A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 41

ride in a hot air balloon flash fiction

Following the story-line of Ferris Wheel and Two of a Kind read A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, my contribution to fiction in a flash challenge week 41 based on the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke.
Enjoy! I had so much fun writing it 🙂

A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 41

A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon

The ballroom was a giant aviary. People’s actions, she found, mimicked those of birds. Courtship, chatter, hunt, all here. Except that birds, birds didn’t belong in a cage.

She spotted the gold-trimmed black mask the instant she crossed the doorway. Nothing ever escaped her eagle-like eyesight. Yet she pretended not to, allowing him the illusion of initiating the hunt. Men fell for that. So she stood atop the stairs, in her black and caviar-beige Channel evening gown, the perfect shade of beige. She stood, tensed, the center of his attention; him, the man with the mask matching hers. She stood; unable to enjoy what was finally coming. Feeling none of the happiness she thought she will.

Why they call it sweet revenge? She tasted bile.

 It had been stipulated in the contract. Both parties involved will be issued matching masks. Both parties will be aware that arriving at the masked-ball involved and was conditioned by, establishing contact with their prescribed partner.

He’d come. He was watching her, facing her, as she closed the distance. One step at a time, oblivious to music, and the agitation surrounding them. Aware of her dry mouth, her increased pulse, and the reason she’d done it all. To right a wrong.

For the first time since she dressed she was thankful for the mask, covering her flushed cheeks. Her lips, frozen in a sneer she hoped mimicked a smile. The pain she had harbored forever, she allowed it to escape as she took step after step. There was so much hatred that letting some steam escape, by staring at him, didn’t matter anymore.

By the time she had descended, he had closed the distance extending his hand to aid her take that final step. Her arm stiff, to mask tremor, she reached for his.

Their touch felt electrifying, and he smiled the moment he saw the specks of aged whiskey in her treacle eyes.

‘I am sorry I wasn’t there, at the foot of the Ferris Wheel’, he said, so she recognized him. Really saw him. Past the black mask trimmed with gold, past her veils of hatred. It was him, as the contract stipulated it will be, the man she wanted for her revenge, yet he was also himself, the man she had met in the park.

‘The bird-watcher!’

He smiled.

Too late. His had touched her gloved one, the double glove soaked in poison. Soon, his somatic muscles will paralyze. Her plan would have reached its climax.

~

He came through with a strange feeling, that his feet were not touching ground. And he was cold, chilled to the bone.

He was dangling.

Was he dead? His eyes were open, he thought. All he saw was blackness.

Black is the impression of lack of color, his mind offered.

He heard nothing either, only the blood rushing through his ears. He would have touched his eyelids but his arms were secured against his body, tied like a cocoon. He could wiggle his fingers though, frozen stiff.

His mouth shot open. A yell came out.

No echo. His voice just left his body – and was gone. And his body was dangling in space.

At least he wasn’t buried.

Purgatory?

He looked around again. Above, as below, he discerned specks of light. Of all sizes. Then a river of them as if someone had spilled, in the dead of night, milk across the floor.

The Milky Way!

More crumbs ablaze caught his eye in the celestial horizon. A handful of fairy lights. A city!

And his body, dangling between them.

From what?

Ignoring his stiff neck he forced it backward and stared, forcing sight. A silk glove tied around his neck brushed his cheek like a slap. After the ozone-rich air an explosion of freesia invaded his senses. It matured, denoting elegance and grace

Stop it, you old goat.

And another note, above the spring-like ones: shimmering hints of honey.

The dawn, lifting the horizon, removed the amnesia cloak too. He remembered the masked woman descending the stairs, their bird-watching, and she, his project for the night. The disbelief that slashed his heart, and the electric shock when their hands touched. Losing consciousness…

‘Why?!’ he howled at the moon.

From the height of the hot air balloon gondola the woman in the black and caviar-beige Chanel gown retrieved a picture, kissed it, and let it slide along the cord to the man dangling below.

‘That’s why,’ she raged, her scathing tone like knives. ‘Remember her?’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

What do you think of the story thus far, in its three installments? I’d love to read your impressions in comments below.

Two of a Kind, Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021, week 40

flash fiction two of a kind

So many of you enjoyed the Ferris Wheel story that this week I wrote a follow-up in Two of Kind inspired by the image prompt provided by Author Suzanne Burke for Fiction in a Flash Challenge 2021, week 40.

Two of a Kind

He was never late. Always minutes early, time used to accustom himself with his surroundings, or people watching.

