Friday, 2 July 2010

Michael Mann

Regular readers of this blog (and anyone who knows me) are aware of my obsession with two living filmmakers: Terrence Malick and Michael Mann. Unfortunately, Malick produces on average one film per decade, so that has forced me to spend a lot more time enthusing and discussing the work of Michael Mann.

Rob Beames and I will be recording a podcast this weekend discussing his work, and my capacity to explain why I think Michael Mann is so good will be put to the test, as Rob doesn't have such a high opinion of him. After making him watch all of the director's filmography, I am resigned to the fact that he'll never be the Mannista I am.

Orson Welles once said that a filmmaker should have the eye of a poet. Certainly Welles' own films, as flawed as many of them are, are pure poetic expressions of the themes that haunted him as an artist: betrayal, power, time, illusions. Mann's set of preoccupations are a little more specific, but no less valid: he has an almost fetishistic obsession with thieves specifically, and with men with strong work ethics more generally.

When I think of aueturs, I think of directors addressing the same concerns over and over again through different stories: Woody Allen talking about love and death in Manhattan, Bergman addressing the very meaning of life, Fellini dealing with the male Italian psyche, Kurosawa deconstructing Japanese society, Mike Leigh investigating families, Loach researching class warfare - all of these guys have their motifs. Mann, from his feature film debut, THIEF, has stuck to that very template; a man, good at this job, bound to no one, with a strong moral code, faces an adversary. Some might see that as repetitive, I find it fascinating.

His TV work is probably where he has made the most impact at least culturally; MIAMI VICE was THE show of the 1980s and the stylised mix of rock music and violence has pervaded (for better or worse) every level of TV and film. More significantly, artistically speaking is CRIME STORY, the sprawling saga of gangsters set in the early 1960s. Look out for it if you haven't seen it.

My first encounter with a Mann film was a late night TV showing of THE KEEP, which terrified me. He's basically disowned the film now and it's almost impossible to get hold of. From that job for hire to the pinnacle of his career, HEAT, my appreciation of his work extends all the way to last year's PUBLIC ENEMIES, which I found not only technically dazzling, but also moving and exciting. I can't wait for the next Mann project, and I live safe in the knowledge that he has another towering masterpiece like HEAT inside him, just waiting to come out.


  1. Well met, sir. I look forward to the recording tomorrow. My thoughts on the same thing are here:

    Anyone who wants to follow our discussion tomorrow should subscribe to our Splendor Cinema podcast on iTunes. For more of the "Pantheon" series: episode 17 looked at Kurosawa.

  2. Strangely, I was discussing this very theme last night after coming out of Whatever Works.

    I was saying that you can spot a Woody Allen film by the dialogue & theme, a Wes Anderson film by the pace, The Coen Brothers by their cinematography & a Michael Mann film by the simple fact that they're usually filmed very darkly & are also very 'manly' (pardon the pun)

    As a woman, I also like Michael Mann (although I'm a Coen Bros freak at heart) even though his films aren't really aimed at me. I was ready to leave when Al Pacino killed Robert Di Nero in Heat though... it would simply never happen!

  3. I remember seeing Manhunter on Late-Night TV in my late-Teens. I was only just beginning to appreciate the importance of the Director to a movie (mainly thanks to the seasons of films that Alex Cox used to present on BBC2 - what was this called again, anyone? Late 80s...) and was blown away by the "look" of the film.
    Brian Cox's Lecter/Lecktor just makes much more sense than Sir Anthony's Katherine Hepburn/Truman Capote hybrid - the truly chilling sociopath of the (early) Harris novels: "You want the scent? Smell yourself!"
    More recently, Mann's intelligent use of the Digital Camera has been a revelation - Public Enemies, for me, was a bigger leap forward than Avatar.