Mank (2020)

The behind-the-scenes of the creation of Citizen Kane, Mank is a cinephile’s dream experience chronicling the avant-garde writing of a masterpiece – with orgasmic meta-analysis of filmmaking & its own lore, rich characterization, Golden-Age nostalgia, Fincher / Oldman-pedigree, glorious black-and-white chiaroscuro visuals. Best Film Of 2020. 9.5/10.

Plot Synopsis: 1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish “Citizen Kane.”

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

‘The Greatest Film Of All-Time’

The Name Is A Sacred One In Cinematic Lore & The Ultimate Target On The Back Of Any Touch: The Ultimate Test Of A Director

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

The name evokes goosebumps on its very mention across the cinematic landscape: Citizen Kane. Perhaps the greatest film ever made [& done by a 24 year-old wünderkind, nonetheless], O. Welles’ 1941 masterpiece changed the entire construct and history of filmmaking: a plot-eclectic, avant-garde metaphorization tale of power, love, & tragedy just as celebrated today as it was on opening night in Golden-Age Hollywood ~80 years ago. Artform-shaping Michelangelo-Piéta’s like this come around once in a century – and if you want to paint the biggest possible target on your back in the world of filmmaking: make a movie about, remaking, or analyzing Citizen Kane. Of little surprise no one ever had the balls [or stomach] to put their career/reputation on the line to try to add to the lore, there’s finally a film that dares to present itself for veritable evisceration to do so: a lost film by a 1990’s Jack Fincher his son David is bringing his Academy-Award winning resumé from Fight Club to Se7en to Gone Girl to The Social Network to direct. The backstory to Kane is finally here, and it’s a religious rite of passage for anyone who claims to love film. The behind-the-scenes of the creation of Citizen Kane, Mank is a cinephile’s dream experience – chronicling the avant-garde writing of a masterpiece with orgasmic meta-analysis of filmmaking and its mythical predecessor’s lore, rich characterization, Fincher/Oldman-pedigree, thematic and allegorical complexity, and glorious black-and-white [technically-masterstroke] chiaroscuro visuals: The Best Film Of 2020.

The Best Film About A Film Ever Made

The Film Feels Strikingly-Authentic To The Original It Eulogizes: Non-Linear Plot Structure, Biographical Vignettes, Period-Detail, Lookalikes, & Cinematic Language

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

The first criterion noticeable about Mank is how strikingly-authentic it feels to the original and big daddy of filmmaking it eulogizes [& adds lore-exposition to]: Citizen Kane. The film begins in 1940, wherein a 24 year-old prodigal director named Orson Welles is lured to Hollywood by a historic RKO Pictures contract of limitless scale: absolute creative autonomy, no oversight, and the pure freedom and resources to make any movie about any subject with anyone he wanted. The recruit of a washed-up alcoholic named Herman J. Mankiewicz whose glory-screenplays were behind him to write the script about a subject the duo could get killed for brings a mutually-symbiotic relationship with perilous endgame: a prismatic exposition on money, fame, love, and power through a semi-autobiographical portraiture of newspaper-magnate William Randolph Hearst. Though Welles lingers in the background of the film’s events pulling strings like the god who set the chain-of-events of Kane in motion, the major protagonist of this version of the story is Mankiewicz: whose life is given the same treatment by-technicalities. A non-linear plot structure, biographical vignettes into seemingly-unrelated events ‘jumping around like Mexican jumping beans’ of critical viewpoint-shaping importance upon deeper psychoanalysis, dramatic opera-like emotion, scarily-lookalike castings [especially in Mank & Welles], exact-recreation transitions like the cigarette-burns, and cinematic language as sharp as a surgeon’s blade all communalize between Mank and Kane – thanks mostly to the film’s own O.W.: David Fincher.