Today, as he lunged in a winged-back chair covered in leather softer than anything nature intended, waiting at The Gentlemen’s Club – a place so private that even its members were on a secret list – he admired the colors in his whiskey glass. Amber, most said, clueless to the fact that whiskey owed its shades to the charred white oak barrels. To him the shade was auburn, with hints of burned amber, he thought glancing through the glass. Like eyes he’d seen once, as dark as treacle and just as deep, yet hiding specks of burned amber… His pupils dilated remembering how he nearly got himself burned. That’s how he chose to remember.

He turned in the chair as one would and exposed the glass to the light slipping between velvety curtains.

Behind the swirling fire from his glass and heart, he observed – effortlessly, through a life-long exercise – the two gentlemen engaged in an animated conversation that the tabloids would have loved to expose together… The zoo of politicians daily at each other’s throats, now enjoying cigars by the fireplace… The man wearing a suit in the wrong shade for such an establishment, now relocating photographs in his briefcase while the gentleman seated across just ordered his 3rd double.

Always useful to arrive early.

He donned his glass and allowed the vanilla and grassy notes to resonate in his nasal passages. For a brief moment, he was in the park, it was early spring and the scent of fresh-cut grass floated like a spell. Across from his bench sat the woman whose eyes held specks the colour of aged whiskey. And just as many promises.

Enough.

Today he’d come here to close a business deal. Time for him to stand and meet his patron, the man who paid handsomely in exchange for his services. He always stood to meet his business partners. Common courtesy, although today’s partner could become tomorrow’s adversary. Some would say enemy, but he always strove towards turning his enemies into business partners. There was always something he could trade. People always had needs and wants. Especially wants. And he could always obtain whatever it was that they wanted when he gave his word. For his word was his bond.

Whenever he looked back on that fatal day he remembers the glass of brown whiskey, not amber, thirty years old – the mark of power – that arrived at the same time with the manila envelope… Although the glass had touched the table first. He still heard the sound of thick crystal against the mahogany, like the deep clunk of an empty gun.

‘From him, Sir,’ the waiter had said and they both knew: from the client he’d been expecting, whose problem he was about to take on. But who hadn’t thought fit to meet him and close the deal in person.

Only that his hand had touched the glass with the brown whiskey, the 30-year-old whiskey, first, thus sealing the deal before the manila envelope had landed on the table. And his word was his bond.

The picture inside the folder surprised him. It was not that of a person. He always insisted on a recent close-up, a time and a location, never questioning his patron’s reasons.

The picture showed two masquerade masks, white and black satin trimmed with honeyed cord. Day and night, female and male, good and evil… symphony and chaos, his mind offered as the white mask held intricate, hand-painted musical notes. And a pearl set in the middle from which feathers in shades of amber protruded. Like the whiskey…

‘She’ll wear the white one,’ was scrawled on the back and an address he recognized. The World Health Organization, WHO, held their charity ball there tonight.

He picked up his felt-hat and left.

True to his habit he arrived early, in a black mask identical to the one in the picture. But tonight he will curse his habit. The instant he saw the woman wearing the white silk mask, his partner for the night -and project – standing atop the stairs looking across without looking down on anyone, holding her clutch as if it was a drawing book, her right fingers poised as if they held a pencil, that instant, he knew it was her.

The woman from the park. The problem he had to solve.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Two of a Kind fiction flash with masks

What happened next? Find out in A Ride in the Hot Air Balloon.

Hello everyone and welcome to the “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week Author Suzanne Burke will feature an image and invites everyone to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. Suzanne runs a great blog as well as authoring many exciting books. WECOME TO THE WORLD OF SUZANNE BURKE

Enjoy short fiction? Have a look at my 100 words story, Short Stories or my Humorous stories 🙂

What do you think, should I go on with this story?? 🙂

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Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is mad at Hare

Discover Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare, a humorous story after an African folktale that also teaches a lesson or two. Part one.

In African folktale Rabbit is often the trickster, as can be the mouse or the snake. The two large animals who are tricked are most commonly an elephant and a hippopotamus, but a rhinoceros is also sometimes mentioned.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare

The shadows just began dipping their toes into the wide Zambezi River when Rabbit woke up from his daily slumber. As he stuck his nose out of his shallow scrape dug into the soft soil his whiskers caught the evening breeze and Rabbit licked its sweet nectar thinking how well his life has turned.

From his burrow, he could sniff the carrots and the fat lettuce fields from the nearby farm, planning his menu, then he could hop-hop-hop and help himself till his tummy burst, and – say what they may – since humans settled nearby, even the falcons had moved away. He was safe!

