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Reflections on ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘Mank’ and the Demise of Live Cinema

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A hall of mirrors, not only of reflections on “Kane” and “Mank” but this very moment in time

Seeing “Mank” on netflix, in painstakingly low tech black and white on and ancient 2004 vintage plasma flat screen many coincidences seemed to converge and collide. 

In the final sequences of Mank as the epilogue divulges the Oscar win for best screenplay and indicates that “Citizen Kane” was the final film written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, while as is part of Hollywood history and lore, it was the first by Orsen Wells, as a director and actor. 

Read more: ENTERTAINMENTHBO Max / Warner Bros. news Cast a Shadow over the Future of Live Cinema

And Mank was released a dat after it was announced that Warner Bros. would begin releasing all its films (the next 17, at any rate) simultaneously on HBO max and in theaters. For many, particularly those in the movie theater business, this was seen as a possible death knell for live cinema. 

And, taking this thread further, “Mank” also touches on the fact that Citizen Kane, which in many ways marks the birth of modern filmmaking, was only released at all due to legal maneuvering by RKO Radio Pictures, and Orson Wells only had the contract allowing him full autonomy because of his status as a radio star…

Radio, in other words, was present at the inauguration of modern cinema while Streaming attends the death of the movie theater experience, for the time being, at any rate. 

Read more: Will Movie Theaters Disappear?

And while these various technical marvels, the luxurious, sensual and powerfully stimulative immersion in a dark theater, on the one hand, and the inconsistent and convenient yet ever evolving systems of today both share, as a prerequisite to all creation the written, spoken and word and the imagination the imbues its invocation.

Mank Publicity Still

A movie for the ages and a single man’s creative life that was fulfilled through it’s creation

Adding to the layers of what seems like uncanny timing, “Citizen Kane” inspirational subject in real life, William Randolph Hearst, was at the time of the film’s initial release, rich on the level that would compare to Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos today, but was a newspaper Publisher. Newspaper publishing is yet another storytelling technology that, already at that time was considered on its way out, and in “Mank” there is even a scene where Hearst touts “Talkies”, movies with sound and dialog, as the technology that would captivate the future. 

Implying, inadvertently perhaps, that we are at a similar crossroads of change, and that, while streaming, digital publishing and beyond may be “the future”, the light of good works, and of a great story well told, will shine into eternity, as will “Citizen Kane” and the man who originally conceived it: Mank.


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