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McBride on Mank

Joseph McBride, As You Would Expect: “The latest Hollywoodite to jump on the anti-Welles bandwagon is director David Fincher, whose Mank is one in a string of films portraying Welles as a megalomaniacal bogeyman. And, borrowing from Pauline Kael’s discredited 1971 New Yorker article ‘Raising Kane,’ the film accuses him of being a credit thief. Mank even goes beyond Kael to portray Welles as an overhyped charlatan as a director. It is no longer surprising that many uncritically swallow the lies and distortions this film peddles or sidestepped the Kael controversy in a cowardly way. These pernicious myths designed to tear down a great filmmaker persist despite the fact that careful research by film historian Robert L Carringer in 1978 discredited Kael’s claim that Welles didn’t write any of the screenplay of Citizen Kane, which is credited both to him and, in first position, Mankiewicz. I tried to analyze the roots of Welles hatred in my 2006 book ‘What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career,’ including the strange American obsession with Welles’ weight. As Jonathan Rosenbaum has noted, harping on his weight is a coded way of attacking him for being an artist (i.e., an artist in American eyes is someone profligate, wasteful, hedonistic). I thought I had put that talk to rest, but it has had a resurgence. Such hangups don’t affect Welles’ reputation in other, less puritanical countries. The American antipathy to Welles on a more serious, overt level stems from the unflagging radicalism of his work, thematically and stylistically, in the theater, radio and film. That caused him to be regarded as a dangerous influence from his days in the New York theater in the late 1930s, when he first came under attack by the Hearst papers, before he provoked them further by critiquing William Randolph Hearst in his daringly antifascist 1941 Hollywood debut film. Rosenbaum further observed that another scandal of Welles’ career in the eyes of Hollywood is that he used his own money to make his films. That is one of the oldest taboos in the industry and marked Welles as someone to be shunned and despised.”

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