl, Sicario does impeccable work. But the script, for all its energetic talk, doesn't sparkle, nor does this movie. It tells a lot of little things but the necessary few big things that grab you and pull you along aren't there. Mank should have written it, and Orson directed it.

    Mank, 131 mins., debuted Nov. 13 in limited theatrical release. It went online via Netflix Dec. 4. Metascore 79%.
    _____________________
    *It's shot with a new black and white digital camera, the RED Monstro Monochrome (Monstrochrome) and digital has special powers to capture images in dark settings, but the look is not the same as film, colder, more chiseled. To use digital for a movie that seeks to evoke the cinematography of the late thirties seems an unfortunate choice. Mank's images dazzle with their tonal range and precision, but look strange.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-06-2020 at 02:48 AM.

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    So I think I was a little more impressed than you were. We did like some of the same parts. The cinematography is gorgeous. Considering all of the controversy with Pauline Kael, I believe the film is more of a tribute, an affirmation to Mank's contributions.
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    Yes, you lilked MANK more than I did, not that I don't admire it.

    The movie seems to favor Mank's (and Kael's) claims that he did all the writing on the CITIZEN KANE script. Or just leaves it vague what Welles contributed.
    There is a new online piece by the New Yorker's Richard Brody that seeks to spell out what is known about this issue in more detail, and what may be a significant difference between Mank and Welles: Mank had no respect for movies as art, Welles did, Brody says.

    As I said at the start of my review, we also don't know how much David Fincher may have revised his father Jack's screenplay. Brody in this article says "Fincher, in making 'Mank,' revised his father’s script to soften its anti-Welles bent." He doesn't seem to have "softened" it all that much! But how much did he tweak the screenplay? Maybe a lot. There is authorship confusion about another screenplay: MANK.

    As an admirer of Kael I'm once again shocked by how she's debunked today even or especially by New Yorker writers. Thus Brody when he first refers to her in this article does it this way: "one of the magazine’s film critics at the time, Pauline Kael." That's what he is; Anthony Lane is the headliner, and he's secondary. Kael was the headliner, and for many years. Not "one of." Oh well. But Kael stirred up trouble and ruffled many feathers, as the new bio doc vividly shows. At the time I ignored her preoccupation with KANE and her time in Hollywood, being more interested in her reviews, so was unaware of what damage she did or how she may have been misinformed about Welles and KANE.

    Could be that there's still room for more "definitive" research on the respective roles of Mank and Welles in the writing of the CITIZEN KANE script.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-06-2020 at 10:48 AM.

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    You and I both admire Pauline Kael. As a teen and later as a college student, we ran to the newsstand for the latest New Yorker to read her film reviews. As a writer, I'm certain she felt more akin to Mank than she did to Welles, whom she considered to be pompous and bombastic. However, egotistical, Welles did help craft "Citizen Kane" into the film it became because of the innovations he helped to craft using his background of magic. He wanted to use camera tricks wherever possible and Greg Tolland helped him, which is why he shared end of screen credit with Tolland.

    Kael did give Welles a great deal of credit in her book. However, most of her critics who read it focused on the part about the script. In doing more research this week, I've found that the two most contrasting opinions - Pauline Kael in her critique and Peter Bogdanovich in his critique of her - are at extreme ends of the spectrum. Bogdanovich was not only an admirer of Orson Welles, he helped promote "Kane" as the greatest film of all time. Toward the end of his life, he and Welles bonded. Buddies. Ok. But Welles had his detractors and many found his ego often too self inflated. This put many people off to him personally. I'm certain there was a run-in between Welles and Kael at some point that started her digging into his past. And it was another author, I can't recall his name, who lived in LA and had been part of the film industry who was also writing a book about Kane that Kael may have, and mind you this can't be proved, may have stolen his ideas and parts of his manuscript. During a phone meeting that she took, he expressed his ideas about research he'd performed into the film, speaking with Mank's secretary and so on. He sent her his manuscript and then never heard from her again. He later found passages of his book in her book. He tried to sue, unsuccessfully.

    Bogdanovich interviewed Welles secretary who said a total of seven drafts were made of the shooting script with Welles sometimes making changes on the same day as shooting. We've seen this happen in many films, such as Casablanca. However, the core ideas for the film were Mank's and the general storyline for the film were Mank's. This is what I feel Fincher tried to show in making this film, that it wasn't Orson's ideas, Mank wrote the film's main premise based on his relationship with Hearst. These are the conclusions I've come to over the past few days of hearing point and counterpoint. Let me know what you think. Love to hear from you and Happy holidays to you Chris and anyone else reading.
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    I can't really shed light on this matter but you have. I think you have stated it very well. Best wishes for the holidays to you, too.

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    You've probably seen Warner Bros.' announcement about simultaneous online HBO releases to all their films, and Christopher Nolan's furious response. I am glad Nolan is championing film and theatrical releases, which seem essential to the integrity of the medium. I haven't even seen TENET yet but I saw DUNKIRK two days in a row, the first time in iMax, the second in 70mm at a large old movie house. That is the beauty of cinema.

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    Privately, he called or referred to "Dune" as "the best thing I've ever done." No wonder he's upset about having to release it online. You and I both know that film belongs in a theater, especially if he's planning a 70mm release or simultaneous IMAX. Dune is an epic novel that needs an epic platform. I hope he's done it justice. I love the book but only managed to read it all the way through once and that was years ago.
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    Er, Dune? That would be Villeneuve. I don't know anything about it, but it would require a large screen.

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    OMG! My bad, Chris. I confused Nolan's work with Villeneuve. How stupid. I don't know what I was thinking. Glad you caught it.
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    Don't know what Nolan's next project is. To blow up Warner Bros., maybe.

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    He and other directors would gladly push the plunger. Merry Christmas my wise and learned friend. Take care.
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    Wow, what adjectives! You the same, and the same wishes!

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