Manky Business

MANK certainly qualifies as a late film, not for its director, David Fincher, who we hope has many films left in him (where would they be located, anatomically? this one’s from the heart, obviously, but others seem to originate from… lower down) but for the writer, Jack Fincher, who is unlikely to write anything new having died in 2003.

The idea of a son filming his late father’s screenplay is… I think the word I’m trying to avoid is “bad.”

I must say, we never suspected a sentimental streak in this filmmaker. It IS sweet, but is it wise, this posthumous collaboration? How do you kill your darlings after the death of the author?

The lively interplay of director and writer is going to be unavoidably absent, or else conducted in the survivor’s imagination, perhaps not the most reliable place to hold a story conference. The best scripts need tweaking, or the director needs to be able to ask the writer about his intentions.

(Nice example: “Get your arse over here, the fucking scene’s not working!” frothed John Schlesinger down the phone at Waldo Salt. The film was MIDNIGHT COWBOY and Jon Voight was nursing Dustin Hoffman, who had taken a serious turn for the worse. But the scene was just lying there. Salt came over, watched a rehearsal, and diagnosed the problem at once: “He’s playing it like he cares. Remember, Joe Buck is selfish. He’s only concerned that this is going to stop his trip to Miami. If he cares now, we have nowhere to go at the ending, when he finally does relate to another person emotionally.” Watch the scene for the moment of calculation in Voight’s face…)

The irony that Mank is a film in part ABOUT the writer-director collaboration is a rather glaring one.

Pros:

The photography is lovely. The trailer attempted a rather hamfisted pastiche style which the movie largely eschews — there are slow fades in which doors and windows linger a little longer than everything else, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile, and SORT OF like the long dissolves in KANE that used lighting changes to make some features of the outgoing shot linger longer. But it’s not a direct copy. The film does have a Vorkapich montage or two, appropriate since the action jumps back to the early thirties on a regular basis.

Gary Oldman (I remember him when he was Gary Numan) as Herman Mankiewicz disappears down into his character and really brings the man to life.

Amanda Seyfried is always good, and as Marion Davies her friendship with Mank was the only relationship that felt particularly interesting. She’s smart, but doesn’t quite know it, and he’s the only one around smart enough to notice. There’s something touching about it.

Oh, and Tuppence Middleton has some good bits as Mrs. Mank. Charles Dance has William Randolph Hearst’s eyes, but I regret he didn’t attempt what Welles called the magnate’s “very high, eunuchoid voice.” And the fat-suit tailor held back a little too much. Bigger is better with these ovular press barons.

Tom Burke has the nose Orson wished he had. He sometimes gets the timbre right. On the whole, he’s an honourable attempt, but I have a suggestion for the next time somebody makes a film about early Orson — cast an actual youngster. Given Welles’s baby face, it shouldn’t be that hard to find somebody. Christian Mackay was somewhat uncanny in ME AND ORSON WELLES — maybe because we’d seen Vincent D’Onofrio and Liev Schrieber spectacularly fail to nail it — but you can’t get around the fact that he was at least ten years too old to play the wunderkind.

And the cigarette burns signalling “reel changes” were cute, and perfectly timed to avoid being distracting, something that was rarely the case back in analog days.

The demerits outweigh the merits, I feel. Leaving the script for last, this film has the worst cutting I’ve seen outside of INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED (sample) and the score is execrable. Not that a lot of skill haven’t gone into both, but their EFFECT is horrible.

I mean, maybe I was tired — OK, I admit I was tired, but I’m 53, I’m always gonna be tired — but the cutting managed to create a problem that the early makers of widescreen movies worried about but rarely seemed to actually fall afoul of — when Fincher cuts rapidly in a conversation, since his framing is pretty wide and his screen is very wide and there are frequently lots of characters, it became hard for me to spot who was actually speaking, and by the time I’d found them, we were off on another three-shot of all-new men in suits. When a room full of writers pitch a story en masse, we cut on the lines, in the best Jack Webb Dragnet fashion, but then Fincher and his cutter screw it up by inserting a quick shot of Oldman exhaling cigar smoke for no reason. There are also jarring angle changes as Oldman and Seyfried walk through the Xanadu zoo…

Is it possible that the confusing stuff made it into the final cut because they couldn’t test the film on roomfulls of people due to Covid? But even showing this movie to ONE person ought to be able to bring out this feedback. Unless I was just tired, or sitting too close or too far from my Toshiba.

The music, like the cutting, is by talented regular Fincher collaborators, but their excuse would be that they’re working in an orchestral mode that’s unfamiliar, trying for something that has aspects of pastiche — for some reason incorporating Gene Krupa’s syncopated style. The publicity burbled about how they used only instruments available during the period(s) — which is not that impressive, surely, it just means the used an orchestra. Watching MANK is pretty much like trying to watch a movie and listen to a record at the same time. And I don’t mean a silent movie. Once in a while, the sound and picture synch up in a surprising way. Mostly, the music drowns out the dialogue, bursts in on moments it has no business “accompanying”, and shrilly attracts attention to itself like a stroppy two-year-old shrieking in your ear.

Now, regrettably, we must address the script.

Things you would not know from seeing MANK — that Welles was an actual genius; that he respected and liked Mankiewicz; that his direction of the script was pretty good; that he was leftwing. I mean, there’s all this stuff about Upton Sinclair and the politics of the time — the fake news(reel) stuff was terrific and timely, I admit — but mostly the script deals with this by having people talk while eating and drinking about an offscreen Sinclair — pathetic dramaturgy — and yet the fact that Welles was politically committed and very active at the time is ignored. Presumably because the whole, crazy idea is to make a film about CITIZEN KANE with Welles as the VILLAIN.

(Even the newsreel bit gets messed up by the insertion of a fictional minor character who makes the newsreels and is guilt-ridden — he also gets Parkinson’s disease, quite a burden of woes for a guy who never even existed — this has the effect if DETRACTING from Mank’s guilt, not visualising or dramatizing it.)

The script follows the Kael playbook in minimising OW’s script contribution (Kael’s work on this point has been definitively been debunked by Bogdanovich and others), also erasing John Houseman’s — Welles later said Houseman, no longer his friend, deserved script credit for his assistance — whereas the Troughton they’ve hired to play him is required to depict the character as an irritating buffoon who just gets in Mank’s way,

The idea of making a movie about the writing of a movie is just so spectacularly foolish — unless you have some kind of tremendous struggle going on, but here the key collaborators are ABSENT — or unless it’s TRANS-EUROP EXPRESS and we actually get to watch the movie the author’s spitballing. But despite the inert nature of the process, the writing scenes (WRITING SCENES!!) are actually more coherent as narrative — there is a task to be done — than the flashbacks, which ramble along for an hour before any slight sense of shape or purpose begins to emerge.

I mean, I guess the idea behind the structure is that Mank’s life was disappointing to him, he felt washed up, and KANE was a last chance to do something he could be proud of. An old-fashioned Hollywood redemption story. But then, the movie can’t explain why he trashes Marion Davies, and he denies it — and that’s a central enigma or lacuna that the movie doesn’t know what to do with. It seems to be on his side when he insists that Susan Alexander Kane isn’t Marion Davies. But what we SEE in the movie contradicts this. I mean, if she’s not Susie Kane, there’s no reason for her to feature in this story, which is about KANE not Hearst, right?

