Saturday, December 5, 2020

WHO WAS HERMAN J. MANKIEWICZ?

 

Mank, the new David Fincher directed feature film on Netflix, answers a question for many fans of the Orson Wells masterpiece Citizen Kane, who exactly was Herman Mankiewicz, the screen writer? Effectively portrayed by Gary Oldman, managing to be both flamboyant, folksy and occasionally enigmatic , the film lays out in flashbacks and fast-forwards the tale of a gifted alcoholic playwright and screenwriter who, in financial arrears, agrees to write a screenplay for Wells  and take no screen credit for the writing. All told, I thought it was a fine motion picture, with sharp writing, a well selected cast who perform admirably, and solid direction from Fincher who, I believe, knows exactly how long to linger and when to leave a scene for another piece of the story. From my recollection of other of his works--Fight Club, Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl-- the man has a superb sense of how to pace a film drama. And, as with the case of Gone Girl, he is especially effective with the ever problematic flashback ploy; it's my view that he was seamless in the transitions between the present-day storyline and past events in Mank's life without losing coherence. And the film is visually gorgeous, a beautiful black and white composition that provides a well-shaded, dreamy quality without lapsing into over stylized unreality. And I don't particularly mind that there is not a particularly heavy dramatic arc the lend this film a contrived gravitas. Mankiewicz is an interesting personage involved with the creation of what's considered one of the finest movies ever made, and partially fictionalized or not, the level of attention brought to his personality serves the subject splendidly. This is , to be sure, the kind of movie engineered, however artfully, to allow the leading man to chew up the scenery with a bravura performance, but it is a relief that Gary Oldman's portrayal of Mankiewicz is steady and consistent, the quirks and mannerisms fluid and understated. There is a wonderful cohesion between all the movie parts. I thought Ma nk was a satisfying watch.

The trailer makes it seem that there is something more sinister afoot , but what we actually have is a splendid and finely written portrait of a gifted man limited in his work and production by an alcoholic ennui and cynicism  ; Mankiewicz .  a presence that is droll, melancholic, ironic, erudite , truth telling , is seen in the Fincher film ( interestingly, the screenplay is by David Fincher's late father Jack Fincher, who wrote the script about fifteen years ago) who views himself as an artist dedicated to truth, beauty and authenticity and yet finds himself  making deals and compromising his idealism in order to scrape by financially. Oldman brings his is best set of talents to creating the intellectual shambles that is this screen version of Mankiewicz, and it is rather a pleasure to see recreations of L.B.Mayer, William Randolph Hearst , Marion Davis and John Houseman, names from the film and California history books, brought to the screen dramatically but not cartoonish. Fincher , the director, effectively creates the period and mimics the baroque style of Wells from KANE--lots of deep focus, a black and white style with any manner of shadings that make this whole thing seem other worldly . The center of this story, though, is Mankiewicz,  Mank,  an interesting character who's story  is of a man who ought to have achieved far greater fame and renown by dent of his talent, but who seemed intent on sabotaging his future with drunk escapades and a compulsion to speak of things political and ethical that didn't sit well with his higher ups. 

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