Mank talks about how an uncustomary style of storytelling came into existence, the cynical and often deranged minds that triggered a change, the politics, the controversies, and the fabled Hollywood of the early 40s. Mank is a narration of a narrative. It is a story that traces the baby steps which brought about a shift in the perceptions. It is an analysis of the characters involved in the creation of what became a touchstone in the history of American Cinema. It talks about the controversial life of Herman Mankiewicz and how George Orson Welles famous masterpiece, Citizen Kane, came into existence.
Mank directed by David Fincher, tries to analyze the Hollywood of early 40s, through the withering perspective of a screenwriter, perpetually drunk and immensely scornful yet idealistic in his ways and means, Herman Mankiewicz. The screenplay by Jack Fincher, cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt and the dramatic fade to black transitions, put to use by Kirk Baxter, together with pay their obeisance to Citizen Kane (film).
To Pictures that Talk – Talkies
Gary Oldman plays the character of Herman Mankiewicz, who is given the task of completing a script by none other than the boy wonder himself, Orson Welles. Welles had been given an unconditional and unrestricted authority over how he wanted to make his film, something which was quite a rarity in those days. He gives 90 days to the scathing writer and shifts him to a guest ranch somewhere in Victorville.
Herman Mankiewicz tries to find a novice premise that suits the enterprising spirit of a 25-year-old Orson Welles. Herman doesn’t believe in the age-old saying that a writer should tell the story that he knows best. He often replies to it by saying ” I don’t know that writer.“
Herman meets William Randolph Hearst, played by Charles Dance, on the sets of a film, being produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Hearst, astounded by the wordplay and confidence of this hungover writer, tells him “Films are gonna need people who honour words and give them a voice.” His affinity towards Herman was not because he was an exceptional writer, but due to the ascendency of his witticism.
Finally one night the urge of novelty conceptualized into an idea. A volatile idea of making a film about Wiliam Hearst itself and analysing the different facets of his character. Herman, being bedridden after an accident, tries to document his affiliation with the film industry, as Louis Mayer puts it “A place where buyers pay to buy memories, which still belong to the man who sold it.“
He tries to outline his perception of the man who once swayed the destinies of the nations, who influenced public opinions and was once seen as a candidate for the presidency. Who was an idealist yet fell in love with Marian Davis, while being married? He finds it difficult to pen down this enigma, this protean character and goes through a realization about an innate fact
“In two hours you cannot capture life, you can only do an impression of it.”
Idealistic vs Pragmatic
Herman is shown to be an idealist, maybe one of the reasons why he was lured to build a narrative around William Hearst. But as he dwelled further into his analysis he realised that Hearst was rather a pragmatic idealist. He often comfortably departed from his idealistic norms whenever it favoured him. It seems that David Fincher wanted to emphasize on the importance of this debate and the effect it had on the evaluations made by Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.
Maybe that is why the filmmaker talks about the Upton Sinclair and Frank Marriam run for California elections and the impacting involvement of the big production in the outcome. William Hearst sided with the production houses as they supported Frank Marriam and his capitalist ideologies, though once he was himself seen as somebody who would bring about a social revolution. A man adamant to erase his past, his convolutions and a self-contradicting nature, are a few reasons that captivate the imagination of Herman Mankiewicz. But who would be audacious enough to show such brutal truth with a constant danger of being absolved by it? Only someone trusted the profundity of the process rather than the final outcome.
In a beautifully performed scene, Gary Oldman describes what Herman Mankiewicz thinks about William Hearst. He says that he sees him as a Quixote, an idealist but turned rogue through the years. He also makes a euphemism on the MGM media house owner, Louis Mayer, when he calls him a Sancho.
Herman sees the newspaper giant as someone who runs from his past. A person who is adamant to break free from his idealistic values which he once upheld in his youth. Herman Mankiewicz sees a deluded man who wants more admiration and love. “He lusts for his voters to love him,” says the inebriated screenwriter. He believes that the business tycoon is a pragmatic idealist, a convoluted socialist who values power over people.
Mank – The Rogue ScreenWriter
“If only I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” – says Herman Mankiewicz quoting Blaise Pascal. In 1941 Orson Welles told in an interview that his film, Citizen Kane, is not a narrative of action but an examination of character.
We are able to witness the excruciatingly exhaustive process of examination in Mank. Herman Mankiewicz sees his character as someone who cannot make sense of the materialism around him. He is a collector who doesn’t know what to do with his collection. He is desperate for adulation and seeks attention. He searches for something, a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It is something that he craves for, something he never got. He sees a man whose ways of the revolution were not only contradictory but also impractical.
Herman Mankiewicz builds a narrative inspired by the contortions of Mr Hearst, not a biopic, as he supplements and layers the screenplay with what he thinks would have been the actions of the character in some fictional situations. Maybe dwelling merely into facts was a less exciting terrain for both Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz.
Nature of Change in Cinema
Change in Cinema is a rarity. It’s not every day someone tries to change the way things are done or questions the process. Hardly, anyone tries to find a different way of doing things. Mainly because we are scared of failure and also the economic losses considering it is the most expensive art form we are talking about.
Mank clearly depicts what causes change. It is a concoction of fearlessness, urge for quality, the power to look beyond materialistic gains, foresight and tinge of insanity. The only problem is that realization that a phenomenon has taken place never comes instantly. Lucky are those who live to see the change they have spearheaded. Others merely become the agenda of discussion in intellectual societies.
Mank is exceptionally made that caters to a particular point of view and sticks to it. Amanda Seyfried as Marian Davis, Arliss Howard as Louis. B Mayer and Charles Dance as Hearst deliver some convincing and lived-in performances. Gary Oldman isn’t visible in the film, all you see is a searing idealist, who would get onto your nerves if present in real life. It could be said that Mank propagates a perspective put forward by the 1971 essay of Pauline Kael, “Raising Kane.“
It discredits the contributions of Greg Toland and that it takes a biased point of view in the Welles and Mankiewicz controversy. The perfect execution of deep focus and the mere complexity of shots by Greg Toland triggered something that could be said to be no less than a revolution.
Mank engrosses a 2 hours long narrative. It will paint an amusing picture of a process that instils a sense of invigoration blended with novelty. The film is streaming on Netflix.
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