David Fincher’s latest film is for Netflix, as is becoming the way for top-tier directors who can’t get the funding they want from traditional studios. Titled Mank, it is a biopic of Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who co-wrote Citizen Kane, among other things (including an uncredited draft of The Wizard of Oz in which he noted the “Kansas sequence” should be shot in black and white). In the 1930s, Mankiewicz was in William Randolph Hearst’s inner circle, spending time at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. He befriended actress Marion Davies, Hearst’s long-time mistress, and was approached by Orson Welles to collaborate on the film that became Citizen Kane, which Mankiewicz filled with many thinly-veiled personal details about Hearst. Herman Mankiewicz is certainly ripe for the biopic treatment, given his connection to so many Golden Age Hollywood figures.
David Fincher doesn’t make bad movies, so of course Mank looks very good, shot in the same style and tone of Citizen Kane. Mank appears to be as much about the making of that film as it is Herman Mankiewicz, which is fine. The production of Citizen Kane is fascinating in its own right. What stands out most in this trailer, though, is Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. The MOMENT she leans out of that open car door, she leaps off the screen, which is partly her own screen presence and partly how Fincher frames her in that shot and how her bleach-blonde hair catches the light and becomes the brightest thing in the frame. Marion Davies is an interesting figure, a talented comedic actress whose powerful patron and lover, Hearst, liked seeing her in more serious films, and so her career never reached the heights it otherwise should have. She was also on Hearst’s yacht the night Thomas Ince was murdered, so she is at the heart of not only Hearst’s social circle, but also one of the biggest scandals surrounding him.
Watching this teaser, I can’t help but think it should be called Marion. Dude directors gonna dude director, though, and make movies worshipping a bygone generation of dude directors. It probably wouldn’t even occur to Fincher to make a movie about Citizen Kane centered on Marion Davies, who might have had a very intimate detail betrayed to the public via the film (it is said “Rosebud” is what Hearst called her clit). Mank looks fine, I’m sure it will be one of the standout films of the year, not that that will be a hard list to make this year, but I do wonder when we’re going to start making lavish biopics about the women of the Golden Age. Blonde, starring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe is coming to Netflix next year, but whither the biopic of Marion Davies, or Rita Hayworth, or Ava Gardner or Elizabeth Taylor? Where’s that Hedy Lamarr series starring Gal Gadot? And why on EARTH isn’t Reese Witherspoon starring in a film about Mary Pickford? Why isn’t ANYONE starring in a film about Mary Pickford? She was one of Hollywood’s original power players! She was part of the first celebrity power couple (with Douglas Fairbanks)! She ended up a recluse in a lavish Beverly Hills estate! Give us Mank, great, fine, but also give us a Mary Pickford movie, please.