Mank ★★½

Was gonna do a Mank meme review and be done with it but found myself (reluctantly) touched by parts of it so here goes a little write up. As an aesthetic object: ghastly malformed kitsch, given the smear of prestige and the stink of sentimentality to be snorted up like cocaine by the Oscars. As historical fiction as usual written both removed from and hailed for its times, showing Hollywood as backroom screwballin' and politickin', a parade of quotes and quotation marks, »a hodgepodge of talky episodes« delivered in break-neck speed and gripping dexterity.

It takes until Upton Sinclair's looming landmark win in the 1938 gubernatorial California election for Fincher to find his bearings. First a ballroom breakdown with Mank positioned along, among and against the elites - personified by MGM's Louis B. Mayer as the man who comes dressed as a colonialist to a costume party and William Randolph Hearst as Mank's fascist muse and financier turned sour - needling their self-conception and ignorance, while hardly speaking from the heart. Followed by Mank's platonic affair with Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried - fun! fun! fun!) consummated through a walk among the elephants and giraffes, the script still as political and cynical in its intent, but sanded off enough in tone and mood for Academy approval.

The following 40 minutes inspire some of the sharpest scenes and will be widely overpraised on this lovely site here. Mayer, then chairman of the Republican Party, did in fact take one day's pay of his mishpacha to fund incumbent Republican governor Frank F. Merriam and the other studios followed suit with only some writers resisting. (Mank was not among them.) Irving Thalberg meanwhile invented the political attack ad against Sinclair's EPIC movement, assembling Republican talking points under the unassuming »California Election News«. Mank knows very little to do with this except fictionalizing it enough to put Mank in the center of the action, but it's a wonderful wormhole to read up and get lost in.


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