Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of both new and classic films. Learn some film history, become a rounder viewer, and enjoy like-minded works from the past. This post recommends watching movies after you’ve streamed David Fincher’s Mank on Netflix.
Let’s start with that Citizen Kane isn’t on this list of movies we recommend after you’ve seen them David Fincher‘s Deficiency. Why not? Well, because it’s best to see Kane before Mank. If you’ve come here after watching Herman J. Mankiewicz’s new biopic on Netflix and haven’t seen Kane, then of course this is an important watch. Do that. But I also think Kane is a better fit for Fincher The social network, a much bigger movie than Mank (this should be true no matter who does the ranking).
Yes, despite its relevance, the social network is not on this list either. You should have seen this by now and then seen Kane and then Mank. I am not including any of Fincher’s other feature films. But there might be a nod to something from him below. Most of the time I have put together other titles that tell the story behind the making of Citizen Kane and the story of Citizen Kane William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies – plus an introduction to their films – along with a few other goodies that I think are appropriate.
Trumbo (2007) and Trumbo (2015)
There are perhaps a handful of brilliant films about screenwriters: Barton Fink, In a lonely place, Adaptation, contempt, and of course, Twilight Boulevard. But neither of them is a biography (no, adaptation doesn’t count). For films about the few real screenwriters with stories to tell, documentaries are the best place to turn around. You have without lying down: Frances Marion and the power of women in Hollywood, the Oscar nominee Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter’s Journey, and Trumboabout the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
I will always recommend the documentary first and foremost, and the former Trumbo is definitely an intriguing and thorough watch that has many Hollywood actors involved in, not just interviewees, but readers and reenactors as well. But the later biopic of the same name, which sounds like a remake but isn’t really, is a more compatible recommendation next to Mank’s red-scare drama. Bryan Cranston’s Oscar-nominated performance is mostly fun, which is reason enough to see him.
Biography: Louis B. Mayer (2004) and Irving Thalberg: Prince of Hollywood (2005)
Warning / Promise: You’re getting a lot of documentary recommendations this week (but unfortunately none at Hearst since then Citizen Hearst it’s more about his company’s legacy than about him). Here are two more for a backstory and another story about two prominent characters in Mank. The first is a forty-five minute look at the life of Louis B. Mayer, produced as a result of the A&E biography series. The second is obviously about Thalberg, and Stanley Tucci is the narrator. They naturally overlap and are nothing special, but if you’re looking for bigger pictures these are worth seeing.
The Cat’s Meow (2001)
Director: Orson Welles confidante Peter Bogdanovich, The cat’s meow plays Kirsten Dunst as Davies and Edward Hermann as Hearst in the infamous story of the strange death of Hollywood producer Thomas H. Ince (Cary Elwes) after a party on board Hearst’s yacht in 1924. Charlie Chaplin is there too – or in one You can get such a version of Chaplin by casting Eddie Izzard in the role. The film takes place half a decade before one of Mank’s events, but shows a different take on some of his characters.
The version of the events of the film – as written by Steven Peros based on his own play – comes close to what he heard from Welles, who heard it from Davies ‘nephew, screenwriter Charles Lederer (Joseph Cross’ character in Mank), had heard. Allegedly, Welles almost included a more direct reference to the scandal in Citizen Kane, as found in the first draft of Herman Mankiewicz’s script. “If I had kept it,” Welles said to Bogdanovich, “I would have had no problems with Hearst. He wouldn’t have dared to admit it was him.
I don’t love The Cat’s Meow (and I don’t love Mank either). It’s too stupid for the material I think. And I don’t like Dunst’s performance, but I think it’s worth seeing other renditions of Davies. It’s also kind of funny that she’s played by someone who later portrayed Marie Antoinette (see below). The story of Virginia Madsen’s unfortunate characterization of Davies in the 1985 television movie The Hearst and Davies affair Also interesting is (with Robert Mitchum as Hearst) before she knew and loved the subject better.
By the way, Gretchen Mol doesn’t have much to do with the role (other than Heart’s Arm Candy) in the 1999 film Cradle will rockand Davies is barely worth mentioning as a character in the 1992 biography Chaplin (again just part of a couple with Hearst) but it’s recommended to watch both films anyway to cover politics and entertainment in the same time period. The full Davies story can also be found in the 2001 document Captured on film: the true story of Marion Davies tells of Charlize Theron.
The Struggle for Citizens Kane (1996) and RKO 281 (1999)
According to Mank, if there is only one film, it is this one RKO 281and many other websites endorse this idea (see Gregory Lawrence’s article for Collider and Vince Mancini’s article for Uproxx). The HBO production for cable offers a different perspective on the making of Citizen Kane, with more focus on Welles (played by Liev Schrieber) and the completion and release of the film in a fight with Hearst (James Cromwell). John Malkovich plays Mank (a more age-appropriate) while Melanie is Griffith Davies, who is funny enough to help her “Pops” financially by selling all of her jewelry.
This time the dramatic film is based on a documentary. I sometimes refer to RKO 281 as a remake of The fight for Citizen Kanebut it is classified more appropriately as an adaptation. The Oscar-nominated Doc offers a broader, but also more detailed, look at the lives of Welles and Hearst (who receives some criticism for bringing the two together so much) and the making of Welles’ film and Hearst’s attempt to bury it . After watching it you will wonder if there could ever be a single definitive film about the story of Kane.
It’s All True: Based on an unfinished Orson Welles film (1993)
You could make a film, documentary or dramatic, about almost any of Welles’ films. Its second feature, The great ambers, another fierce battle for its completion and publication (a new document on finding Welles’ cut is currently in the works but will be delayed due to COVID-19). His third, Journey into fearwas a strange production that resulted in directors working together that were not in the credits. And then there is something else It’s all trueThis has inspired some documents, including this feature that explains the unfinished project and seeks to restore at least part of it.
The reason I recommend the “It’s All True” document here is for anyone wondering about the end of Mank and why Welles is in Brazil and unable to attend the Oscars. He made It’s All True, a planned three-part anthology dealing with Latin America, mixing fiction and non-fiction in support of Good Neighbor politics – think Disney’s Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, but all live-action and from a perspective Welles. RKO finished the film before it was finished and broke off portions of the footage it captured and used it for other purposes. But much of It’s All True was not filmed and / or destroyed.
Welles, who was in Brazil at the time, is also why it is believed that there is a lost full print of The Magnificent Ambersons down there (see mention of the document in the works above). So the story of the production of It’s All True and Welles in Brazil is a lot and at the same time another piece of the puzzle about the filmmaker’s ambitions and his struggles. You can proceed to Welles’ own making-of documents The shooting of Othello and Film the process (which itself was unfinished) and definitely included the 2018 document You will love me when I’m dead‘Netflix’ companion to the Final Welles feature, which was finally completed posthumously, The other side of the wind.