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Citizen Kane vs. Mank: A trip down Hollywood's memory lane 4 min read

Citizen Kane vs. Mank: A trip down Hollywood's memory lane

Netflix's release of Mank is big fun for cinephiles, but it also harkens back to days of classic Hollywood, which is fun for everyone. Plus, Ted Lasso's greatness, True/False Film Fest, and more.

By Cary Littlejohn

I love the movies. I’ve written about that love on here before. I’m currently in the middle of The Pixar Project, where I’m revisiting all of the Pixar catalog in anticipation of the Dec. 25 release of Soul. And it’s been a rough year for movies, not just the studios’ business prospects but the average person who loves to visit actual theaters and pay too much for popcorn and soft drinks.

There have been big releases through streaming services, but let’s face it: It’s just not the same.

But this week has been a fun week because one particular release from Netflix, David Fincher’s 11th feature film, Mank, has encouraged and revitalized discussion about  Citizen Kane and movies and Hollywood in general. It’s been nice to get lost in the discussion, to forget, for a moment, that the industry (along with pretty much any number of markers of civilization) are on fire right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it.

It’s hard to make a suggestion like “stay in and watch this movie on Netflix” sound new or original because that very action has been repeated nearly nonstop for nearly 10 months now, but I’m recommending it with the highest ideals of movie-going in mind: Let the films transport you to a time and place where COVID-19 and presidential election nonsense aren’t the central focus.

It feels good to get away, even if only for two hours at a time.

Ten Worth Your Time

  1. The double feature of Citizen Kane and Mank makes for a richer viewing experience of Netflix's newest. Highly recommend doing your homework ahead of time, especially if you’ve never taken the time to seek out Citizen Kane.

  2. This Vox primer on the backstory that animated the writing of what’s generally considered the best film of all-time is a must-read if  you want to understand the intricacies of Mank (which, by the way, aren’t required to enjoy the film). I love that the explainer is from Alissa Wilkinson, who’s a friend of Columbia’s True/False Film Fest (see No. 8 below).

  3. As described Wilkinson’s article, Mank grew out of debate that raged decades after the release of Citizen Kane. David Fincher got the inspiration for  what would become Mank when he readPualine Kael’s two-part deconstruction of the film and its authorship; Fincher gave The New Yorker article to his father, Jack, and Jack then wrote a screenplay for Mank. Though the journalistic aspect of Kael’s article falls down in numerous places, especially to have been published in such a prestigious and rigorously fact-checked publication as The New Yorker, it is indispensable in the consideration of Citizen Kane’s legacy.

  4. The retort to Kael’s broadside swipe at Orson Welles’s auteur genius was in Esquire from Peter Bogdonavich, who relied heavily on interviews with Welles himself. It’s interesting to see the primary sources for all of these recent write-ups dissecting Mank and from whence it came.

  5. Here’s David Fincher talking with New York magazine’s Mark Harris about the film, and Fincher is just a great interview. Great quotes, very thoughtful.

  6. This film’s release has generated a lot of a good podcast content. Here are some of my favorite conversations so far:

  1. Shifting away from Mank and Citizen Kane but staying in the world of cinema, it was a heartbreaking revelation to hear about Warner Bros. and HBO Max partnering to release all of its 2021 releases directly to the streaming service as their outlook on the pandemic’s effects are understandably bleak. It is another arrow shot into the side of an already dying beast, the traditional theater-going experience

  2. One of the last things I did before the world changed so profoundly due to the pandemic was attend the 2020 True/False Film Fest.  The gem of a documentary film festival hidden away in Middle America has made some changes to adapt to the world’s new reality, and they’ve released their plans for the 2021 festival, now to be held in May. Passes are on sale now, and if you haven’t been (but are feeling hopeful for May 2021’s outlook), I can’t recommend an experience more than this one.

  3. As I’ve mentioned previously, Ted Lasso just might be the best damn thing to come out of 2020. If you don’t believe me, check out this Vanity Fair story that sums up everything delightful about the show and really gets at why it matters more than just as a laugh-delivery device in a really rough year.

  4. For all this talk of cinematic masterpieces, I leave you with one that  probably shouldn’t be but unashamedly is on my all-tie favorite list: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It was a tradition in our house from the time I was very young. I remember having to rent it from the local video store early on, and it has remained one of those movies that my family uses to speak in our own kind of shorthand. We quote that movie, like random jokes from Seinfeld, all of the time to illustrate the ridiculousness of everyday life. This one in particular sticks out because we constantly end an exasperated rant with, “Where’s the Tylenol?!” This oral history from Rolling Stone was from six years ago, but just like the movie itself, you can’t revisit it too many time.

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