LESSON #1: PEER PRESSURE CAN BE EFFECTIVE— With George Lucas long-retired and until James Cameron finally releases that next Avatar epic, the reigning King of Cinematic Hubris remains Christopher Nolan. His ardent activism for physical film will always be commendable, but he is not the “savior” the trades (and himself) tout him to be. Not if he can’t even properly tune his own films and has to hear about it from his peers and contemporaries. More than fans, fellow filmmakers have contacted Nolan about his messy sound mix from Tenet. To me, that’s when you know it’s bad, if you have buddies calling you it. Peer pressure is an effective motivator. Let’s see how it shifts the chip on the king’s shoulder below his self-made crown.
LESSON #2: WISE PEOPLE IN THIS BUSINESS CUT LONG-TERM DEALS— Back in the day, everyone from actors to filmmakers were on studio-exclusive contracts. If Paramount wanted to use a talent controlled by Warner Bros., they had to pay handsomely and vice versa. For the studios, it was winning bidding wars to secure top talent for multiple projects. For the actors, it was securing guaranteed work in an era before they made ungodly money. Somewhere along the way, the movies turned into looser free agency like you see today in baseball where everyone is a mercenary chasing paychecks.
To see David Fincher sign a four-year deal with Netflix feels old school and a win-win, joining Patty Jenkins on the squad. Netflix nabs a big name for their digital marquees. The Mank filmmaker gets a shingle that pushes for Oscars, far more creative freedom on set, and more guaranteed upfront money than he would chasing box office receipts, especially during a pandemic choking the industry. Don’t believe me or Fincher? Just ask Martin Scorsese. No one else, and I mean no one, in town was going to give him $200+ million to make the geriatric steak buffet that was The Irishman. That epic may not have netted Oscars, but it brought in new subscribers and that’s Netflix’s bottom line.
Netflix is not alone in getting out their checkbook to sign top-shelf creators. Apple TV+ has first-look deals with Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Alfonso Cuaron. Even if most of those are for TV projects, those are names worth marketing and bragging about for the up-and-coming streaming platform. Is this the death of cinema? No. This is job preservation and squeezing for artistic carte blanche that you normally can’t get.
LESSON #3: DON’T BEAT LIVE HORSES ANYMORE THAN DEAD HORSES— Speaking of David Fincher, he has a long-standing reputation of over-filming many scenes in his directorial career. He’ll go after 50 or more takes in some scenes, the polar opposite of Clint Eastwood being good after one or two. It’s a personal philosophy Fincher has gone on record to explain. Word from the set of Mank, by way of Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman, was that the director went for as many as 200 takes on a scene, something that supposedly “cracked” the latter Oscar winner. There is meticulousness and fastidiousness, and then there is exhausting punishment. Dude, I love you, David Fincher. It’s been too long since Gone Girl,but have some workplace efficiency and empathetic professionalism.
LESSON #4: NOW IS THE TIME TO SEE CITIZEN KANE— Speaking of Mank which is releasing into limited theaters today before debuting on Netflix on December 4th, this week’s final lesson in the usual go-home recommendation slot promotes just a single movie and quite possibly the greatest movie of all-time. To fully absorb and appreciate Fincher’s new movie, you must see Citizen Kane before it, period. If you’ve been putting it off because of its stature or the silly fact it’s old or in black-and-white, swallow hard, pick a day, and get through it. If you call yourself any level of film buff, connossieur, or fan, Orson Welles’ 1941 tour-de-force is required viewing as a cornerstone of visual filmmaking and storytelling techniques that would become the exemplars for decades. Citizen Kane is available now (thank you, JustWatch app) as part of HBO Max or can be rented for $3-4 on most streaming storefronts. If you want to do one better, straight up buy it or borrow any disc version of it from your local library. Seek out the late Roger Ebert’s audio commentary track. That will educate you more on film greatness in two hours than any self-made YouTube ranter or snarky podcast. Rented or bought, the movie is worth every penny and you will thank me for it.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later), Horror Obsessive, and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#145)