Ironically, this could easily have been cleared up if the movie showed Mankiewicz and Welles, you know, DISCUSSING THE PROJECT, like we know they did. They could even put the blame on Welles. It’s pretty clear, looking at the situation from outside MANK’s perspective, that they made Mrs. Kane a failed opera singer not a successful retired movie star in order to have a bit of plausible deniability if threatened with lawsuit (Welles had already survived War of the Worlds by the skin of his teeth and had some ideas about self-preservation, however much he liked sailing close to the wind).

Ultimately, if the movie is about Mank’s redemption via KANE, which is about settling with Hearst (and not Davies), there’s a hell of a lot of stuff that just doesn’t need to be there (why is George S. Kaufman in this film?) and a hell of a lot more that does. Look at the opening text:

“In 1940, at the tender age of 24, Orson Welles was lured to Hollywood by a struggling RKO Pictures with a contract befitting his formidable storytelling talents. He was given absolute creative autonomy, would suffer no oversight, and could make any movie, about any subject, with any collaborator he wished.”

Even in those two sentences, we are told that RKO is struggling, which is never relevant in the story (we never meet anyone from RKO), we are led to believe the movie is about Welles (it isn’t) and the line about his formidable storytelling talents comes off as sarcastic if anything, and certainly isn’t something we SEE. And his autonomy re collaborators would seem to reference Mank but surely this experienced screenwriter was, by that time, seen as a safe pair of hands, an old-timer who could show Welles the ropes, in which case all this build-up goes nowhere.

Can we get hold of the writer for a quick polish?

MANK stars Joe Orton; Linda Lovelace; Snow White; Ward Meachum; Pvt. Cowboy; Kalique Abrasax; Dick Pabich; Mr. Hobhouse; and Sardo Numspa.

163 Responses to “Manky Business”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    If there’s something valuable in MANK, it’s that however bad Orson comes across as, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg come off way worse. And this might be the most unsympathetic those fellows have ever been depicted. The movie TRUMBO (which I think is a better movie about a screenwriter) showed Mayer as a kind of avuncular if weird figure bullied by Hedda Hopper (she was bad, but making Mayer worse was letting him off the hook). Thalberg of course has this whole mythos attached to him, “The Luck of the Last Tycoon”.

    Mankiewicz wrote “American” (his original script which in no way or form is CK fully formed) as an act of spite against Hearst and Davies. Welles probably didn’t intend to slander Davies as Susie, but I think Herman did. The movie presenting Herman as a leftist is weird for a guy who opposed the Writer’s Guild being founded (not enough to come crying to them about the contract he originally signed with Welles, which Orson ultimately and graciously acceded to, rightly so) and who supported Charles Lindbergh’s America First (but who also wrote an anti-Nazi movie in the early ’30s). The big thing the movie hides is that the anti-Sinclair campaign which Herman is so principally against was in fact backed by his brother Joseph (a progressive Rockefeller Republican who was a fierce anti-socialist and anti-communist nonetheless, his travesty of The Quiet American is quite deliberate) and who wrote those radio plays that the movie presents as the origin of ‘fake news’.

    I think fundamentally the issue is that ‘The Making of Citizen Kane’ is just not dramatic and compelling enough, no matter which way you look at it. That’s why you always have to distort it some way or another to tell that story. There’s a lot of academic and popular interest in the production of CK but none of that is as interesting and compelling as CK itself. The production of CK was a bunch of brilliant and competent and capable people all pulling together and getting a movie made on time and on schedule. The only controversy was in the distribution and marketing where Hearst made a fuss, and the sabotage leading to the film’s commercial failure.

    I think if you want to tell a story about Orson Welles the director that’s really personal, you need to do the making of the Magnificent Ambersons. The drama about the making of that movie is at least as compelling as the movie that’s still there, and the movie that’s there relies on that offscreen stuff to make sense. And there’s enough ambiguity about the production and post-production of Magnificent (why did Orson order that “big cut” before the first preview) that you could justify a production on that note.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Welles’ direction of the script is more than OK, it’s EVERYTHING!!!!!! The script is passable, but what makes Citizen Kane great is what Welles with the invaluable help of Greg Toland managed to make of this Shaggy Sled Story. Charles Foster Kane was taken away from hs mother and thus found genuine relationships with women near-impossible and friendships with other people wracked with paranoid suspicion CALLING DR. LACAN!

    Cue the end credits

  3. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Calling the script passable is the problem because Orson Welles partially wrote that script, and in fact wrote the scripts of all his movies after that (original and adapted). He also wrote the original script for Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux. Welles could and did write great dialogue (“Some kind of man, what does it matter what you say about people?” from TOUCH OF EVIL, and from The Third Man, that famous speech about the cuckoo clock) Saying that the direction elevated the script gives the lie that Mankiewicz wrote the script completely. A lot of the big visual ideas and montages, such as the Dinner Table montage and so on, was all written into the script…by Welles.

    And of course Welles would say that it’s the editing that elevates CK since for him Editing is the main thing about a movie. And for all that Welles-scholars presents Orson’s career as a parade of botched movies (which he does have)….8 of his movies exist in his preferred director’s cut (CK, Macbeth, Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, F For Fake, The Immortal Story, Filming Othello). Which other director of the Golden Age can claim to have 8 movies released and existing in their preferred director’s cut? Or you know how many in today’s modern era?

  4. I recall a sentence (by Naremore?) saying that the authorship of the screenplay was somewhat moot since virtually none of the great innovations the film is credited with are described in it. I wouldn’t go that far, since you need some kind of strong basis to innovate upon, and the screenplay’s structure invites that and provides numerous opportunities.

    So the script is crucial, and it’s much more than the rosebud device (a classic MacGuffin, almost).

    Welles’ direction being OK was my attempt at classic British understatement.

    So Welles was the more committed leftist, eh? I didn’t know much about HM’s politics. One more distortion to add to the Xanadu-like junkpile of untruths.

    Agree that Ambersons could make a good movie or book, provided you can get the audience to care about something as abstract as the destruction of a masterpiece they can’t see…

  5. Gorgeously, rigorously felt and analyzed, David! Here’s my contribution to nuance: “Maybe it’s time to take our eyes off Kane.”

  6. Simon Kane Says:

    This is brilliant. In terms of the making of Citizen K not being dramatic enough, I personally have a lot of time for RKO 281 – well I’ve watched it more than once for fun anyway – but yes it would be great to see a 24 year old play the wunderkind.

  7. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    RKO 281 makes plenty of distortions too, and it’s part of the issue in that it makes Orson, the artist standing for free expression against a tyrannous businessman who doesn’t want to be satirized, into someone who is anti-heroic or coded as being equally tyrannical which is ridiculous. And even then…I don’t know if CK makes the best case. Hearst sabotaged the release, but the film played in theaters, the negative wasn’t burnt, and the film was an artistic success that got nominated for a bunch of Oscars and was immediatelly seen by contemporaries as a technical innovation.

    CK didn’t destroy or hurt Welles’ Hollywood career or that of anyone involved in that film (even Mankiewicz wrote one more great film after that, Christmas Holiday, by Siodmak). It was The Magnificent Ambersons that ruined Welles, and the issues with that are more personally tragic on Welles’ part than a simply “big bad Hearst came in” story. Welles wasn’t perfect and he made mistakes, and while I would not go as far as Robert Carringer does in his overreaching Magnificent Ambersons Shooting Script book, I do agree that he should shoulder some of the blame for the post-production of that film, and in particular his attitude before the first preview just doesn’t make any damn sense.