The Cinematography & B/W Chiaroscuro

A Breathtaking Canvas Of Old Hollywood: Dramatic EMS-Craftsmen Cinematography, Rich Prod Design, Period [Retro-Mono] Score

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

The cinematographical canvas of Mank is positively breathtaking. The lines and angles breathe such pure idiosyncrasy – shots sharply and classically-constructed to pack drama, nostalgia, and wow-factor into every frame. The decision to go black-and-white is another brave choice further evocative of its Mt. Olympus original’s lore: a glorious chiaroscuro the film rocks with confidence painting a brilliant Golden-Age Old-Hollywood elegance capturing with phenomenal detail/period-authenticity the feel of 1930’s tinsel-town any cinephile will get lost in happily. This is only furthered by magnificent costume and set-design juxtaposed with real journeys onto the biggest sets of movie studios from MGM to Universal to Warner Bros. nostalgically-transformed to exactly how they were in the lost-era of moviemaking – down to even the background posters of The Marx Bros. and Wizard Of Oz. Mank is a project certain to win Best Cinematography of 2020 next Oscars season by CLC’s vote: a technical masterstroke achievement by Erik Messerschmidt, ASC in bold, epic, dazzling 35mm hi-dynamic range. The score is equally-impressive: a soundscape of soft woodwinds & ominous minor pads juxtaposed with major brass triumphance that perplexes and foreshadows the mystery/intrigue of the story from its opening credits. The original orchestration sequences by Reznor & Ross are balanced by pure ’30’s era-music: swing, jazz, tango, and ornate/rich/luscious cymbal-taps and piano keys – all somehow brought to life in retro monoaural sound to give it that further vintage feel, without losing an ounce of its sensory experience power on modern-age speakers.

The Pure Golden-Age Hollywood Nostalgia

The Panegyric It Paints Of LA & Classic Big Picture Moviemaking Brings Tears To Any Cinephile’s Eye – & The Early Stages Of Film

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

There is plenty of curated exhibition on the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking in Mank. The panegyric it paints of LA is one of high dreams, limitless-excess, materialism, bold showmanship, and epic scale – one that will get you on a nostalgic starstruck cloud-nine refusing shellshock back to the ground until long after the credits roll. The high is palliated by the realism of how movie conversations work behind the golden marquis of roaring lions and dual-consonants: a refreshing trip into the backrooms of big movie-studios hearing writers of the next big movie pitch us their vision/concept taking a film from mere remnants of an idea to screen through the egocentrism, money, and powerful people to impress. There is film history exposition on the critical bloom-evolution of ‘talkies’ from silent pictures: wherein writers and screenplay became just as important as cinematography, score, and acting: the ultimate high-stakes/scale artform for all major senses, charming-handled taking us back into the textbooks of film history in a convincing picture-historical lesson. The milky, dreamlike coup-de-maître of its setting, period-detail, and sensory package are shone noir-shade on by the inexorable darkness of its screenplay and themes: pouring black-as-night elixir onto the canvas of glitter to showcase the behemoth lurking beneath and ritzy and glamorized exterior of Hollywood.

The Noir-Shade Beneath Tinsel-Town

The Dream Is Bludgeoned By Wild Darkness, Power-Abuse, Egocentrism, Greed, Suicide, & Political Corruption Lurking Between The Lines; A Disgust Of The 1930’s Fueling H.J.M.

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

Mank packs considerable exposition on the horrors of the era and what goes on behind the closed-doors of your favorite movie-studio – all of which fueled the writing of Kane. Of course, there’s the existential terrorization of The Great Depression. The abuse-of-power, insatiable greed, and corruption of studio-heads even withstanding the worst market crash and poorest time in world history is positively-shocking: making heartfelt speeches about cutting salaries across the company [even down to the janitors/key-grips] to ‘save the studio’, but keeping their full salaries as chief-executives, bragging about acting, and never giving back the money they promised to be returned as soon as FDR reopened the banks. A political undercurrent runs throughout Mank [beyond the implications of one of the richest people of all-time: William Randolph Hearst’s patronage], focusing largely on communism vs. socialism and the California 1934 gubernational election of Republican Frank Merriam vs. Democrat Upton Sinclair. The election was one of the most historically-controversial of the 1900’s: proven unethical negative campaign funding and staged-doc footage by the film industry cut the hopes of a Sinclair-revolution of the Marxist proletariat out of political gain for the big-money movie capitalists protecting their own interests. The perverse acts of shocking-evil and corruption [sadistically-twisting film’s beautiful escapism and inspirational potential for greed, excess, and real-world deception] drove many of the complicit parties to suicide, depicted with hard-R darkness in the film’s Metcalf-arc – and catalyzed the insatiable hunger for a scathing indictment of 1930’s Hollywood and the rich-and-powerful by one Herman J. Mankiewicz.

