Screenwriter steps into the spotlight

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Gary Oldman as “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz in “Mank”.

Streaming columnist NICK OVERALL previews what happens when the screenwriter of a movie classic steps into the spotlight. 

“MANK” is a new film about Herman J Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of what’s widely regarded by many as the greatest film of all time, “Citizen Kane”.

Nick Overall.

The story of a media mogul gone mad with power, “Citizen Kane” is firmly cemented in not only the Cinema Hall of Fame but popular culture generally as Orson Welles, who directed and starred in the film, became a legend.

Even as a young lad with no knowledge of Welles or his star character, I had some semblance of an idea of what “Citizen Kane” might be about thanks to the countless honours, references and parodies of the film that have continued to ripple through the entertainment landscape.

I particularly remember one episode of “The Simpsons”, with all of its clever little 2D animation attempting to replicate many shots from the iconic film. Years later, when I chose to study “Citizen Kane” at uni, my mind immediately made the connection and it did make me chuckle.

However, less known (and the topic of Netflix’s new film) is the story of the man who penned the now-famed script and the struggles he came up against doing so.

Of particular controversy, and what “Mank” dives into, is the way the “Citizen Kane” script came to closely resemble the life of William Randolph Hearst, a news and media goliath who, for a time, created and controlled the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.

Hearst’s wealth would go on to allow him to buy a castle named, go figure, Hearst Castle that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. In the film, Kane goes mad in the halls of his own acquired abode of opulence.

Predictably, Hearst hated the idea of a movie trying to paint him in even the faintest bad light and so he used his army of media resources to get the film banned.

That didn’t happen, but Hearst was still able to greatly damage Welles and his career. Hearst hadn’t even seen it, either.

All of this is captured in “Mank”, filmed in striking black and white to conjure up the imagery and tone of “Citizen Kane”, which was released in 1941. It’s pulled together by a fantastic lead performance from Gary Oldman as the screenwriter himself.

Watching “Mank” and revisiting “Citizen Kane” becomes all the more interesting in light of the continued heated argument we see unfolding around Rupert Murdoch, and particularly the opposition he’s been up against believing his power and influence is stretching a bit too far.

It’s also directed by famed film maker David Fincher who has given audiences crime cult classics such as “Fight Club” and “Seven”, as well as his more recent adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling thriller, “Gone Girl”.

The one worth revisiting is “Zodiac” (on Foxtel Group’s Binge), about a  serial killer at large in San Francisco between 1968 and 1969, who to this day remains uncaught.

I highlight it after news in the last few weeks of an Australian mathematician actually helping with cracking one of the codes that the “Zodiac Killer” infamously sent to the “San Francisco Chronicle” newspaper at the height of his criminal behaviour.

Known as the 340 Cipher, the code, according to the team who broke it reads, “I hope you are having lots of fun trying to catch me”.

As if the film wasn’t creepy enough as it is, sheesh.

More of Nick Overall on Twitter @nick_overall

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