    The script of CK is definitely part of the film’s innovations. The main point of CK is the multiple narrators and perspectives, where you basically retell a simple plot from different angles each time, and you have finely etched three dimensional characters across the board, from Kane to the supporting cast. The uncompromising nature of Kane, the refusal to let Charlie off the hook or offer catharsis for him or anyone else (the audience gets it when Rosebud goes in flames but nobody else) is a defining aspect. And Welles was involved in that. Mankiewicz’s first draft was a meanspirited spoof of Hearst, but it was Welles’ revisions that made those characters deeper and sadder, and more empathetic. As Welles said, “Kane was better than Hearst”. I mean if you told the story of Hearst accurately, there’s no drama there. Rich old guy dies rich, in the company of a beautiful younger devoted mistress, screws over the poor and suppresses democracy without any comeuppance and regrets. He lived and died the death of “the bad guy who wins”. And ultimately Hearst’s malign influence on yellow press was exaggerated. Rupert Murdoch for instance was and is far more dangerous and effective than Hearst ever was.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    An excellent review with perceptive comments from this blog’s distinctive and regular contributors. What more could you ask concerning the importance of Shadowplay?

    But maybe, it is still important to correct misconceptions about KANE especially as (a) none of my students in the recently restored-to-me Film class have ever seen KANE as opposed to the 99% who had when I began teaching over here and (b) they would get their knowledge second hand from Fincher’s travesty.

    Back in the mid-80s our University (Dis) Honors Program had Kael down as a guest and I was invited to meet her. I refused not just because I knew of the criticism of “Raising Kane” but also because of her continuing bitchy comments against Susan Clark. These also had no substance or evidence presented – just venom.

    My English Film classes were the only celebration of Welles’ centenary here that was ignored by the Cinema and Photography Department as well as their annual Big Muddy (Mediocre) Film Festival as were the passings of Jacques Rivette, Jeanne Moreau, etc, etc.

    So, no. We must NOT “take our eyes off Kane” since its significance, as well as that of Welles, stills needs championing in this increasing age of “dumbing down” both in higher education and outside..

  9. Jonathan Wertheim Says:

    “Manky Panky,” surely?

  10. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I think film buffs and cinephiles get jaded sometimes because of how CK is trotted as the greatest film ever made, and how invested they became in boosting the Post-CK movies Welles did, and combating perceptions of his career declining and so on and so forth. And also scheming to knocking it off the Sight and Sound decennial lists. But none of that is the fault of this movie. It’s genuinely a great great movie and the influence this film, almost immediately is very real. Ozu loved Citizen Kane. Ozu saw CK in Singapore while in service in the Japanese Army (and basically used the gig to escape service and binge movies). Be like Ozu.

    I’ve seen CK some 10 times, all of them different versions. I saw it on TV, I even saw it on something called VCD (a more common home video format in India) split in two discs. I saw it on DVD, Blu-Ray, I saw it in 35mm at San Francisco, two or three times. I think even on a digital projection IIRC. But it holds up. I know the characters in the movie like they are friends and going to see CK again is a bit like catching up with Jed, Susie, Charlie, Bernstein. Watching CK after 2016 was uncanny because stuff like Kane calling for a “special prosecutor” to investigate Boss Getys or the Inquirer having two headlines, one for victory another to dispute the election results carries a charge…and CK like all works of art has the air of a prophecy unheeded. It’s weird but the value of a great work of art comes in the fact that people neglected its warning not because they listened to it. It’s also a more optimistic satire, because Kane lost where Trump won in 2016. That line where Gettys says, “You’re gonna need more than one lesson, you’re gonna get more than one lesson” it doesn’t feel directed at Kane, it’s directed at America…the land that never learns anything and keeps trapped in what Freud called the repition-compulsion effect.

  11. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “the authorship of the screenplay was somewhat moot since virtually none of the great innovations the film is credited with are described in it. I wouldn’t go that far, since you need some kind of strong basis to innovate upon, and the screenplay’s structure invites that and provides numerous opportunities.”

    That would make George Furth more important than Stephen Sondheim.

  12. Tony Williams Says:

    Well said, SR. You’ve expressed your appreciation very well. Also, you mention VCD, a format I’ve used to see as many re-released Shaw Bros. movies in the past.

    In terms of critical voices, perhaps that CHISELER person might want to invite Joseph McBride on to his site.( He has already featured Jonathan Rosenbaum)? I’d be most interested in his response as to whether we should “take our eyes off Kane”?

  13. No, Furth vs Sondheim isn’t the analogy I had in mind. Welles evidently felt Mankiewicz could contribute valuable stuff to the script, and he did. Without that script, Welles would have made a different film. It still would have been great, but it would have been different. Equally, if the script had been handed to Christy Cabanne to direct, we wouldn’t be talking about it today.

    So the script is important (including Welles’ contribution), the foundational document, but it’s not what we’re talking about, primarily, when we praise Kane.

  14. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Welles WOULD have made a different film had he gone with his first idea — adapting Aldous Huxley’s “After Many a Summer Dies the Swan.” Huxley’s novel is a “a clef” about Hearst’s murder of William Ince (dealt with rather deftly in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Cat’s Meow”) To the basic Hearst murder story Huxley added a search for the secret to eternal life. The good news: His Hearst character “Joe Stoyte” finds it. The Bad News: He finds it.

    It would have been a fabulous movie.But then Orson met Mank and . . .well you know the rest.

  15. There was an Ince killing in at least one early draft of American/Kane, and Welles said later that if they’d kept it in, Hearts wouldn’t have dared say the movie was about him — a dubious claim, but an interesting hypothetical.

  16. My Maxwell Bodenheim book arrived, David! YOU YOU YOU need to use it as the basis for a screenplay. It’s a novel that attacks FDR from the Left (in 1934!) and was so despised by liberals… THEY BURNED IT! There are only 44 copies known to exist (Gutenberg rarity) — AND I HAVE ONE! Dude — “DEWD!!!” — you would dig the prose.

  17. Bodenheim’s obscurity is a reason to despise Welles’ popularity.

  18. David Ehrenstein: Do you know his work — NAKED ON ROLLERSKATES, GEORGIE MAY? I wonder if Durgnat read him.

  19. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I know his name but I’ve never read him.

    The only trace of the Ince murder in “Kane” when Susan says Raymond the butler “knows where all the bodies are buried.”

  20. Citizen Kane’s popularity is based on cinephilic tunnel vision and an abiding obsession with power, masked by “But wait… this film CRITIQUES POWER!” — a tired version of what Kael describes in her seminal Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties. Her Welles critique was dead on despite being wildly wrong.

  21. Tony Williams Says:

    All the more reason to contact Joe McBride and get him to comment in THE CHISILER.

  22. Tony! Ain’t you interviewing ES?

  23. She recently performed Shakespeare to raise mazuma for PPE.

  24. bensondonald Says:

    HIGH CONCEPT! An aging script doctor, kept on retainer by a studio to quietly make over same-old scripts to stars’ specifications, is assigned to work on a young director’s passion project: a dramatization of the making of a classic movie. Thing is, the old script doctor was the uncredited writer of the classic’s shooting script, and is now being lectured by the young director on what he knows to be pure BS, enshrined by various self-serving memoirs. He’s willing to print the legend, as it were, but for the fact the young director has made a now-deceased friend the villain of the fictionalized script. The script doctor, by stealth and cunning (he didn’t survive in the business this long for nothing), contrives to get some onscreen vindication for his late friend and effectively creates the new myth filmgoers with assume was real. Even though the film bombs.

    This itself could be a passion project for a young director who had an old-school Hollywood figure as a college professor. The making of it would be the basis of a long magazine piece, which itself would be optioned …

  25. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I saw a nitrate print of CK. Still blew.

  26. I’ve read Maxwell Bodenheim’s “My Life & Loves in Greenwich Village,” which is posthumous and apparently ghostwritten in part or in whole. It’s pretty tame whoever wrote it. Ben Hecht’s “Winkleberg” is a ‘drama a clef’ about Bodenheim, and Hecht larded his work with portraits & caricatures of him. Lionel Stander plays characters based on him in both “The Scoundrel” and “Spectre of the Rose.” A very wiggy cat by all accounts.

  27. That book is ENTIRELY ghostwritten junk. I bought it anyway.

  28. “Naked on Roller Skates” is maybe my favorite title ever. I can’t imagine the book itself lives up to it, but I used haunt the used book shops on 4th Ave in Manhattan in the hope of finding out.

  29. The book is EVEN BETTER THAN ITS TITLE. Not to mention its cover image.

  30. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Infinitely better than Citizen Kane

    And it’s also about a powerful multi-millionaire.

  31. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    F For Fake is basically the entire News on the March and Projection Room scene made into a movie. It began as a documentary on Elmyr de Hory by Reichenbach which was Welles was supposed to narrate and then Howard Hughes intervened in that radio press conference exposing Clifford Irving, their source for the documentary and upended it, and you can imagine Welles being in the projection room seeing that and talking over everyone about his diabolical stroke of genius. So it’s basically the entire Projection Room scene repeated in reality where they all look at “News on the March” and wonder what throughline to use.

    Orson Welles became the Rosebud of F FOR FAKE. He fills the void left behind by the original documentary.

  32. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Yes it’s “New on the March” — if it were made by the Maysles brothers. Incidentally when discussing War of the Worlds, Welles uses shots from Earth vs. The Flying Saucers which was produced by William Alland who played the “News on the March” reporter whose face we never see in Kane

  33. A nice thought, but Earth Vs was a Columbia picture produced by Charles H. Schneer and Sam Katzman, while Alland was at Universal. I do think it a shame he didn’t get Welles to make a revolutionary screen version of War of the Worlds or something… though he did do a good voice-over for the trailer of The Incredible Shrinking Man.

  34. David Ehrenstein Says:

    You’re right, but he did produce This Island Earth (which had a great flying saucer in it), Space Children, The Deadly Mantis, The Mole People, Tarantula and The Creature From the Black Lagoon

  35. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The Scoundrel was Comden and Green’s favorite movie. they could recite most of t by heart and character that Jack Buchanan plays in The Band Wagon was inspired by it (particularly as regards the “Damnation Scene” he goes on and on about

  36. Well, I watched “Mank” last night and all I have to add to all the (excellent) points made by everyone: the scene in the writers’ room near the beginning is simply appalling. Nothing works. Kaufman wasn’t a studio hack, he was the NY Times drama critic AND a phenomenally successful playwright at that time. The references to “Frankenstein” and “The Wolfman” are impossible in 1930 (which would be noticed only by film buffs, of course—but who do they think the audience is?). They’re obviously improvising, none-too-brilliantly, which Thalberg and Sternberg would have realized at once. If the idea is to show how clever they are, the improv should be great or funny or both. What a blown opportunity! And everybody’s too old. Feh!!

    Using the faux-40s swing music every time we flashback to the 1930s FROM the 40s was so nuts it was almost endearing, tho

  37. The anachronistic language, too… Mankiewicz describing himself, ruefully, as “always the smartest guy in the room.” Sure, all those words existed in 1940, but that phrase is so glaringly recent I’m surprised Jack Fincher even knew it.

  38. Sounds like I don’t need to see it. But I would appreciate some evidence that Kane continues to deserve the seemingly infinite attention it receives from cinephiles. I won’t suggest that one bad film (I accept the universal judgement expressed here by y’all) proves Kane’s status as a film milked dry. But the zero-sum logic of Kane as an exemplar of canonical obsession does make me think cinephiles are fascinated by their own elitism. (Not to mention money that the Faithful dream of but never seem to get.) How many wonderful works of art go unnoticed because of Auteurs and the Priesthood doting on their stinky cigars and coffins in the sky? My recent experience co-writing with David for Sight & Sound was fine, nothing traumatic. And yet, I had hoped for more flexibility. There was a strong push to circle the known. Sales? Spondoolix? Aces? I guess…

  39. I blame the audience.

  40. Tony Williams Says:

    Again, you can always contact Joseph McBride – if you dare?

  41. And you can do that interview, as promised.

  42. She’s INCREDIBLY eloquent!

  43. I don’t have the context. You do.

  44. Tony Williams Says:

    Unfortunately, your previous attitude renders that now impossible.

  45. LUNCH! AND IT SNOWS IN BROOKLYN! Well, snow-rain.

  46. Cairns! Since auteurs loom big here, may I ask a rude questioin: Why do you susbscribe (and do you?) to Auteur Theory? To put it bluntly: you’re writing’s generally too good and too adventurous to require the label. I’ve heard you and your friends using the moniker, but (only if you feel like answering)…. What’s it mean to you?

  47. The most satisfying films are made under the overall artistic control of one person, usually the director. Where that voice is compromised, the results can be interesting, and sometimes flaws can be removed, but it’s less the work of a coherent sensibility and less a work of art. Even the mistakes of a real artist are part of their sensibility.

    Using the Auteur principle to downgrade the writer is foolish. using it to erase the essential contributions of others is crass. Failing to recognise the collaborative nature of the medium is blind.

    But… unless one person filters what goes into a film, you are likely to get committee-style blandness, or incoherent chaos.

    All directors work within limitations and have to please others, but if they can choose how they go about it they can still produce personal work.

  48. I suppose if Auteur Theory throws me it’s because of its birthplace — you’d think the French (Jean Epstein?) would embrace their own rich national tradition of film-as-art without assuming a studio system or some other industrial-scale production as givens.

  49. Also, it’s a rather swift assumption that collaborative effort automatically leads to “film by committee” — how many examples do we need of a given auteur breaking with a key camera person, producer or editor only to find the output loses quality? Aren’t some/many great films the result of fruitful, multiple, mutually reinforcing participants? I can see where A.T. has its place; and your answer interests me. I just think that as an established TRUTH,the theory is weirdly selective, even destructive.

  50. Last gripe: “Writing on Film” is a horrendous metaphor.

  51. David Ehrenstein Says:

    You mean the “Camera Stylo” right?

  52. Yeah, writing in light — I suppose if it’s a reference to pure “handwriting” (as in abstraction, say, Jackson Pollock), I can see its use. But it suggests literature. Again, this tends to ignore early French experimenters explicitly and ideologically. committed to breaking with same. There are layered ways in which A.T. embraces film as a business.

  53. So the director is “da boss” in the most crass, class-based sense.

  54. David Ehrenstein: I don’t know if you’re into Leo Hurwitz. My question: What good is AT where experiencing his work’s concerned? You don’t need any theoretical armature, because there’s no capitalist armature/armor to pierce.

