Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 12, 2020


Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:52 am

CounterPunch, December 11, 2020

In the first twenty minutes or so of David Fincher’s overrated Netflix film “Mank,” we see Gary Oldman lying in bed with his leg in a full cast slugging down one whiskey after another. Mank is the nickname of Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” widely regarded as the greatest American film ever made. It is 1940 and Orson Welles has tasked him with cranking out a script in sixty days while he recovers from a serious automobile accident in a country retreat. There are two women trying to keep him productive, a thankless task given his alcoholism. One is a German nurse who barely escaped the Nazi death camps. The other is a British secretary who is both taking dictation from Mank and nagging him to stay sober and focus on his work.

Played by Gary Oldman in a scenery-chewing performance that impressed most critics, Mank is always coming up with some arch, overly clever dialog that has about as much relationship to the way that people speak as I do with running in a marathon. When the secretary learns that Mank was a frequent guest of William Randolph Hearst, she asks him what his mistress Marion Davies was like. He replies: “Why is it when you scratch a prim, starchy schoolgirl, you get a swooning motion picture fan who has forgotten all she learned about the Battle of Hastings.” The secretary, of course, is the starchy schoolgirl and his reference to the Battle of Hastings was a put-down since he assumed she knew nothing about it. She immediately shows him up by identifying the day it took place, which is the kind of drama you can expect from this film.

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  1. Great review. Thanks.

    Comment by Brad Rockwell — December 12, 2020 @ 5:16 am

  2. I humbly throw in my two cents from Italy: In ‘Mank’, the latest parasitical add-on to the Welles’s story, we’re into heroism in a big way. Gary Oldman does Herman Mankiewicz as 131 minutes of a drunk act. But of course he’s a lovable lush, full of Algonquin Round Table sarcasm. Staggering around in the 1930s, glass in hand, he’s the real author of the ‘Citizen Kane’ script. See Pauline Kael for that bit of fiction. But David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ is very much a 2020 movie, released in November and on Netflix in December. Mankiewicz also voted for Bernie Sanders/Upton Sinclair, and knew the difference between Communism and Socialism, standing up to conspiracy theories that swung the election the wrong way. A lot of good Fincher’s luscious black-and-white, with deep shots imitating Welles, will do us as we watch ‘Mank’ online. Remember Scorsese and Cannes waging battle with Netflix? That was a century ago, before the virus. All over, except that Hollywood will still keep chewing on a past that’s been so simplified for dummies it doesn’t even deserve the misnomer myth.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — December 12, 2020 @ 7:59 am

  3. The trashing of Welles in this film is remarkable. A complete rewriting of history, based largely on the enormously overrated Pauline Kael’s long and long ago essay about the making of Citizen Kane. Welles’s talent, as revolutionary director of plays as a teenager, as radio voice, as filmmaker, as actor, as magician even, is astounding. And it dwarfs the considerable skills of Mankiewicz. Fincher’s treatment of Welles in Mank is disgraceful, a real insult to the best director this country has ever seen. And while Mank was a somewhat ersatz radical (though to his great credit, he sponsored and helped with money, many Jews fleeing the Nazis), Welles was the real deal.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — December 12, 2020 @ 8:44 pm

  4. As we scratch around our burnt-out country looking for heroes, it’s pathetic we can’t do better than Herman J. Wisecracks versus Hearst? It reminds me of the brilliant jokes Italians came up with against Il Duce before he closed them down.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — December 13, 2020 @ 11:44 am

  5. The watered-down Socialist governor of California: 1939-1943, Culbert Olson – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culbert_Olson. He’d be a radical now except for his pro-internment position.

    Comment by Boris Seymour — December 15, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

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