You are likely to feel whisked away to the Golden Age of Hollywood while watching “Mank,” David Fincher’s historical character study about legendary studio screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his painstaking process of writing Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” Still, Fincher’s Hollywood epic won’t necessarily register as tritely nostalgic or melancholic about the past in a way showbiz movies often do. That’s because “Mank” is far more concerned about seizing a frozen-in-time type of authenticity. It’s a picture one could swear to be of the era as opposed to an homage to the era—a quality its sound design gloriously emulates by ditching contemporary sonic attributes and embracing monaural sound in order to match that of “Citizen Kane.”
“That was one of the very first things David was most eager to speak about,” recalls 7-time Academy Award-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce, who worked on 10 out of 11 Fincher movies and might win his first Oscar with “Mank.” “The original words he said to me were, ‘I want this to feel like this film was literally on the shelf next to “Citizen Kane,” existing on actual celluloid with the soundtrack on it. And I want it to sound like somebody made it back in that period.’ And that was a very interesting idea to start off with. Authenticity is the perfect word for it actually—that’s a very important thing for David in all of his movies. He wants it to feel like it’s coming from a genuine place.”
For Klyce, designing the sound of a film that hypothetically has “always been there the whole time” meant using today’s technology to fabricate a set of means and methods for the past to ultimately telegraph the feeling that the film was made then, with the technology of then. “How do we still make it feel sophisticated, but limit ourselves with an imaginary toolset of the 1940s?”
In an interview with The Playlist, Klyce detailed out his technical process and collaboration with Fincher, explaining how he achieved the vintage sound of “Mank” as well as that old-timey aural grandeur, as if the film is bouncing off the walls of a majestic movie theater.