Herman J. Mankiewicz

One Of The Performances Of Gary Oldman’s Lustrous Oscar-Career As The Sardonic, Acclimatized, Drunken Penman Of Kane

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

The sardonic, acclimatized, washed-up, unfulfilled drunk screenwriter of the masterpiece of Citizen Kane, ‘Mank’ is the avant-garde choice of a protagonist against the expectations of the obvious in a behind-the-scenes on the lore: a biography of Orson Welles. Gary Oldman gives one of the performances of his illustrious Oscar-winning career as the alcoholic genius – nailing the downtrodden nuance and grandpaish-gentility of the character [complete with an impressive vocal-subversion sounding like a white-mayo passive accountant] while still hitting the high notes when he gets liquid courage to blithely say whatever he f***ing wants to. Through his story and Kane-authentic vignette time-jumps to events critical to the background of what inspired and gave teeth to his vision for C.K., we’re taken on a tour through complex and extremely-important themes: substance-abuse, art vs. artist, justice in a sea of corruption, cinema’s role and ethics in worldview, and the role of the screenwriter in moviemaking. If a person isn’t perfect and self-indulges in potentially destructive [physical, mental, or both] behaviors, but delivers masterpiece work, does it even really matter? Is cinema the ultimate form of public humiliation and calling-out/chastisement also exploitable for nefarious schemes for millions on-screen, and if so: what is the responsibility of filmmakers? Screenwriters present a story in two-dimensions for translation into three: what is their importance and role in the final product as we see it tens or hundreds of years later; is it over or under-celebrated?

Seyfried & The Real-Life Inspirations

A Best Actress-Guarantee Just As Impressive, Seyfield Is Spot-On As Bronx-Talky Showgirl Marion – A Game/Hunt Of Palpable Danger

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

‘People see you on the cover of Modern Screen, and [have the pretense to] think they know you’. The magisterial performances go beyond Gary Oldman’s lead: perhaps even more impressively the herculean effort of one Amanda Seyfried. This will be the Best Supporting Actress performance of the 2021 Oscars – and I’m prepared to go full-on Frankenstein riot if it somehow loses. The breathtaking accuracy by which she paints the Bronx-talky showgirl muse of Citizen Kane just as thematically-major as its newspaper tycoon is positively-miraculous: a performance out of time that somehow manages to steal the show on the ultimate stage in front of a pedigreed crew. The portrayal of her Marion giving further backstory exposition to the untalented hack second-wife of a powerful magnate whom forces acceptance of her comédienne/singing by motion pictures through sheer influence and money-talk is ghastly and loaded with palpable social-commentary – a reflexively-characterized Da Vinci-codex of feeling sorry for her career-suicidal tokenism status as a pet just like the exotic ones around her at Hearst Castle, yet envious of her position of limitless glamorized riches even she admits it’s hard to complain from within. Mank is a parabolic character-study of its eponymous screenwriter – but also of the main character its protagonist [or arguably: antagonist] draws inspiration from: how the perilous hunt of analyzing and positing massive bombshells about larger-than-life public figures’ lives affects everyone involved. The outside performances are strong as well: Lily Collins’ shy and timid soldier’s wife/scribe Rita Alexander, Middleton’s dutiful wife sacrificing security for her husband’s career-ambition Poor Sara, Charles Dance’s commanding and calculating William Randolph Hearst, Pelphrey’s torn brother of the biggest target-painted back in moviemaking Joseph, and Arliss Howard & Toby Leonard’s vitriolic crooked corporatized studio-heads Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick, respectively.

The Meta-Analysis & Job Of Critic/Writer

Biggest Of All: The Exposition Of Its Own Lore Packed Into Every Line – The Groundbreaking Avant-Garde Masterpiece Of Power, Love, Wealth, Fame, & Rosebud

