Private Greatness: David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

This week, Hollywood is abuzz about HBO Max’s assault on theatrical windows. It is perhaps the greatest threat yet to cinema as we know it, in a year that had already been most unkind to older forms of entertainment, giving streaming platforms even more of an upperhand — a shot in the arm they really didn’t need.

This week also sees the premiere of a feature film made for Netflix by David Fincher, an executive producer and the first episodic director of House Of Cards, which kicked off the platform’s reign as the king of original streaming content and sent the film market slowly but surely moving toward the home viewing experience. Fincher, one of cinema’s most celebrated auteurs, is already quite cozy with the streaming giant; in addition to House Of Cards, he’s executive produced two seasons of the stellar psychological horror series Mindhunter, and directed seven episodes. Fincher is known for his Kubrickian control behind the camera — a meticulous attention to detail, shooting take after take until he gets it right. You might expect him to be a purist like Christopher Nolan, another lauded technical craftsman whose Tenet — made for Warner Bros., under the same umbrella that owns HBO Max — ceremoniously flopped in theaters this summer, proving Nolan’s usual pied piper effect was no match for a catastrophic pandemic that had most moviegoers wisely deciding to consume their entertainment safely at home. Nolan has been one of the last defenders of the old school theatrical experience, shooting on film, showing up on IMAX screens. But he’ll need to find a new home if he’s to stick to his guns, for no Warner Bros. feature will debut exclusively in theaters any time soon.

Meanwhile, over at Netflix, Fincher has been given all the autonomy an auteur could ask for. Mank looks and sounds like a film from Hollywood’s golden age, the classics that were shot on film and played exclusively in theaters. In 2020, you can’t make a movie like that anymore — not even Nolan, one of the last men who could, has that guarantee anymore. But if you play by the streamers’ rules, you can make a pretty good facsimile of the movies that made a name for Warner Bros. and Paramount and Universal — the movies those studios won’t make anymore. How ironic, that the same day many decry as the Day the Movies Died, their well-preserved corpse shows up alive and well over at Netflix, ready to tap dance its way through awards season.

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