Monday, August 15, 2022

Movie review: Mank


Netflix released on November 13 a movie titled Mank, which is a biographical drama about screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz and his development of the screenplay for Citizen Kane.

The 1941 drama starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Dorothy Comingore has been picked regularly as the Greatest Film Ever Made. In Sight & Sound magazine’s once-a-decade critics’ and directors’ poll, it held onto the top spot from 1962 to 2002 but fell to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the 2012 poll.

To be fair, not all critics see it as the best film ever made. Moviegoers who are members of IMDB put it at 67th place in a recent poll.

That’s not terrible, though, so it is clear there’s something about Citizen Kane that makes it a movie classic.

Two student reporters recently reviewed Mank and found it to be a little over their heads at times but good enough that it beat studying ionic nomenclature in chemistry class for an hour and a half.

“The further I got into the movie, the more I realized that no explanation would be given for the storyline,” wrote Cesca Stamati in The Harbinger student newspaper at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas. “Even after rewinding some scenes multiple times, my understanding of the movie was practically nonexistent.”

Lucy Valeski at York High School in Elmhurst, Illinois, wrote that she couldn’t immerse herself in the characters of Mank, despite the very intimate feeling of its 70-year-old inspiration.

Mank makes the audience feel like an outsider,” she wrote in This Is York. “I experienced a removal from the characters instead of an immersion into their world … [but] a few pepperings of humorous deadpanned lines and absurd utterances from Amanda Seyfriend’s Marion Davis, including ‘jeepers that Hitler is the creeps’ lifted the mood.”

A redeeming quality of Mank, Ms Valeski points out, is probably the cinematography: since it’s about moviemaking in 1940s Hollywood, the film is shot in black-and-white. She grew a little impatient with the technique, though, saying that the “intentional flaws and outdated choices felt inauthentic and orchestrated,” but admits the film is probably a front-runner at the Academy Awards for cinematography.

Ms Stamati agreed. Despite her struggle to follow the movie’s purpose, she wrote that she “couldn’t ignore the dazzling costumes and historical charm. The transatlantic accents of the actors and black-and-white filter transported me to the time period and satisfied my expectation of experiencing early Hollywood. But the movie would’ve been all the more captivating if it explained even a little bit of what was happening at the time.”

Noting that Mank never shied away from making a political point, Ms Valeski also claims to have found a little bit of what was happening at the time in one of the film’s last scenes, which makes a metaphor for the art of moviemaking out of an organ grinder’s monkey. The monkey gets all dressed up and heads out to the street with the organ grinder. But ultimately it’s the monkey’s decision to dance or not dance, and when the monkey decides to dance, the organ grinder must play.

“The art form’s, not the industry’s, unique ability to [define] generations of thought and policy is truly the magic of the movies,” she concludes.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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