Hollywood has a long history about making movies about itself and of the magic of cinema. We can look as far back as the first A Star is Born in 1937 to see how cinema has had an underlying interest in itself and the celebrities it creates. The fact that A Star is Born has been remade four times attests to this. Now, Barry Levinson is set to add to this genre through his next project that focuses on the making of the classic film, The Godfather. For me this asks the question, has Hollywood run out of ideas or is its self-interest rearing its head in a new, self-aware manner?
Initially, I thought that the news of Levinson’s latest endeavour did signal a lack of new ideas, since it is following neatly on the coattails of David Fincher’s Mank, which has garnered generous nominations during awards season, and could indeed be winning at the Academy Awards. In Mank, Oscar gold is abounding. Fincher directed a non-linear storyline shot in black and white, with Academy favourite Gary Oldman in the lead. It is an ode to Old Hollywood, with the black and white cinematography proving to be an immersive tool to romanticise the era of corrupt studio owners, trained actors, and the titular character’s disillusionment. However, this disillusionment proves ironic. While Fincher does capture the hollow and precarious social life of L.A, the plot is set around the writing of Citizen Kane, which has frequently been titled as the best American movie ever made. Yet, Citizen Kane itself is a film about the trials of film writers lives and Hollywood connected media tycoons. So, what is Mank doing? Displaying the genius of film writers or cliché of the tortured genius? Is Fincher proclaiming the importance of Citizen Kane in movie history or latching on to its cult status for financial and award success?
However, something can be said against writing off movies about the making of movies. If you were to be against the production of such films, where would you draw the line? It could be argued that if these styles of films are not “original” and a signaller of a “lack of imagination” on Hollywood’s part, wouldn’t that make biographical and historical movies the same? Such productions as The Trial of the Chicago 7 and The Crown aren’t exactly “original” but a recreation of events put to a soundtrack. Cinema need not be restricted to purely unique concepts. It is interesting to see a screenwriter’s perception of past events and how the director has chosen to depict them. Films are entertainment, and there is not one or two ways of how people wish to be entertained. Yet, people do not feel the same way, perhaps because these films can be viewed as raising important conversations or a tool for remembrance. They are not as jarringly self-indulgent as Hollywood looking back on its own history.
I would like to say that Mank and the future iteration of The Godfather’s inception are opportunities for Hollywood to examine itself, critique its flawed system of hierarchy and money making, its past treatment of the whole spectrum of employees. Nevertheless, I came away from Mank thinking “what was the point?”. Yes, it shone a light on Hollywood’s corrupt past, and gave recognition to Herman J. Mankiewicz who, after all, did write the supposedly greatest movie in history. I guarantee, I will be watching Francis and The Godfather because I am intrigued by the production of a fantastic movie and need to see who is cast as Marlon Brando, but I can’t help but think even now, surely there are other stories that we haven’t heard?
Image: Komers Real