Shot in shadowy black-and-white mimicking the look of celluloid with plenty of Golden Age details, back lot and a Hearst Castle scene, the film streaming on Netflix Dec. 4 is a visual delight.
The film was a passion project for Fincher, who even references certain deep focus shots from “Citizen Kane” while telling the story of his own tragic figure Mank, laid up after a car accident with a broken leg at a ranch in Victorville, Calif. ,with a looming deadline for “The American,” the script that would become “Citizen Kane.”
His personal drama is set against a pastiche of flashbacks to the time he arrived in Thirties Hollywood, with all its money and power politics, then driven not by liberalism but by the anti-socialist Republican Party. In one eerily familiar plot line, Mayer, Thalberg, Hearst and their cronies derail Democratic candidate Upton Sinclair using doctored newsreels in a moment of proto fake news. It’s this affront that inspires the antiestablishment Mank to base “Citizen Kane” on Hearst.
“Dave was particular about wanting to age film, and work in black-and-white, so for me, it was figuring out lighting and what type of camera he was going to use to shoot,” said Summerville, explaining that the old ways of working are harder than one would think. “I did a lot of swatching fabrics, going to rental houses, laying out different options and photographing them in the three different black-and-white settings of my phone. Then I would send them to him, and say give me a lead of where you are going. The closest thing was the monochromatic setting on my phone, he said, so I started photographing everything in that,” the designer explained.