It’s hard to imagine, but it’s been five years since we last had a David Fincher movie. And that movie was Gone Girl, a monster hit adaptation of a monster hit page-turner. After some time with TV, which produced the excellent Mindhunter, finally back next month with Mank, an already acclaimed look at the Herman Mankiewicz, the Golden Age of Hollywood player best known for co-writing Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. Fincher’s been doing press ahead of its Netflix release, and in one, with The Telegraph, he didn’t care whose toes he stepped on.
Those trod-upon toes included no less than Orson Welles, who he implied was arrogant when he made his debut feature, at all of 25. (Welles would have probably agreed.) But he also dissed a more recent film: Joker, the stand-alone semi-spin-off that, perhaps improbably, made a billion dollars despite it being pretty dark and depressing. But Fincher was not one of its fans, feeling it betrayed the work of another comic book movie critic, Martin Scorsese.
“I don’t think ¬anyone would have looked at that material and thought, Yeah, let’s take [Taxi Driver’s] Travis Bickle and [The King of Comedy’s] Rupert Pupkin and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars,” Fincher said.
That aside, Fincher was impressed that a film that dark made bank, though he attributed its success to another movie. “Nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with Joker had The Dark Knight not been as massive as it was,” he said. He also compared it, at least spiritually, to his experience making Fight Club two decades back. “The general view afterwards among the studio types was, ‘Our careers are over.’ The fact we got that film made in 1999 is still, to my mind, a miracle.”
As for Welles, Fincher had some thoughts. “Well, I think Orson Welles’s tragedy lies in the mix between monumental talent and filthy immaturity,” Fincher said. “Sure, there is genius in Citizen Kane, who could argue? But when Welles says, ‘It only takes an afternoon to learn everything there is to know about cinematography,’ pfff… Let’s say that this is the remark of someone who has been lucky to have [cinematographer] Gregg Toland around him to prepare the next shot… Gregg Toland, damn it, an insane genius !”
And he wasn’t done:
“I say that without wanting to be disrespectful to Welles, I know what I owe him, like I know what I owe Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, or Hal Ashby. But at 25, you don’t know what you don’t know. Period. Neither Welles, nor anyone. It doesn’t take anything away from him, and especially not his place in the pantheon of those who have influenced entire generations of filmmakers. But to claim that Orson Welles came out of nowhere to make Citizen Kane and that the rest of his filmography was ruined by the interventions of ill-intentioned people, it’s not serious, and it is underestimating the disastrous impact of his own delusional hubris.”
Mind you, he’s not entirely wrong, and any appreciation of Welles’ work understands the mix of genius and hubris that led to one of the bumpiest — and greatest — careers in cinema.
Mank hits Netflix on December 4.
(Via The Telegraph)