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214. Citizen Kane – Christmas 2020 (#97)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Niall Murphy, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Following the death of Charles Foster Kane, reports of the magnate’s final word slip out to the press. Trying to parse a portrait of the public figure’s life and times, a reporter attempts to discern the meaning of the word, “Rosebud.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 97th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Mank

There’s something vaguely reassuring about Mank.

The most obviously and immediately striking aspect of David Fincher’s biopic is how consciously the film is steeped in a very particular time and place. Mank plays out against the backdrop of the thirties and forties, following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he is inspired to develop (and as he actually writes) Citizen Kane. So much of the film deliberately evokes the period; numerous inside jokes and cameos from key Hollywood figures, the stark black-and-white cinematography from Erik Messerschmidt, the way Fincher even frames shots to evoke the period.

However, all of these period elements are juxtaposed with a broader sense of modernity and timelessness. Mank is shot in the same black-and-white style as Citizen Kane, but in a modern aspect ratio. The film features cigarette burns and other markers of classic cinema, but was shot entirely digitally. The film even offers an almost parodic old-fashioned happy ending for most of the major characters, but while telling a story that simply would not have been possible within that studio system.

The result is a movie that celebrates Hollywood without venerating it. Indeed, what distinguishes Mank from many other “films about films” like The Artist or Hugo is the way in which it tempers its nostalgia. Mank doesn’t necessarily long for the past in the way that most Hollywood productions about Hollywood do. This ambivalence to nostalgia is not cynicism or futurism, but a tacit acknowledgement that the past is still present. Mankiewicz might be rubbing shoulder with the players of another era, but the rules remain largely the same.

Indeed, the real joy of Mank is not found its glorification of Hollywood titans or the products of the studio system, but in its celebration of the “supporting players.” The story of the “organ grinder’s monkey” is discussed repeatedly, often as a metaphor for power a hierarchy. Instead, Mank seems to suggest that the relationship is symbiotic. There’s something striking in a movie from a director as venerated as David Fincher that is so openly critical of the various myths of Hollywood like the auteur theory and its cousin “the great man” theory of history.

Mank is the story of a little man, one repeatedly framed as “the court jester” and who does little to push back on that characterisation. As one might expect for a movie about Citizen KaneKing Lear is a frequent point of reference. If so, Mank suggests that the fool has the best view of all.

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All’s Welles That Ends Welles: “The Other Side of the Wind” and a Sense of Seventies Timelessness…

There is a tendency to think of the current moment as the most important moment; call it “modernity bias.”

There is a certain egocentricism inherent in this premise, in the idea that this moment when we exist will always be the most important moment. On a purely philosophical level, there may some truth in the idea. After all, this is the one moment when we actually get to make a decision and exercise agency, this is the one moment where a course of action can be changed. Of course, people have made decisions in the past and can plan for the future, but this is the moment that exists right now. It’s understandable to think of the current moment in such terms.

Sometimes this can make it hard to engage with popular culture outside of those terms. Of course, a lot of popular culture is defined by the moment in which it was released. It would be hard to separate All the President’s Men (or even conspiracy thrillers like The Conversation or The Parallax View) from the cultural paranoia of the seventies, just as it would be hard to divorce films like Fight Club (or The Matrix) from the pre-millennial anxieties that informed them. This is not to suggest that these movies lack relevance outside their moments, but instead to acknowledge they are rooted in their times.

In most cases, works are released relatively close to the time at which they were produced, meaning that audiences and critics respond to these films in the context in which they were made. Audiences reacting to films like All The President’s Men or Fight Club were very much in step with the culture that informed it, and so there was a strong communion between what the film was saying and what the audience was hearing. Indeed, any critical reevaluation of these works exists in conversation with the original evaluation, and so the cultural conversation about these works of art tends to move forward from a fixed point.

However, this creates a challenge in assessing works that exist outside of that template. “Lost” works that have been recovered. “Incomplete” works that have been finished. Even older works that have been revisited. It is, for example very hard to separate Doug Liman’s reworked 2018 director’s cut of his 2010 film Fair Game from the context of its later release, specifically President Donald Trump’s pardoning of a key official involved in the events depicted in the film. It becomes an even bigger challenge when dealing with a work that is seeing the light of day for the first time years removed from its original context.

Is The Other Side of the Wind a lost seventies film, or is it a film for the closing of the second decade of the twenty-first century? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it something else entirely?

