‘Mank’ is a technical marvel at every turn.
by Michael Bergeron
“I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”
The quote is from “Citizen Kane.” It’s one of very few moments in the new film ‘Mank’ that quotes directly from “Kane.”
Another such moment occurs near the end where Herman Mankiewicz (a solid turn as a dipsomaniac from Gary Oldman) enrages Orson Welles (Tom Burke) and Welles tosses a liquor cabinet across the room. “That’s what the film needs, an act of purging violence,” snips Mank.
While much of the press about ‘Mank’ states the film revolves around the writing credit for “Citizen Kane,” in actuality it’s a film about producing art in the throes of addiction as well as standing up for one’s political beliefs.
There’s so much writer’s angst bandied about in ‘Mank’ that a truly fair comparison would be “Barton Fink.”
David Fincher, working from a script by his father Jack Fincher (who passed away in 2003) has beautifully realized a tale a Hollywood long gone, filmed in evocative black-and-white. Sometimes there’s a halo surrounding objects in the frame, sometimes the film is so darkly lit you think you’re in the middle of a film noir.
The film was originally set up in the ‘90s with Kevin Spacey in the lead but the studio balked that it wouldn’t be shot in color.
Fincher has made a film for people who won’t have to be told who Charles Lederer is. When Great Garbo makes an appearance she has no lines but is merely a guest at a lavish dinner at San Simeon. When John Houseman states that he’s staying at a spa called Shoulder Arms you have to wonder who among the viewers recognize that as the title of a Chaplin anti-war film from 1918.
Typewriter written descriptions complete with typing sounds and adjustment of the carriage introduces major scenes. While the majority of the film takes place in a desert resort where Mankiewicz is holed up with a broken leg writing the initial draft of “Citizen Kane” the parts of the film that soar are flashbacks that take in the progression of cinema from silent to sound, Mank’s friendship with Marion Davies and the relation of L. B. Mayer to his MGM employees.
As much as the audiences wants to weigh in on the merits of who wrote what in “Kane” Fincher keeps diverting to the hotly contested 1934 gubernatorial race in California that pitted conservative Republican Frank Merriam against Democrat (”He’s a socialist.”) Upton Sinclair. The moral backbone of each character is defined on where they stand regarding the election.
While Mayer supports Merriam he also asks his employees to go on half salary while he restructures MGM. Does anybody even remember with Francis Coppola halted production on “One From the Heart” and asked the crew to continue to work sans pay?
Frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross give the film a bouncy big band jazzy appeal, constantly using the drum opening of “Sing, Sing, Sing” but never actually going further than the percussive beginning. Erik Messerchmidt’s cinematography takes the viewer to another world.
“Mank” opens exclusively at the River Oaks Theatre in Houston this Friday, November 20 and premieres on Netflix in early December.
Watch the trailer: