No movie received more Oscar nominations in 2021 than David Fincher’s “Mank,” a Hollywood throwback about Herman Mankiewicz (Best Actor nominee Gary Oldman), Marion Davies (Best Supporting Actress nominee Amanda Seyfried), and the writing process behind Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” With 10 total nominations — including Best Picture, Best Director for Fincher, Best Actor for Oldman, Best Supporting Actress for Seyfried, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Hair & Makeup, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Score — the lavish black-and-white Netflix film is just the 96th feature in Academy Awards history to receive double-digit citations and the second-most lauded Fincher effort behind only “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
With a project comprised of so many academy-endorsed contributions, it might be difficult to imagine one single scene representing the sum of the whole. But nestled within the complex structure of Jack Fincher’s time-hopping screenplay is a sequence that combines all 10 of the “Mank” nominations and shows how each department and performance elevated the next: Mank and Marion’s stroll through San Simeon.
The sequence takes place shortly after a dinner party at Hearst Castle that leaves Mank and Marion on the defensive as the conversations turn toward the California gubernatorial race and socialist candidate Uptown Sinclair. Taking a stroll through the grounds of William Randolph Hearst’s famous compound, the two outsiders bond over booze, politics, and their shared cockeyed worldview creating the foundation of a platonic relationship that will fray as Mank writes “Citizen Kane.”
“The scene exists as some of the most blatant and painful backfilling of what’s really going on. It’s meant to bring you up to speed on why everybody in that room gets so prickly when somebody brings up Upton Sinclair,” Fincher told Entertainment Weekly last year of the sequence with his quintessential self-deprecation. “But data is not a reason for a scene. That is the worst reason for a scene. So what we wanted to do was support this idea of his platonic affairs.”
To do so, Fincher and his production team pulled out all the stops. In recreating Hearst Castle for “Mank,” Fincher and his team utilized visual effects, matte paintings, and lighting and sound tricks to make it seem like Mank and Marion were really walking through the famous landmark (which Fincher was not granted access to for his film).
“The Mank and Marion walk-and-talk sequence is interesting in that (due to technical issues) all the sounds, including the actor’s dialogue, had to be replaced,” sound designer Ren Klyce, a nine-time Oscar nominee, tells Gold Derby via email. “Because of that, we had to replace even the smallest sounds, like Marion’s jewelry and Mank’s footfalls as they walked on the grass and crushed granite. Since San Simeon is by the ocean, David Fincher also wanted to hear the sound of distant crashing waves, giving way to the CG monkey’s screaming and elephants crying, all the while being reminded of Mank and Marion’s alcoholism with the added sounds of sloshing gin in a bottle.”
The result is one of the most memorable and rewatchable scenes of Fincher’s career — a technical marvel anchored by two charming and effortless performances.
“What makes the scene is how much fun they have with each other and how much they adore listening to one another,” Fincher told Entertainment Weekly of Oldman and Seyfried. “There’s the narrative essential of the moment, which is that the audience gets that she understands the backstory and he can illuminate the backstories that she doesn’t have any knowledge of. But it’s not that they’re falling in love; they’re falling in friendship.”
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