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Non-Review Review: They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead serves as a convincing argument that The Other Side of the Wind works better as a story than as an actual object that exists.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a feature-length documentary that is only a few minutes shorter than its subject, providing an exploration of The Other Side of the Wind, from its conception through it development and into its long and storied afterlife. It is a very exciting and engaging tale, one that sweeps across Hollywood history, delving into a variety of nooks and crannies. It is a story that is intertwined with dissolving marriages and international politics, of bad luck and tremendous arrogance. All of this existing in the shadow of Orson Welles.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead offers an account of the production of Orson Welles’ ill-fated experimental piece of metafiction. It is perhaps a testament to The Other Side of the Wind that it occasionally feels like They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead can perhaps be folded into the wild ambitions of an ageing filmmaker working on a project that would not materialise during his life-time. Towards the end of They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, archive footage of Orson Welles finds the auteur musing on his next project.

“Maybe it isn’t even the picture,” he confesses to the press. “Maybe it’s just talking about the picture.” Maybe The Other Side of the Wind is not the real headline. Maybe They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is the real headline.

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Non-Review Review: The Other Side of the Wind

It is still strange to think of The Other Side of the Wind as an object that actually exists.

The film has haunted film films for decades, the prospect and potential of one last Orson Welles film that remains to be found long after the iconic director’s passing. The footage had all been shot. The material was gathered. All that had to be done was to journey through those hours and hours of material, in search of something resembling a feature film. It evokes that famous story about how Michelangelo approached sculpting, except that instead of a lump of marble, this work of art is to be subtracted from mountains of film.

Of course, there is a valid debate to be had about whether the version of The Other Side of the Wind that has been screened can claim to be the real or actual version. After all, the film arguably only ever existed inside the head of Orson Welles. After his passing, the only thing that could be released was an approximation of his vision, an impression of his filmmaking. This is particularly true given the extent to which Welles relied on editing in his filmmaking. Welles famously boasted to Cahiers du Cinema that editing was more important than mise en scene.

However, watching The Other Side of the Wind, there is a strong sense that Welles himself would approve this ambiguity, that he would actively encourage it. The Other Side of the Wind is a knowingly twisty and slippery piece of work, a wry and iconic piece of film that somehow still seems avante garde more than four decades after it was originally shot. There is a sense in which The Other Side of the Wind feels like sly and biting joke, one told by a comedian with pitch-perfect timing. Only one question remains. Who is the butt of this joke?

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84. Touch of Evil (#241)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guests Charlene Lydon and Grace Duffy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.

A murder in a small border town stokes local tensions, as Ramon Miguel Vargas finds himself drawn into an investigation overseen by Police Captain Hank Quinlan. As Quinlan pursues his lines of inquiry, Vargas quickly comes to realise that his would-be partner is not what he appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 241st best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #32!

Bringing us almost up to date with the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jason Coyle, Alex Towers from When Irish Eyes Are Watching and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in film, including what we watched, the latest news, the top ten and the new releases. This episode, Jay discusses the portrayal of the working class in Eden Lake, Alex remarks on his experiences with Studio Ghibli, Ronan reflects on the Orson Welles season at the Irish Film Institute and offers his take on The Children Act. We also, in the context of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, discuss the all-time top ten at the Irish box office.

New releases include Yardie, Cold War, Action Point, The Happytime Murders, Searching… and Upgrade.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #22!

Almost caught up on the backlog of the Scannain podcast.

This week, I join Donnacha Coffey of Filmgrabber, Jay Coyle and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in Irish film news. An eclectic discussion as ever, topics include the tragic loss of mid-budget nineties thrillers like The Peacemaker, the sad and angry later work of Orson Welles, the perfect age at which to watch Steven Spielberg, a lightning round on the Galway Film Fleadh, the Inaugural International Week of the Trailer. New releases include Hereditary.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

 

Non-Review Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow evokes pulp science-fiction cinema with an earnestness and an eagerness that is endearing, if not infectious. Although the special effects have dated significantly in the time since the movie’s release, it’s hard not to admire director Kerry Conron’s use of computer graphics to forge a connection to classic cinema. However, one senses that Conron might have been better suited to emulate the mood, rather than merely the appearance, of these old adventure serials. The problem is that despite its rather wonderfully crafted appearance, there’s never anything in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to really get excited about. And that’s a shame.

A ray of hope?

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Non-Review Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (try saying that ten times fast) is one of those quirky cult movies that has built up a rather large following in the twenty-five-odd years since its initial release. Not withstanding the wonderfully quirky title, the intentionally campy production design, and perfectly awesome cast, it’s easy to see why the movie may have found the niche which cherishes it so much. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to see to see why the movie never found its footing with a larger audience.

Not so fast, Buckaroo...

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