  55. Films that demand auteur theory need rescuing from day one. In Kane’s case, the theory digs the art a bottomless hole.

  56. The AT arose in response to critical writing that largely dismissed Hollywood movies as factory product. It challenged a lazy assumption. Now, of course, much writing accepts, say, Marvel films as works “by” their respective directors, which is equally lazy and inaccurate.

    Cancelled ex-genius Terry Gilliam describes himself as a “filteur,” which is a good definition of how the director works in collaboration, as the (supposedly) final arbiter of what goes into a film, selecting the best ideas offered up by cast and crew, excluding that which might be good but does not fit.

    So it’s easy to see how someone like Fellini loses something when Nono Rota dies: *of course* the director isn’t the creator of the music in most cases, or the cinematographer or editor. They take advantage of what’s offered by those with superior talents in those areas, but they have a sense of what’s suitable which sometimes guides those talents (which is not to say that composers and camerapeople don’t have a pretty good idea of what’s appropriate for each project).

  57. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Directors for the most part, are best compared to orchestra conductors. Toscanini didn’t write Beethoven’s symphonies, but his renditions of them are arguably superior to that of other conductors. One need not bring in the heavy Equipment of Capitalism to explain all this. In the cinema when said “conductor” writes the score or supervises innumerable things in a distinctive way the status of “Auteur” is merited. Still within all of this individual contributions break through. Barbara Steele shines in Fellini’s 8 1/2, yet a cursory glance at her filmography indicates she’s as much of an “auteur” as Bette Davis.

    And that’s an overwhelmingly important factor. Nobody went to see Camille because Cukor directed it. He did a superb job on the film — which belongs heart and soul to Garbo.

  58. Agreed on all counts. So why use (and abuse) this word/theory unto Eternity? I ask mainly because AT has had an abiding influence on cinephilia to the extent that cinephiles slavishly worship Auteurs — they’re comic-book kids in mom’s basement. It’s become a weird, dead and distorting mythology more than an illuminating and practically useful set of ideas.

  59. But I do insist on AT as pointedly capitalist.

  60. Dunno. I guess I’m arguing for a collective ideological response to an elitist ideology so insidious that it escapes notice (like. most liberal cant) and is therefor accepted as “common sense”.

  61. I don’t see why it’s elitist. Nor does it prevent acknowledgement of collaboration (I already addressed that).

    I think of it as just a lens for viewing things through, one of many possible ways to appreciate work.

  62. I get carried away.

  63. Alright, one last thought: Raymond Durgnat spent his life railing against Sight & Sound from his mom’s basement (home to every true cinephile); and in Motion, his self-published magazine, vaunted films that auteur-based Film Crit neglected and/or relegated to plebian invisibility. I think it’s obvious that HE saw auteurism as elitist. But David Ehrenstein may correct me.

  64. Well, did the author of “Franju”, “Luis Bunuel”, “King Vidor” and others wholly reject the director’s importance? It doesn’t seem that likely to me. I know he liked the idea that figures other than the director could be seen as authors, but that’s not a rejection of authorship or necessarily a rejection of the director as auteur.

  65. I thought we were examiningg ideology. You seem to equate ideology with “common sense”. No, Auteur Theory goes well beyond a common-sense defense against those who “reject the director’s importance.” I don’t know whether such people even exist. So maybe AT is… a relic AND paranoid?

  66. Maybe you need to say out in simple terms what you take AT to be, and then I can respond with (a) whether I agree with your interpretation and (b) whether I agree with AT when it’s defined that way.

  67. I think that we can both agree (and please tell me if I’m wrong) that singularizing Auteur Theory would be a mistake, perhaps even impossible. But, as you’ve demonstrated, the theory can be *generalized* into a few consistent principles. I almost said “neutralized”, since you water down the theory in order to make it seem harmless. I’ve been arguing, perhaps too vaguely, against the grain of Auteurism’s practical ethic and its impacts over time. On balance, I’d say they are profoundly negative. Just got back from the gym. My trainer’s a sadist. Will say more when I recover. Could you say in the meantime how AT helps you as a viewer and critic?

  68. Second wind: At this stage of Film Crit, it seems to me that AT is a monopoly. And, worse, a given. What ad campaign DOESN’T ballyhoo the presumptive genius of the Auteur? In other words, Auteurism has only bolstered industrial production by polishing the shoes and straightening the tie of consumerist aesthetics. Movie reviews are consumer guides using Auteurs as selling points. Phooey.

  69. Another angle: How many truly weird, fucked up movies get made anymore? I don’t blame Auteurism for the state of Moviedom, but I do emphasize that it plays a role in creating the illusion that reasonably good movies are Super Duper by fetishizing SLIGHTLY less run-of-the-mill (but still extremely commercial) directors as “Auteurs”.

  70. Auteurism binds debate.

  71. To bring this basic criticism back to the actual theory: it starts as a commercial product with weird declarations like “Hey, movies are an art!” — um, no shit. The point such an assertion REALLY MAKES has to do with Auteurism’s proscriptive definition of art, which banishes OBVIOUS “auteurs” (Epstein, Dulac, Brakhage, Jacobs, Hurwitz, etc.) and replaces them with directors working within the industrial majesty of commercial cinema. It’s like liberals calling themselves”the Left”.

  72. But I don’t think anybody does that…other than people who simply discount experimental film. This is a straw man argument.

  73. Ha! Virtually EVERYBODY does that.

  74. When a theory becomes fully integrated with the agenda of every major film publication; and when these publications emphasize ad infinitum commercialism — nobody needs to formally dismiss art. Indeed, “art” gets redefined as digestible and commercial. I’ve used the word “impact” a dozen times, because AT’s impact is exactly what I’m describing.

  75. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    John Ford once said that, “People are incorrect to compare a director to an author. If he’s a creator, he’s more like an architect. And an architect conceives his plans according to precise circumstances.” I think Ford, in this instance, is right. A director’s job resembles an architect far more than any other medium. Architecture and interior design and so on and so forth is still considered an artform even if it’s embedded in capitalism and the consumerist, and power systems of its time, across history. Architecture is also fundamentally collaborative but we still credit individual architects and so on. The Eiffel Tower is still celebrated as the work of Gustav Eiffel who designed and constructed it with the material it has, when the original design of the tower (i.e. the “look” of the thing) was created by Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier.

    Tag Gallagher argued once that in practice, the auteur theory did more than anything else to shine the spotlight on the collaborative nature of film-making. The French New Wave critics were the first to track movie credits and create elaborate patterns showing regular crew and actors over multiple films. Before auteurism you discussed movies in terms of movie stars and leading men and leading women or films by a studio or a producer. But through auteurism you followed bit players, supporting players, stock players and so on. I think Tag Gallagher might be going a little too far but it’s something to consider. There are in my view, some screenwriters (Jacques Prevert for instance) who arguably do qualify as auteurs or primary creative voices on any film they make. Also some musicians and composers (Herrmann on DePalma’s Obsession), actors and others who fill that niche.

    Auteurism might finally describe something specific to a certain historical period and not some eternal thing. It’s not by any means the final discourse on understanding cinema. The problem is that no one in film studies, academic or popular, has created a discourse that has provided either an alternative, counter, or correction to auteurism that has had the same level of impact.

  76. Tony Williams Says:

    Well answered, S.R.

