Take a look behind the script of David Fincher's new biopic about legendary Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz.
For film fans and filmmakers, David Fincher has to be one of the best directors in contemporary cinema. Known for establishing himself as one of the greatest music video directors of his generation in the industry, he quickly rose to fame directing heady psychological thrillers like Se7en, Fight Club, and Gone Girl, and creating hugely successful streaming programs like House from Cards and Mindhunter .
When news came that he was working on his next feature for Netflix, it was a bit of a surprise that it wasn't going to be a brain thriller or a crime thriller. Instead, it was a biography from the period shot in black and white that focused on famous screenwriter Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz.
For those unfamiliar with Mankiewicz or his career and reputation, this might seem like an odd choice. However, as we'll explore, "Mank" is more than a fascinating cinematic character study. He is actually one of the most powerful and important characters in film history. Before you see Mank in theaters or stream it online, let's examine what made Mank so great and why Fincher's choice of topics is so important to him.
David Fincher's flaw
David Fincher's biography on Mankiewicz has been in development since 1997. At some point it would even be Fincher's successor to The Game, before Fincher ended up running the Fight Club instead. The real reason Mankiewicz was on Fincher's radar, however, isn't because of his own interest in the scriptwriter.
David Fincher's father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay for Mank based on his own fascination with the famous writer. The elder Fincher was a longtime journalist and aspiring screenwriter himself. He even wrote a script based on Howard Hughes that almost became a feature (instead, the studios opted for a different version by a different writer).
In many ways, Mank is Jack Fincher's love letter to the cinema, especially his favorite movie of all time, Citizen Kane. He shared his fascination with the classic with his son and it was Jack's dream to see his son direct it. Unfortunately, Jack Fincher passed away in 2003. However, David Fincher was finally able to bring the project to life in his honor.
Who is Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz?
Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz was considered one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. Image via Wikipedia.
Still, the question remains: Who is Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz? The answer is simple: one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. This latest biopic revolves around his personal turmoil and troubles while trying to compose his famous magnum opus Citizen Kane. However, movie buffs also know Mankiewicz for working on famous screenplays such as The Wizard of Oz, The Man of the World, The Pride of the Yankees, and The Pride of St. Louis.
Originally a journalist and theater critic in New York, Mankiewicz became a larger-than-life figure in the film world. He was known for his brilliant mind, lovely writing, and runaway drinking problem. Along with his dozens of credits, he was also a well-known screenwriting doctor the studios used to fix projects and give them the golden "deficiency" touch.
His script style ushered in a new age of conversational, "sophisticated, satirical, quintessentially American film," which was filled with sharp flashes of humor and satire. And while he found most of his early success in comedies, his biggest break would come when he had the opportunity to work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane.
The infamous Citizen Kane script
Citizen Kane has long been considered one of the greatest achievements in cinema and one of the best films ever made. He is also one of the most fascinating and controversial. The ambiguous origins and meanings of the film feed into this controversy. To this day (as you can find in Jack Fincher's script) there is much debate over who the actual writer of the script was, though both Mankiewicz and Welles share script credits.
This was important at the time as the film was hugely popular but also drew the ire of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, on whom the film is allegedly based. The feud continued when the script won an Oscar for Best Screenplay (with no party attending the dinner ceremony) and even lasted until Mankiewicz's death in 1953.
Despite its confused origins, the Citizen Kane script is still considered to be one of the most ambitious yet fundamentally sound scripts of all time. They still teach it in film writing classes to this day as it is a textbook example of how to create a biopic, develop character, and leave a satisfactory ending to an audience. And if you're interested, you can read the script online for free here.
Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz in Mank Biopsy. Image via Netflix.
The story of Herman "Mank" Mankiewicz is important to both aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers. And Fincher's latest bio does a great job of bringing both the character and his work to life. The film also serves as a vehicle to further connect the beginnings of classic Hollywood with our new age of Netflix and digital cinema.
Citizen Kane itself is a great example of how a script and film can capture the essence of a place and a time. It can build and develop a character who feels bigger than life but is actually closer to reality than you think. Jack Fincher's script can also be viewed as a reflection of his own life, his own disappointments in getting projects off the ground, and enough space for his son to bring his story to life.
Overall, Mank tells an important story and gives an insight into how industry giants write scripts and make films. It might not be the big budget blockbuster you'd expect from David Fincher, but for anyone with a serious interest in film it is definitely worth exploring as part of your film tour.
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Cover photo via Netflix.