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

These all pale in comparison to the film’s biggest achievement: meta-exposition on its own lore packed into every masterfully-screenwritten line. The screenwriting of Mank might be some of the sharpest, most cogent, and brilliant I’ve ever seen in my life: the job of critic and writer interwined as it gives background exposition and phenomenal descriptions on the inspiration/execution/thought-process of Citizen Kane’s biggest scenes with period, modern Quixote operatic character-study origins, and interview-accuracy alongside analyzing everything from alcoholism to its characters’ relationships to the machine of hollywood and corruption of power & money. There’s humor, heart, impossible-scale ideas, complex allegory and philosophy, and extreme meta-cogitation in what elevates the film to the best of the year like Mank did by rebuking movies’ rule-making of ‘aiming low and dumbing-down for audiences not paying their hard-earned 25 cents to see Shakespeare’s Macbeth or an opera’ and the parable of the organ-grinder’s monkey. A nightmare of expressionism catalyzed with cynical hard-R dark comedy and screenwriting-panegyric – all set in the magnificence of Golden-Age Hollywood. If there’s one flaw, it’s the ending. The film casts a light on the importance, no vitality of Herman J. Mankiewicz’ writing of Citizen Kane towards its All-Time success, but let’s be realistic here: it’s still Orson Welles’ movie. Directed, produced, edited, and starred-in by the 24-year old wünderkind, it’s easily his movie and achievement – screenwriting is important and by far the most underappreciated/overlooked aspect of filmmaking, but it’s just one two-dimensional part ~trivial without the overall-portraiture of it on the big screen, as proven by the fact that this lost script for Mank itself was written by Jack Fincher in the ’90’s and no one knew about it for 30 years until the film.

Conclusion

The Best Film Of 2020

The Greatest Film About A Film Ever Made: A Beautiful, Dark, Complex, Pure Cinematic Experience That Adds Masterpiece Depth & Behind-The-Scenes To The Best Of All-Time

Photograph Courtesy Of: Netflix Original Films

Overall, Mank is a masterpiece and the best film of 2020. Netflix and Fincher have managed to [somehow] craft a mesmerizing accompanying-piece to what’s quite arguably the Greatest Film Of All-Time – one that echoes/reverberates its structure and adds backstory-elegance to Citizen Kane even 79+ years later. The cinematography, production-design, costumes, and glorious black-and-white chiaroscuro of visuals are positively-breathtaking to behold as a visual package – establishment of a brushstroke of vibrant Golden-Age Hollywood nostalgia that bathes the film in a glamorized luminescence any cinephile will melt into, before it tempers the glamorized tinsel-town excess and sumptuous revelry with noir shade, pain, suicide, corruption, and hard-R mature darkness. The revisionist, semi-autobiographical portraiture it paints of Herman J. Mankiewicz as he battles alcoholism, studio-interference, egocentrism, career-failure, remarkable traumatization, and political corruption he experiences/witnesses firsthand to swirl it into the swan-song cataclysm of fame and riches of CK for a scathing indictment of the 1930’s he saw is magnificent – brought to life by a toned-down, effete, acclimatized Gary Oldman performance just as strong as his Academy Award-winning resumé/filmography would suggest. The Best Actress Oscar can go to Amanda Seyfried right now for her jaw-droppingly spot-on Bronx-talky showgirl Marion a kitten caught in a cyclone of what was to come. The film tackles weighty & ambitious themes like communism vs. socialism, the treatment of the writer’s room, and business of big-studio moviemaking – all with screenwriting so sharp-as-a-surgeon’s-blade, you can blink and miss it: some of the best writing I’ve felt in years. Finally, there’s precocious meta-analysis on the big daddy of cinema: Citizen Kane – packing heavy exposition on the background events that clearly-influenced its lens, best-friend betrayals, battles for credit, psychological-elucidation on the process of crafting major scenes, how the film evolved and changed the entire history of filmmaking, and mimic of many of CK’s technicalities like plot-structure unrestricted by narrative constructs or linear storytelling and vignettes of eclectic events of significance. The film is damn-near perfect until its final scene that does cockily overstate its significance and downplay the role of the prodigy who brought it to life in Orson Welles – the screenplay was a masterpiece and critical to Kane’s success, but just one part of many almost-exclusively brought to life by the Welles who created ~everything else [including the idea]. Of course, this is commentative on the battle and an overlookable/infinitesimal nitpick in the grand scheme. The behind-the-scenes of the creation of Citizen Kane, Mank is a cinephile’s dream experience – chronicling the avant-garde writing of a masterpiece with orgasmic meta-analysis of filmmaking and its mythical predecessor’s lore, rich characterization, Fincher/Oldman-pedigree, thematic and allegorical complexity, and glorious black-and-white [technically-masterstroke] chiaroscuro visuals. The Best Film Of 2020.

Official CLC Score: 9.5/10