Citizen Kane. Decent film. You probably had to study it endlessly in your introductory film course at university – it only comes second in the list of films you probably hated to study too much. But there’s a reason why various critical groups and respected filmmakers regularly put Citizen Kane at the top of their list of best films – it’s really, really good! Kane is a cornerstone of film history, one of the few films that will change the course of art forever. It is a caustic satire of big business and politics, a tragic fall from grace and, rightly so, a study of an iconic character.
Sometimes, however, I think the conversation about Kane focuses too much on film theory and canonization instead of reminding us how incredibly fascinating he is to this day. Even if we set aside the heartbreaking drama and technical skill, it’s an explosion. Charles Foster Kane dancing at a party? Absolute royal nonsense. Susan Alexander’s voice teacher? Very funny. Are you worried about a cocoa transfer at the transition of the scene? Hmm, funny, but that’s why I’m here!
That brings us to Mank, a film by a man who also knows how to mix burning ideas with masterly entertainment value. David Fincher’s latest film is a great companion for Kane, who explores the life of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his many jokes.
A look at the past(?)
But let’s make one thing clear: Man is historically inaccurate. This will not happen, which is an important distinction in the discussion. The story of Munk is based on the infamous article by Pauline Kael, Kane Rising, who claims that the father of writer Herman J. Fincher, Jack, wrote the screenplay in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In the many years since Cale’s essay Raising Kane was published in 1971, it has been exhibited and criticised all over the world. Peter Bogdanovich then published a rebuttal of Kane’s rebellion, criticizing Kane’s claims and supporting his old friend, Wells. Ironically, it was later revealed that Kael had stolen Professor Howard Stuber from UCLA while she was writing her essay.
So what exactly happened? As with many things, the truth lies somewhere in between. Mankiewicz wrote the original project, but Wells then designed and cleaned up the script to make it what it has become. Kayle may have some interesting insights into the authors’ theory and the number of studies that have proven to be more collaborative than one might think, but her research has left the stage of ephemeral reflection behind.
But even if the man starts from the same point of view as Cale, he never tries to take that discussion off the table. It’s not about deciding who gets the credit for a scenario, and certainly not about a long story about why Orson Welles is a pirate who stole a much smarter writer than he is. He plays a role in this version of the story, but it’s pretty minimal. Throw out your Orson Wells defense in a thousand words. The guy’s not interested.
Munk uses his perspective to explore life, well, Munk! (I have absolutely no data to support this claim, but Mann can break the record in most cases where the film says its title). In particular, how important factors in his life and attitude influenced what led to the Citizen Kane scenario, from his relationship with William Randolph Hearts to his run for governor of California in 1934. We find Mank (Gary Oldman) in 1940, recovering from a car accident. His days consist of heavy drinking, dictating the script to his secretary Rita Alexander (Lily Collins), the occasional phone call from Wells herself (Tom Burke), and heavy drinking. As with Citizen Kane, mankind then works in a non-linear way and remembers the time of mankind in Hollywood in the 1930s to show his influence on the screenplay.
Look at all this while you walk and talk!
For your information: It’s probably best to watch Mank with subtitles. The film imitates the fast pace and the recognizable dialect of the films of the 1930s and 1940s. It’s okay, just something to get used to. The real man was funny, and the script tears up his conversations with parody calls, flashbacks and allusions, as well as numerous examples of the actors using a middle-Atlantic accent or similar maniarisms.
Finker compares these quick calls with quick instructions and, with the help of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a great score. The walking and talking scenes are close to a hectic pace. If you turn around, you might miss all the chatter.
I suspect that such an uncompromising production might not interest many casual cameramen. The fact that humanity is no longer in the top 10 of Netflix, just a few days after its release, could indicate that it is not a great success. But there are so many benefits to enjoying the waves of Munk, including a lot of laughter. The man may feel a bit slow at first, but he’s also full of biting reviews and literary punches! I often notice that many people use [insert film here] as a stool for later screenings when a film is a bit cold after the first few hours, but for Mankind this may be a good time to use it. A few hours will not only help you understand what The Man mumbles after almost falling into a coma, but the layers of the script will also be affected.
Stop calling the man a love letter
Another thing that bothers me about Munk’s conversation: People almost immediately refuse to call it a love letter to be filmed. No, it’s not. The fact that a film about Hollywood was shot in black and white does not make it a loving ode to cinema or industry. The Artist comes to mind, and this movie is really, really, really bad.