  77. Kind of absurdly leaves out Kael, S.R.

  78. Also assumes commercial filmmaking, which makes you typical of my above gripe-fest.

  79. I promised David I’d stop. Plus I’m watching 30 Rock. Bye.

  80. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    The more interesting thing to consider is the concept of intentionality, which applies to experimental film and documentary but also feature films as well, how do you measure intentionality? Like take F for Fake, the movie as it exists is pure Welles but the original documentary by Reichenbach was to have been narrated by him alone. The nature of how Welles got the idea to salvage that film and how he convinced the crew to let him go to town with it is interesting…but it also suggests a different level of intentionality than the projects Welles spent decades concieving, thinking about, and so on, stuff like Chimes at Midnight for instance, or TOSOW made at the exact same time. How is it that Welles finished F FOR FAKE in short order but could never finish TOSOW or for that matter Don Quixote? Or in documentary, do we consider Frederick Wiseman an auteur? I guess so, but is it because of the visual style, the editing, the thematic coherence? And do we consider Wiseman the director or Wiseman the editor or cameraman?

    Rossellini is a famously strong auteur, yet the emotional crux of Journey to Italy, the discovery of those bodies in Pompeii…that was a total accident that happened in the middle of film-making. It was a real discovery that Rossellini happened to include, wasn’t in the script originally or any illusion. So is Rossellini the author of that? Should we credit Rossellini’s luck, his ability to recognize luck, because on that level, it gets hard to argue that Rossellini intended that all along. On that level, auteurism doesn’t truly have any answers.

  81. “Fortune favours the prepared mind.”

    Auteurism is bound to clash a bit with the death of the author and the intentional fallacy. I find it useful because I like the sense of a filmmaker’s personality and interests emerging from their body of work, but it’s usually a somewhat idealized self-portrait.

  82. Auteur Theory is a politics.

  83. According to the above comments by S.R., D.C. and D.E., Auteur Theory’s sole contribution boils down to: “Here’s a canonical order, a sanctified group of directors that the Auteur Priesthood (us!) has deemed (wait for it…) “Expressive”. You’re all avoiding the authoritarian politics and capitalist values implicit in the theory (INDICATORS OF ITS TRUE AGENDA… so…… shhhhhhhhhh!).

  84. Tony Williams Says:

    Eloquently and well-said, David C and SR.

  85. An auteur is an architect! No wait. An auteur is a conductor! This silliness starts with the theory itself, which elevates “author” and subordinates “filmmaker”. It’s all class-based hooey.

  86. Nobody here can concretely state the value of AT beyond its declaration of the thumpingly obvious and ubiquitously known: “We, er, declare that (shuffles papers) a director can be… expressive.” PROFUNDITY!

  87. Total guess: Godard never says “auteur”.

  88. Auteur Theory is an expression of Truffaut’s conflicted relationship to his own childhood (TIME FOR DIME STORE FREUD, FOLKS!). More basically, it is a theory founded on fear of working-class values.

  89. Kael was infinitely more valuable than I’d ever imagined, misguided as raising Raising Kane was. After this conversation, I understand my own sympathies with the attitude behind it. At moments, The Great Pauline truly was a populist (dreaded word!). Btw, David Cairns, you gave me an idea for extending (sigh) another Barbara essay. I write better about her when we’re not speaking.

  90. You already co-wrote it!

  91. I love how Daniel misses how folks here aren’t auteurists. He’s basically talking to himself, like with everything he does.

    (*ducks*)

  92. Look at how much of an unreasonable, spiteful brat he’s being here.

  93. Discounting that one guy, it seems that most folks here accept auteur theory (which holds that the director is REALLY a bona-fide author… somehow) only in so far as it’s a useful tool to explain how certain artists involved in a film’s production have a disproportionate impact on the final shape of the work. This assumes that a film normally has multiple artists working on it, each playing a role. To be a so-called “auteur”, then, certain artists would need to overstep their role(s) in the film’s production process — or in Brakhage’s case, outright perform all the roles. Such a lens is often applied to big Hollywood/studio productions because such an influence wouldn’t be expected there, as opposed to experimental cinema where it’s the norm.

    To not pick a clichéd example, Ray Harryhausen could be considered close to being an “auteur”: He was not only the animator of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS but was also the collaborator and friend of producer Charles Schneer with whom he chose the story, scriptwriter, and director. In other words, he played a role greater than his “special effects by” credit indicates.

    As long as you agree that it falls apart on a certain level (a director’s veto power is a drastic departure from the creative power of an author), I can accept that kind of auteurism (auteurism-lite?). I think it’s only an uncritical acceptance of the theory that can lead to an embrace of super-individualistic thinking that fuels capitalism and hinders collectivism. And I think most of the folks who developed it had some pro-right-wing inclinations.

    So, auteurism may be individualism-influenced nonsense, but within certain boundaries, it can be useful nonsense.

  94. “ After this conversation, I understand my own sympathies with the attitude behind it.”

    You are not engaging in conversation.

  95. I am now reading a book — by an author. Not an “auteur”.

  96. Actually, Nic, if you had bothered to read the above thread or get to know David Cairns, you’d realize that he is in fact an “auteurist” (loosely speaking). That’s why I was happy to hear his views, Chuck V.’s absolute pronouncement on the nature of this “conversation” notwithstanding. Btw, the novel I’m reading is a doozy!

    “Film lovers are sick people.”― François Truffaut

    He said it, I didn’t.

  97. Bazin understood the following pitfall, which I mentioned above in my own words: “the strictest adherents of the politique des auteurs … rightly or wrongly… always see in their favourite directors the manifestation of the same specific qualities. So it is that Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks or Nicholas Ray, to judge from the pages of Cahiers, appear as almost infallible directors who could never make a bad film.”

  98. Is Bazin detecting bourgeois individualism?

  99. “Actually, Nic, if you had bothered to read the above thread or get to know David Cairns, you’d realize that he is in fact an “auteurist” (loosely speaking).”

    And if you had actually read MY comments in full, you would have realized I recognized that he was a LIGHT auteurist and that I found no problem with this. Cairns wrote to you, “Auteurism is bound to clash a bit with the death of the author and the intentional fallacy. I find it useful because I like the sense of a filmmaker’s personality and interests emerging from their body of work, but it’s usually a somewhat idealized self-portrait.”

    Others admitted that auteurism fell apart in the same way, but that there wasn’t a decent alternative, including Sudershan Ramani: “Auteurism might finally describe something specific to a certain historical period and not some eternal thing. It’s not by any means the final discourse on understanding cinema. The problem is that no one in film studies, academic or popular, has created a discourse that has provided either an alternative, counter, or correction to auteurism that has had the same level of impact.” Later on, he clarified, “Rossellini is a famously strong auteur, yet the emotional crux of Journey to Italy, the discovery of those bodies in Pompeii…that was a total accident that happened in the middle of film-making. It was a real discovery that Rossellini happened to include, wasn’t in the script originally or any illusion. So is Rossellini the author of that? Should we credit Rossellini’s luck, his ability to recognize luck, because on that level, it gets hard to argue that Rossellini intended that all along. On that level, auteurism doesn’t truly have any answers.”

    In response to these somewhat-reasonable considerations, I wrote, “I can accept that kind of auteurism (auteurism-lite?). I think it’s only an uncritical acceptance of the theory that can lead to an embrace of super-individualistic thinking that fuels capitalism and hinders collectivism.” (This agrees with Bazin’s quote that you cited, “So it is that Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks or Nicholas Ray, to judge from the pages of Cahiers, appear as almost infallible directors who could never make a bad film.”)

