José hasn’t seen a worse film from David Fincher than Mank, a contentious biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter whose collaboration with Orson Welles resulted in The Greatest Film of All Time™, Citizen Kane. Mike had rather a good time, despite seeing numerous problems with the film, raising the question: How much background knowledge is the right amount for enjoying Mank?
Mank doesn’t even explain, for instance, that the film Mankiewicz and Welles would create is considered one of history’s greatest, so some knowledge of the subject is clearly necessary; too much, though, and its missed opportunities and purposeful alterations to and adaptations of the facts become evident and impossible to ignore. Mike finds that he’s just ignorant – or is that informed – enough to understand the film’s background and setting without going crazy, as José does, as it clashes with his knowledge of the history.
We discuss Mank‘s obvious inspiration in Pauline Kael’s discredited essay, Raising Kane, which argued that Mankiewicz deserved sole credit for Kane‘s screenplay; its flashback structure that shows us where the screenplay came from and why Mankiewicz is the only person who could have written it; its depiction of Hollywood in the 30s (not to mention Mankiewicz in HIS 30s); the parallels that it draws with Hollywood and, more generally, the state of the world today, and more. Almost every criticism José makes, Mike agrees with – but he cannot and will not deny that he had a good time, finding the film witty and energetic where José felt it musty and lethargic. It’s a poor showing from a filmmaker with a largely exceptional oeuvre – unless you’re in that Goldilocks zone with Mike.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the son of Geraldine Fitzgerald and…who? That’s the overall arch of the book. Was it Orson Welles or a Sir Edward Lyndsey-Hogg, a minor British aristocrat? Whilst the answer to the question takes several turns in the book, we also hear about his directing ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’, some of the early key concert movies like ‘Let it Be’, a pioneer of the MTV video clip (most of the early Rolling Stones videos), a director of Brideshead Revisited on TV and The Normal Heart off-Broadway.
It’s a lovely book; a not very distinguished career in cinema, but with landmark work in tv and theatre; and then of course through his mother — who most of us probably now remember for her work with Bette Davis in Dark Victory or as Isabelle Linton in Wyler’s Wuthering Heights — he knew all the greats of the classic era (Welles himself but Marion Davies, Hearst, right up to Lumet, Gloria Vanderbilt) then on his own (the Beatles, the Stones, everyone in music really) right up to turning Larry Kramer’s A Normal Heart into a hit in the 80s at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of Hollywood in the 40s, Dublin in the 50s, post-war New York, Swinging London etc.
The book’s conclusion about paternity has been disproved in Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, but Lynsay-Hogg’s views on so much of the landmark work he helped create on film and in the theatre makes for an insightful and entertaining read: and the book is also an interesting exploration of the lure of celebrity as social currency that each of the protagonists deploys to advantage: would paternity have been such a question if the father were rumoured to be Joe Blow instead of Orson Welles?