Man actively despises the Hollywood machinery of the time (and indeed of today) and criticises all those involved, such as Louis B. Meyer (played by Arliss Howard, who needs more actors because he’s good at just about everything), the co-founder of MGM, presents himself as a devilish bastard throughout the film. After the best walk in the film, Meyer walks to one of his buildings, where he stands in front of his employees and explains to them all, with a serious face, that for the time being they will have to accept half their salary because of financial problems. He advertises it as a great opportunity for everyone to get involved and help the team, while promising to pay them the full amount later on. Apparently, he never does.
Man stands at the crossroads of politics and entertainment. Besides the excitement of Hollywood, we follow the Californian governor’s race of 1934 between Frank Merriam and Upton Sinclair, a race in which many Hollywood greats like Meyer played a big manipulative role. It’s a relatively deep cut for references (I can’t say I’ve been diving into the history of California elections in the 1930s), but it’s very detailed about the corruption that resulted from the machinations behind the scenes of the elite. Mankind gets involved in many of these conversations because people like William Randolph Hearst think he’s just a funny guy.
And while Louis B. Mayer’s inflammatory remarks, which at one point even compared Upton Sinclair to Hitler, make you realize that it’s the way mankind uses Hearst that gets stuck in my crawling. Hearst is played by Charles Dance, who is not only a great actor, but also one of the most brilliant voices in the business. But mankind usually prefers to be quiet. Instead, his Hearst lets all his subordinates speak for him. He knows that he is the most powerful person in a room; he can do whatever he wants and he can remain untouchable by doing all his work in relative secrecy. Still, he loves everything. You can feel his presence in every character, he’s a puppeteer. He’s got everything under control.
Plus, I screamed when I realized who was playing Upton Sinclair. No spoilers here, but how can you not love Mank if he decides to do it! !!! For casting.
Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried
The two actors who make a lot of noise are Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and with good reason. Although Oldman is one of the best-known actors of his generation, since winning an Oscar for his role as Winston Churchill in Dark Hour (which was undoubtedly a reward for a pseudo addition to his life, as he remained unknown at the Academy for years), he has begun to sink into the realm of live-action clutter with roles in films like Mary, a film in which nothing happens for almost ninety minutes. You know it’s still there, it’s just a matter of getting the right stuff. As a character, mankind is exactly that.
Oldman has always been a very theatrical artist. It is known that he deforms his posture, adds weight when needed, constantly shouts or does everything necessary to get the job done. People offer many opportunities in this respect. Although he spends most of his time pouting and drinking to sleep in his bed, Oldman’s husband has many subtle whims that express his general discouragement, from the expression on his chin when he lies down to dictate a script to his stiff, blunt movements. He also does excellent work with well-written dialogues. His lines are a personal highlight.
But perhaps what impressed me most was Amanda Seyfried. She’s an actress I’ve always admired, but I wish there were better roles on her CV. She’s had a lot of turkeys over the years – I immediately think of films like Clapper and A Million Ways to Die in the West – but she’s never been a problem. I am very grateful to him for finding a great role in Marion Davis, who largely ignores the transgressions of her partner William Randolph Hurt. She works within her need-to-know relationship, but she still has many complications, many of which are related to Seyfried’s magnetic presence. She even manages to put a difficult accent with ease. Attention to this prize is well-deserved.
David Fincher does it again
In truth, the attempt to restore the old feeling is what man struggles with the most. The sound design, with the muted sound you would hear in an old Hollywood photo, is impeccable, but the digital photography and camera work is very modern. It creates a strange dissonance, and although I got used to it after a while, it’s a strange mistake for a meticulous director like Fincher. Moreover, the different plots are not as tight as they could have been, such as Mank’s relationship with his wife Sarah, played by Tuppence Middleton (who does an excellent job with the material at her disposal). Yet The Man is a grand performance that transforms what could be a useless bait for Oscar into a mysterious and biting affair.
I see The Man with the Social Network in Fincher’s filmography. Not in quality, but in the way they are based on real events, but take considerable liberties in their stories to dig into their caustic nuclei. Social networking is certainly not the way Facebook was founded, and Munk is not exactly what Citizen Kane has become, but not everything has to be right for the spirit of the story to be right.
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