R for language and alcoholism. Mank drinks like a fish and does horrible things when he drinks. He drinks to the point where he vomits in front of a group of high-fallootin' big-wigs. Realize, I'm stating that you see vomit in all its barfy glory. In terms of visual things, it probably would be considered pretty tame. Someone kills himself, but you only see the flash of the gun firing. Still probably a genuine R-rating.
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
A former student actually wrote me about this one. I got a Facebook Messenger announcement out-of-the-blue from a student I haven't talked to in years begging me to watch this movie. I mean, I was planning on doing so already. But knowing me, I would have sat on my hands about it for a while, hoping that my wife would be excited about watching it one day. But when my rental copy of Silence had a scratch on it, I used that opportunity to push Mank up the list, thus giving this blog a bit of timeliness to it.
One of the things about Citizen Kane, besides the fact that I've seen it far too many times, is that it is one of those movies that is an impressive watch, but rarely do I have fun with it. I'm never going to attack that movie in my wildest dreams, but there is something that maybe doesn't transcend the way that it used to. Part of it comes from knowing that there's a greater metanarrative happening with the film that gives the events on screen a degree of importance that it otherwise wouldn't have. I mean, it would always be an impressive film regardless, but knowing that Orson Welles was directly taking on William Randolph Hearst is what makes the film so captivating. But Hearst has always been a historical figure for me. And he's not even a part of history where we have an association with. I knew that he had a media empire and that he was always greedy for more, and a lot of that I gleaned from Citizen Kane itself.
So seeing Mank does a lot for me. Its goal is to make Citizen Kane personal again. I'm eventually going to steer away from this point. But its primary goal is successful. I was tempted to watch Citizen Kane again. I mean, it's just sitting there on the shelf and I haven't written about it yet, so it should be a win-win. The only thing that is really stopping me is the notion that I have other movies that I'm really itching to watch, so that's all put into perspective. But this does make the story far more important. See, Citizen Kane was always kind of an intellectual task for me. It was about Orson Welles going up against corporate Hollywood and releasing possibly the most influential movie that ever existed. And the logical historian about me always understood that. But Mank does something that I didn't really think possible: it made me root for the movie. Because I am burdened with the knowledge of the future, I have a hard time empathizing with the people who really fought this battle. It also didn't help that Welles himself is a larger-than-life personality and that makes it hard to relate to him. But Mank is a drunk. He's a smart drunk, but he's a guy who keeps making mistakes. He was never meant to be Hollywood's messiah. He wanted to be part of the establishment, but his darned morality kept getting in the way. That's what I find really interesting.
Mank is this guy that would be criticized by the Church. He has a very strong set of morals. He hates the corporate system and the studio heads who get rich while the poor get poorer. He sees poverty around it and wants it to end. But he's also a man who enjoys his comfort a little too much. He likes what he does and he enjoys his notoriety. He has become a caricature of himself and he revels in it. He bemoans the greed of the upper crust, but never really does much to stop it. Instead, he thrives on being a thorn in people's sides. But when push comes to shove, he causes more misery than he fixes. What ends up becoming of this is that Citizen Kane becomes a film of redemption. Mank's key fault, which is the root of his alcoholism, is his narcissism. He's disappointed that despots aren't being as efficient as they could possibly be. He realizes that he would make a truly evil bad guy and that oddly sours his reaction to other people.
It's so odd that Mank is the protagonist of this piece. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled that he is. But he's also the guy who screws things up for everybody. I went into this movie hoping to get the emotional attachment needed for Citizen Kane, which I again got. But I really got spellbound by the Upton Sinclair stuff that the movie offered. Perhaps it's because I've evolved into a truly vocal hippie since I've seen the despotism associated with President Trump. But Mank is playing the sidelines to both Orson Welles and Upton Sinclair. He's this guy in the center of history who has the power to change the world and he makes things worse. It all comes down to the tragic moment with the King Kong metaphor. We live in an era of yellow journalism once again. Fox News and the like have created these stories out of thin air and I wonder what history would look like had Fox News never been created. But Mank has that moment very concrete for him. Despite his vocal progressivism, he's the guy who came up with the idea for a Fox News. He states plainly that the movie studios have the power to change minds. And he didn't do it out of a sense of patriotism. He did it because he wanted to be right.
Mank, for as alcohol-ridden and cocky as he is, is oddly sympathetic. Like, he sucks. I would never want Mank in my life. He would be insufferable. But he's sympathetic because he's the Icarus narrative. He was always so right about everything, minus the gambling situations, that he wanted credit for everything. But the entire film is about the road to redemption. The broken leg is symbolic of a man who is broken and struggling to health. It's odd to see that it involves the embrace of his greatest vice, the sauce, to get him back to where he's supposed to be. But it is embracing the Mr. Hyde that he has that makes him oddly lovable. There's a line in the movie where Mank's nurse confesses that Mank spends his paycheck saving people from despots. That's this eye-opening moment to who the man really is. But we also realize that everything he does is an attempt at self-flagellation. The audience should realize that Mank hates himself more than any enemy he has. It's actually pretty bizarre that Orson Welles forms such an animosity for this guy because the more heroic that Mank becomes, the less Orson seems to like him.
Why doesn't Orson like him? Part of it seems to come across as wanting to be Hollywood's one and only bad boy. I know a lot about Orson Welles. I studied him a lot. Welles thrives on being downtrodden and oppressed. I mean, I totally dig him and some of the greatest things in my life come from the oppression that Orson thrust upon himself, notwithstanding wine commercials. So when Mank out martyrs himself in front of Orson Welles, I can see that being this moment of contention. It's interesting to watch. It's so bizarre, actually, that Welles is not a bigger character in this story because it is impossible to divorce Orson Welles from Citizen Kane. But I think it really works. Orson Welles has always stolen the spotlight and this movie shows that there's more to this era of history than Orson Welles himself. Similarly, I can't believe how little of William Randolph Hearst we get. Instead, our peek into the world of Hearst comes from Marion Davies. I'm not quite sure what the relationship between Davies and Mank actually is, but there's something larger than life about the whole thing.
Davies is a hard one to nail down. She genuinely seems like an innocent in all of this. She is oddly optimistic, despite the muck that is surrounding her at all times. From a cold-hearted perspective, she seems like she is using Hearst for his money. But she seems to see the best in people, regardless of who they are. She also is smarter than anyone gives her credit for. She comes across as this bimbo, but she's someone who chooses the world around her. It's not that she doesn't know about the horrible elements of the people around her. It's that she chooses to forgive these people because she can. It's weirdly refreshing to see such a wholesome character.
I dug this movie. Yeah, it's long and yeah, you probably need an intimate relationship with Citizen Kane to appreciate a lot of it. But Fincher made something that not only doesn't necessarily feel like Fincher, but something that is riveting and emotional at the same time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.