    I agree that uncritical auteurism has individualistic thinking at its core. However, it can be separated from that and, applied sparingly, can be a useful tool for finding artists who are so invested in a film’s production that they go over and above their assigned mechanistic, big-studio roles and disproportionately affect those products’ final shape. Yes, it’s important to study other, more independent filmmakers, but not paying attention to artists working for Hollywood or big studios prevents us from seeing what artists have done with the most cutting-edge resources historically-available — however much those resources have been gobbled-up by the US’s capitalistic system.

    Your response to Ramani’s statements: “Kind of absurdly leaves out Kael, S.R. […] Also assumes commercial filmmaking, which makes you typical of my above gripe-fest. […] Comma S.R.”

    He didn’t need Kael to develop his view and indeed, she’s totally irrelevant — the fact that she did shoddy journalism to bolster her view should prevent anyone from taking her seriously. Film criticism should come about, one way or another, through some kind of good faith or fairness to the artist, and Kael wasn’t playing fair. You’re reading into her and only bringing her up in a contrarian way.

    And the folks you’re replying to have reason to focus on Hollywood. As I wrote, “Such a[n auteurist-lite] lens is often applied to big Hollywood/studio productions because such an influence wouldn’t be expected there, as opposed to experimental cinema where it’s the norm.” This isn’t an endorsement of Hollywood — it’s a picking-apart of its contradictions and the few random flukes where artists go over and above their mechanistic factory-roles.

    Also, your referring to your gripe-fest as such in a sarcastic way doesn’t make it any less of a gripe fest. Keep acting like you have and you’ll prove my point.

    Back to you: “Maybe we should cite actual sources for a change?”

    Because everyone knows those sources and they don’t contradict what folks have been trying to tell you.

    Maybe you should stop huffing glue before commenting? Or, better yet, maybe stop using yourself as your own sounding-board?

  100. “Is Bazin detecting bourgeois individualism?”

    Yes. He’s basically advocating for a more-reasoned application of auteurism: “the politique des auteurs seems to me to hold and defend an essential critical truth that the cinema is in need of more than the other arts, precisely because an act of true artistic creation is more uncertain and vulnerable in the cinema than elsewhere. But its exclusive practice leads to another danger: the negation of the film to the benefit of praise of its auteur.” And it’s important to study Hollywood for where artists were vulnerable but happened to actually create art despite the system.

  101. DE,DC! Holy BEZARKS! My favorite book is coming out this spring!! I mentioned its extreme rarity earlier on this very thread. Got a copy for about $350 (it is worth $2K — only 44 known extant copies). CHECK IT OUT

    http://toughpoets.com/book_bodenheim.htm

  102. My theory is that Bodenheim’s book was burned in bonfires all over the nation, since it starts attacking FDR’s New Deal reforms as pro-business grifting on page ONE — and never stops. I had had a half-baked idea of publishing a new edition myself, when a pal at Feral House tipped me to the above link. David Cairns, David Ehrensein — I SERIOUSLY HOPE YOU BUY AND READ. Bodenheim’s prose is utterly unique. He and Ben Hecht wrote together; and I believe Hecht paid for Bodenheim’s burial (he was often homeless).

  103. Bodenheim > Welles + all auteurs

  104. I started with NAKED ON ROLLER SKATES and still adore it. GEORGIE MAY is also amazing and his earlier BLACKGUARD has its surprises — there’s DUKE HERRING for hilarious slang, and I just revisited NINTH AVENUE, about a woiking goil who aspires to write — she dates a black man in 1926! You will either love or hate the way he writes women. They’re budding intellectuals in hard-bitten lives, a scenario for which I am an unapologetic sucker. And the prose! Keep in mind I like D’Annunzio.

  105. Pauline Kael can hardly be dismissed as “irrelevant” in a conversation about Auteur Theory. She is, after all, its best known opponent in the States, where the theory has become the only game in town.

  106. Kael and Durgnat lost that fight, sadly.

  107. “… auteur critics tend to downgrade writer-directors—who are in the best position to use the film medium for personal expression…” -Kael

  108. ““… auteur critics tend to downgrade writer-directors—who are in the best position to use the film medium for personal expression…” -Kael”

    No we don’t. Try again.

  109. It’s not difficult to extrapolate from Kael’s above criticism that an experimental filmmaker, often the sole creator of a film, is implicitly banished from Auteur Theory. But you can just read the theory itself and see how directly it cuts out experimenters working at the margins of commercial cinema. Kael focused on commercial cinema, which is a huge problem. Her interview with Brakhage makes her sound bone stupid. She had lapses like all of us.

  110. This is comment 113.

  111. “We” being hardcore auteurists and auteur-lite folks like myself that you’re lumping together hopelessly.

  112. “It’s not difficult to extrapolate from Kael’s above criticism that an experimental filmmaker, often the sole creator of a film, is implicitly banished from Auteur Theory. But you can just read the theory itself and see how directly it cuts out experimenters working at the margins of commercial cinema.”

    You have not proven this. You’ve just asserted it. Auteurism covers folks working within commercial cinema and outside of it. Just because we’re talking about a piece of commercial cinema with MANK doesn’t mean we’re discounting those outside of it.

  113. “My theory is that Bodenheim’s book was burned in bonfires all over the nation, since it starts attacking FDR’s New Deal reforms as pro-business grifting on page ONE — and never stops. I had had a half-baked idea of publishing a new edition myself, when a pal at Feral House tipped me to the above link. David Cairns, David Ehrensein — I SERIOUSLY HOPE YOU BUY AND READ. Bodenheim’s prose is utterly unique. He and Ben Hecht wrote together; and I believe Hecht paid for Bodenheim’s burial (he was often homeless).”

    We get it, Daniel. You read books and you published a book that could be sold as party gag item. Do you want a medal?

    “Bodenheim > Welles + all auteurs”

    Lemme correct that for you: “Bodenheim > Welles + all auteurs > Marvel films > finger painting > your work”.

    “Pauline Kael can hardly be dismissed as “irrelevant” in a conversation about Auteur Theory. She is, after all, its best known opponent in the States, where the theory has become the only game in town.”

    Her ignorance of it and unfairness towards the subject matter makes her irrelevant. I was trying to tell you that, and you missed it. Again. And nobody — NOBODY — here is excluding independent, experimental, avant-garde, and other non-establishment films. In fact, auteurists and auterists-lite LOVE that stuff.

    Case in point: You don’t seem to get that Welles admirers moved on from KANE all the way back in 1965 with CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. Then Kael came out with her toxic article, betraying a huge ignorance of what folks like Bazin had been trying to say about artists and the Hollywood industry (You: “But she was the first to talk about auteurism–!!!”), and prompting so many rebuttals to the point where everybody talked about KANE again. The controversy also gave the establishment snobs more of an excuse to leave KANE at the top of the “best films ever” lists (which, as I’ve said, are crap) and perpetuate the myth that “anti-establishment genius” = “self-destruction and arrogance”. This in turn allowed them to recycle what’s been a myth of Welles from the beginning, that he was a self-destructive brat, all while superficially praising him. Hell, it was reflected in the 1996 PBS doc THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE.

    Personally, I think KANE’s a helluva film, but I don’t really care about it. I actually prefer THE TRIAL and F FOR FAKE. For all your and others’ posturing that Welles people are making KANE more of an important film than it is, it’s YOUR TYPE that keeps bringing it up.

