We know who directed and starred in Citizen Kane (1941), but who the devil wrote it? Was it the wunderkind director and lead actor Orson Welles, or was it Herman J Mankiewicz, or was it both? And what contributions were made by John Houseman, who was hired by Welles to supervise Mankiewicz during the writing process?
David Fincher’s Mank promises to reveal the truth about Welles’s first feature. The story of a media tycoon inspired by, among others, William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane is regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. Its ground-breaking narrative techniques, particularly its use of deep focus cinematography, remain the subject of study even today. However, controversy dogged the project over its screenwriting credits. Mankiewicz felt that he had been sidelined by Welles and denied authorship of what was to be a future classic. After a long and bitter public battle, the screenplay was credited to Mankiewicz and Welles, in that order. The movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards, but won a single Oscar, for original screenplay.
An entire Wikipedia page is dedicated to the controversy. The debate inspired David Fincher’s father, Jack Fincher, to write a screenplay in the 1990s. Jack Fincher died in 2003. His son has finally gotten around to filming the account of the man behind the movie as well as the making of the movie itself.
Mank will be streamed on Netflix on December 4 after a limited theatrical run in the United States. The official synopsis: “1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.”
Gary Oldman plays Mankiewicz, known as Mank, while Tom Burke portrays Welles. The cast includes Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst, Amanda Seyfried as the actor and Hearst’s partner Marion Davies, Lily Collins as Mankiewicz’s secretary Rita Alexander, Arliss Howard as studio boss Louis B Mayer, Toby Leonard Moore as producer David O Selznick, and Sam Troughton as John Houseman.
The film has been shot in black and white by Erik Messerschmidt, the cinematographer of Fincher’s acclaimed television series Mindhunter. Here are some stills that give a glimpse into the world of Mank.