(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was a poem about the opening scene of a movie about my life. With this film about a scriptwriter in mind, I decided to get a bit meta.)
We open with a panning shot
That swings from a suburban street
And slowly lifts and nears a house
With bushes bloomed in April heat.
A window’s lit, and through its pane
We see a young man deep in thought,
Studying his laptop screen,
Unsure if he should type or not.
He reads the fourteenth prompt again,
And shifts upon the seat below him.
Then, he cracks a knowing grin
And swiftly rattles off this poem.
MPA rating: R (solely for some language, a fairly light R)
The name Herman Mankiewicz may not mean much to non-cinephiles, but he’s still held in high esteem for his Oscar-winning screenplay for Citizen Kane, sharing credit with Orson Welles, much to the chagrin of Welles’ ego. David Fincher’s treatment of Mank, as his friends called him, is an undeniable labor of love, with a screenplay written by Fincher’s father Jack prior to his 2003 death and delayed over the next two decades. On top of that, the black-and-white cinematography and sound were painstakingly designed to mimic the style of old Hollywood, though the level of that detail is more appreciated by film historians than average viewers.
Oscar nominee Gary Oldman brings Mank to life as a washed-up genius too witty and fond of alcohol for his own good, Whether he’s dictating the Citizen Kane script while recuperating from a broken leg in his desert hideaway or schmoozing with Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), and Marion Davies (Oscar-nominated Amanda Seyfried) ten years earlier, Oldman is brilliant as ever at portraying afflicted brilliance, while the rest of the cast is strong but somewhat forgettable compared to him.
Despite Oldman’s ever award-worthy presence, the true star is the script, which bears an old-timey eloquence that is uncommon these days, the kind that trusts in the intelligence of the audience to appreciate its wit. With such a reliance on dialogue, the film can get dry at times, but it also elucidates interesting details of Mank’s story, such as his assistance of Jews escaping Nazi Germany and how he changed his mind about receiving credit for the Citizen Kane script. From what I understand, the history is embellished to give Mank a greater claim to Citizen Kane’s brilliance than Orson Welles, but, taken with a grain of salt, it’s still an impressively crafted vision of classic Hollywood through the bleary eyes of one of its great writers.
Best line: (Louis B. Mayer) “This is a business where the buyer gets nothing for his money but a memory. What he bought still belongs to the man who sold it. That’s the real magic of the movies. And don’t let anybody tell you different.”
Ranking: Honorable Mention
© 2022 S.G. Liput
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