    You’re more of an establishment apologist than you think you are.

  114. Is this thread still going? Let’s set a record!

  115. I forgot how much weight Alec Baldwin lost near the end of 30 Rock. Veganism > auteurism

  116. Another thing that Pauline Kael resented about the formulaic and reflexive set of assumptions embedded in Auteurism? Its addiction to the gestalt evaluation of a director’s entire oeuvre: see one film by John Ford and love it? “Shut up!”, says the Auteur Theorist. i. miss Kojak. And Barney Miller.

  117. I’m hoping Sean Penn sends in the military to jail Covid deniers and. Auteurists. My keyboard drops random periods.

  118. Goddammit. I just registered “Comment 113” with the WGA.

  119. And you just ignored what I said with a subject change — as well as a strawman crossed with a non-sequitur — so you forfeit. Fine by me. Also, maybe if you stop drinking cocktails and spilling them everywhere, your keyboard wouldn’t be so shitty.

  120. “Like”. Jeff! Did you see???!! Bodenheim’s SLOW VISION will be out in the spring. A new edition!

  121. I saw. Bodenheim would have been at the top of my “Least Likely To Be Reprinted In The 21st Century” list, had I ever compiled such a list. Amazing times!

  122. Stop talking to yourself, Daniel.

  123. Barney Miller, the creation of auteur Theodore J. Flicker.

    The idea of movie reviewer Pauline Kael as some champion of experimental film is absurd: she had a widely-read platform, when did she ever write about experimental film? I’m prepared to believe she may have done so once, or a couple of times.

    The other irony being that Kael reviewed movies purely as the expression of their directors’ voices. It’s rare to find her mentioning a screenwriter outside of Raising Kane. Which was a purely personal attack on Welles, for whatever reason: I think because he was worshipped by the Sarrisites, her hated foes.

  124. Jeff: RIGHT?!!!! But it is HAPPENING!!! Nic’s inability to read must be contagious. David Cairns has inhaled the virus! I point out how HOSTILE Kael was to experimentalism (above? “C’mon, man!”, just to quote your favorite new Prez). Duh. Doy. And no shit. Oh, David, I will soon send you a draft — becuz you wrote an essay you did not know you wrote. I will also bow out of this thread. Aren’t ya’ glad?!

  125. “Nic’s inability to read must be contagious.”

    Stop projecting, too.

  126. I lied, Jeff Gee! Please get my emaill address from Dacid Cairns if you would like a paid writing gig. If not, ENJOY BODENHEIM’S “SLOW VISION”!

  127. “I point out how HOSTILE Kael was to experimentalism (above?”

    Yeah, let’s talk about this tactic of yours. This is what you wrote: “It’s not difficult to extrapolate from Kael’s above criticism that an experimental filmmaker, often the sole creator of a film, is implicitly banished from Auteur Theory. But you can just read the theory itself and see how directly it cuts out experimenters working at the margins of commercial cinema. Kael focused on commercial cinema, which is a huge problem. Her interview with Brakhage makes her sound bone stupid. She had lapses like all of us.”

    Nowhere did you say she was “HOSTILE” to experimentalism. All you said was that she “focused” on commercial cinema and was “stupid” in an interview with Brakhage, right after you talked about how experimentalism was “implicitly banished” from auteur theory on her reading. A reasonable interpretation of this unclear statement of yours is that she somehow didn’t like what auteur theory did to experimental cinema but was completely out of her depth when discussing it. If you wanted to communicate that she didn’t like experimentalism, you should have said, “Kael didn’t like experimentalism.”

    But then again… You don’t want to be clear. You want to obfuscate. That way, you can always say, “You don’t get it” and buy yourself an excuse to ramble some more.

    *Mic drop*

  128. Comment 131! Actually, Kael’s Raising Kane has a number of axes to grind, some of them silly — and others “ideological” in the best sense. I can be pretty dismissive of Kael, depending on my mood (David C and David E, you know that her inflexibility as a Cold War critic bugs me). But Auteurism has so overwhelmed the Film Crit biosphere with plastic, I’m singing her praises here and now.

  129. I will watch MANK tonight.

  130. THEN we’ll finally have something to talk about here! Looking forward to some discussion at last.

  131. Obnoxious credits signaling PO-MO irony on the slant — like the SOUND, WHICH IS AWFUL AND INTENTIONAL-ECHO-Y CRUD! Lighting mythic and ironic… AT THE SAME TIME. JUNK!!! 5 minutes in.

  132. Dialogue worthy of Dawson’s Creek.

  133. Aspect ratio (SQUARE, PLEASE!!) feeds into over-artful light. NOTHING IS NOT PRETTY!

  134. Outdoor scenes less unbearable. But cloying soundstage reverb EVEN MORE ABSURD in this context. NOT ONE FUNNY JOKE.

  135. Why don’t you watch the movie and THEN write something? No one wants a series of your self-assured, stream-of-consciousness, gleefully-confused comments, you hack.

  136. Kinda takes Kael’s side thus far. 36 minutes in… Amanuensis’s husband dies. She’s plucky? AIIIEEEEEE!!!!

  137. POWER WALKING FOR LBM? Everychoice execrable.

  138. You unreasonable, stupid douchebag. You’re sarcastically picking apart every little thing about the movie (real fucking clever, that) except the Kael stuff, all out of spite and a desire to take up further space in the comments.

  139. Gary Oldman playing Jewish. YIKES!

  140. SHITE POLITICS. A liberal and hollow dream. Workers vanish. Only living on the tongues of rich assholes.

  141. UPTON SINCLAIR IS AN ABSTRACTION IN MANK’S EAR!

  142. THIS FILM IS IS IS AUTEUR THEORY

  143. Oldman lights up at socialism. pace of film (rushed and NOT snappy) denies socialism — always moving on to the next thing. COLD FISH. And I’m sure. this. all passes for a “critique of Hollywood vacuity. NO NO NO — LIBERALS LOVE THE EMPTINESS!!!!!!!

  144. Convoluted anti-semitism.

  145. Good montages. ACTUAL EMOTION!

  146. Amanda S too young and thin.

  147. THAT SPEECH AT THE COSTUME PARTY! Reinforces an already ubiquitous idea that liberals in the media are brave. Acting’s. great. in this. scene. Message pukey. No worries! The servants will clean it up!

  148. Deep space gas NO TENSION

  149. “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
    –Daniel Riccuito

  150. One thing I really should have pointed out — the anti-Semitic bit where the secretary asks if Mr Bernstein in Kane is based on Mayer. They have NOTHING in common save for being Jewish…

  151. Agreed. But that’s just one instance of the profound and consistent anti-Semitism (at the service of “liberal values”) that MANK embodies. Fucking gross.

  152. I’ve had time to sit with MANK and mull its strengths. The actors’ perfs were often pretty terrific despite terrible dialogue. Contemplate the irony if you dare! The Hearst character was played with an admirable combination of… David! Help me out!… How should I describe all that funny shit going on behind obligatory archness? The eyes, the eyes! And Mank’s German assistant/slave had that naturalistic moment at the sink running against the grain of hamfisted WWII messaging. Thalber: understated. Nice.

  153. And Oldman disappears into the part: I forgot he was talking funny.

  154. ncicconeumich Says:

    I have to come back here to see what a colossal mess Riccuito is.

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