It must have been the Nyami Nyami, Rabit was sure, the great spirit of the Zambezi River that kept all his natives safe. No wonder it flooded the human settlements every now and then; no wonder the river bobbled into so many mighty waterfalls (now this, Rabbit hadn’t seen with his own eyes, but hoped to, one day), and no wonder that no bridge could ever be built across the mighty Zambezi. So fierce a body of water, so wide, that the humans from one riverbank could not even wave to the humans living on the opposite shore.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare. sunet over Zambezi River
Sunset over Zambezi River – It must have been the Nyami Nyami, Rabit was sure, the great spirit of the Zambezi River that kept all his natives safe

Well, Rabbit sniggered, they got what they deserved for intruding into the Zambezi habitat. And, goody, he also got what he deserved, smiled Rabbit, wondering if he should choose the carrots or the lettuce that morning. Perhaps the sweet, gold corn?

Annoyed with having to make up his mind, Rabbit looked towards the riverbank in search of something to amuse himself with. That’s when he spotted Hippo’s shiny head and tiny ears sticking out of the dark waters.

‘Hippo-Ho,’ called Rabbit, ‘Hippo-Ho, you munch, munch, munch on grass all day long, yet you say you’re mighty and strong,’ he said and flexed his arm in the direction of the river. ‘Look at little me, I eat three, three types of veggies. I must be, I know I am stronger than thee!’

But Hippo didn’t move, he didn’t even turn his ears – away from Rabbit, you know, as to not hear. Hippo chose to ignore Rabbit altogether.

Yet Rabbit, stubborn like any long-eared creature, kept pestering Hippo, voicing his tirade again and again till Hippo – finally – snorted in reply. ‘I heard you the first time. You’re as annoying as an itch, Rabbit. What will I have to do to have some peace and quiet?’

Rabbit revealed his long front teeth in their entire splendor, his smile even catching one of the last rays of the setting sun. ‘Why, join me in a tug-of-war,’ he called, then thumped and bounced on the spot, his long ears flapping up and down, his fluffy tail quivering.

The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food. Before heading along the river bank where he knew a spot with sweet grass, and not wanting Rabbit to follow and learn his secret pantry, Hippo threw over his shoulder, ‘Name the place, Rabbit. You’ve got yourself a tug-of-war,’ then snorted, considering it a task as easy as winking.

Why Rhino is Grumpy and Hippo is Mad at Hare. The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food.
The sky was still blue behind Rabbit’s burrow, but had turned orange on the river’s far bank, signaling Hippo it was time for food.

‘By the ants’ mound,’ Rabbit’s voice trailed across the quiet bank. At this Hippo grunted, looked behind at the mound, then ahead towards his secret, sweet patch of grass that appeared to be waiting for him, still full of the day’s sun. Hippo’s mouth watered, his huge belly growled, while evening’s long shadows didn’t help either, making the distance appear that much bigger.

Rabbit, which had heard the growl, said ‘but wait, let me save you the trouble by tying this rope around your ankle. I’ll run to the hill, the half-way mark, and after I jump behind it I’ll shout PULL! – and we’ll commence.’

Done, and Rabbit’s smile grew even bigger as he rubbed his front paws, the rope coiled around his forearm. It was the same rope he had found near the carrot patch and took to his burrow, thinking nothing of it.

A flock of Egyptian geese flew overhead, shadows against a red sky, and their pecking calls sounded like laughter to Rabbit’s ears. When their calls became but a whisper in the night’s breeze Rabbit stood in front of the ants’ mound, as round as Hippo’s back but with a pointy peak in the middle, twice the height, His ears picked up the hissing of the army inside, but also something else, a soft rumble behind it.

‘Yes,’ smiled Rabbit again… (part two coming tomorrow).

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Huberta the Hippo: Amazing Adventures of a Happy River Horse

From the Land of the Zulu it is said
That a hippo, once, began to migrate.
“Wait a minute,” I hear you say,
“Birds migrate, hippos wallow, in the water snort and play.
How can a hippo from the Land of the Zulu suddenly migrate? Leaped? Flew?”

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Discover more stories about African animals on my blog here.

Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania, 100 words story

Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania 100 words story

Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania is a 100 words story inspired by the Paleolithic horse cave paintings of Transylvania.

Art is a way of expressing one self, of celebrating an event or slaying one’s demons. Of course, in the cave paintings they created the Neanderthals would have painted their world as they’ve seen it, depicted their dreams and their fears.

But what about the emotions trapped in these cave paintings? Read on.

Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania. Paleolithic horse, hand, warrior, weapon painting in a cave at Cuciulat, Transylvania
Paleolithic horse, hand, warrior, weapon painting in a cave at Cuciulat, Transylvania

Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania

From their overhanging rocky shelter she assessed the river’s dark ribbon, wider, a sign of snow thawing and game returning.

Inside, her pigments were ready, contained in horn vessels. She pointed and named the colors slowly, stalking any reaction on the face of the child who looked without seeing.

It took her a year to gather the shades: terracotta, earth, sunset… midnight. Bear fat and sap to seal the drawing.

Her squirrel hair brush danced on the cave’s wall. A horse came alive, rearing, hunted by a child.

And the boy’s hand-print floating above. In warning.

No more hunting accidents.

© Patricia Furstenberg, 2001, All Rights Reserved.

The seed of this story.

The Paleolithic civilization that developed in the geographical area known today as Transylvania has left numerous cultural vestiges behind, such as the cave paintings depicting horses and found in Cuciulat, near Someș river in Sălaj district.

You can read further on my blog what are the Paleolithic horse paintings of Transylvania telling us about the lifestyle of Neanderthals and you can discover how were the cave paintings done.

I hope you enjoyed my 100 words story about the Cave Art of Transylvania. There will be more to follow, as I plan to travel through history. So…

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Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank

symbols and symbolism in Mank movie

Released at the end of a year overshadowed by a pandemic, Fincher’s movie Mank reveals itself like the glowing star atop the Christmas tree, and we look here at the significant symbols and symbolism Mank the movie carries.

Before we dive in, I must thank my new blogosphere friend Jo, the brains and heart behind FilmSerial, a top Romanian blog where she does stellar translations. It was Jo who first introduced me to Mank, and it was Jo who first published my raw thoughts on this movie.

Symbolism means an artistic or a lyrical expression obtained by using an image to reveal an idea or an emotion, to unmask a hidden concept or a state of mind.

In a movie, many things can be symbolic such as color, an object, the setting, the use of light in a scene, camera angle, the transition from one scene to the next, even a feeling.

Symbols and Symbolism hidden in Movie Mank

What is exciting about symbolism in a movie, a book, or a work of art is that it can carry different meanings to different viewers, based on their perception and life experiences, and even based on the state of mind while watching the film or reading the novel.

Let’s look at three symbols that appear in David Fincher’s movie Mank.
Attention, this blog post contains spoilers.

The Symbolism behind Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding

Symbols and Symbolism in Mank, Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding
Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding. Source Imdb, Netflix.

Mank’s (Herman J. Mankiewicz) first meeting with actress Marion Davies takes place in 1929 (as we learn from one of his flash-backs), while Marion is filming a glamorous Old West movie on the grounds of Hearst’s massive estate, San Simeon.

Marion is about to be burned at the stake atop a pyramidal scaffolding and, during a shooting break, she asks Mank for a “ciggie”. Mank recognizes her as well as her wit and, although he wrestles a drunkard migraine, climbs the stairs to offer the diva a cigarette, like the gentleman he is.

“Watch those stairs. They’re treacherous,” Marion calls out.
“Every moment of my life is treacherous,” Mank replies in jest.

Mank by David Fincher, after a screenplay by Jack Fincher

The two enjoy a vivid conversation atop the scaffolding. We see them profiled against a brilliant sky, lined with fluffy Hollywood-style clouds (with their own symbol).

This scene takes place eleven years before the major events of the movie (Mank’s six weeks job of writing a script for Orson Welles), and both Mank and Marion are on top of the world (see the sky profiled in the background ad the height they are placed on); both are still filled with ideals, and both are still in the process of throwing themselves into their dreams – represented by the brilliant clouds overhead.

We see them standing above the Hollywood crowd, above L. B. Mayer and William Randolph Hearst, who will later reduce both Mank and Marin to pawns.

But we also see Mank and Marion on a scaffolding, like lambs about to be sacrificed if they don’t give up their dreams (Mank doesn’t, Marion does) – for this is Hollywood, and here everything is worth sacrificing for the sake of ‘the magic of the movies.’

The low angle camera shot used during this scene highlights Mank and Marion’s moral superiority during this time in the story.

I thought that this particular shot is a nod towards ‘Gone with the Wind’. It makes a reference to a scene between Scarlett and her father, Gerald O’Hara. His words were:

‘Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.’

Gone with the Wind by by Victor Fleming, produced by David O. Selznick, based on a book by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind, Sarlett and her father, Gerald O’Hara. 'The only thing that matters is Tara'.
Gone With the Wind, Image source imdb

In the movie Mank, the only thing that matters (for Mank and Marion) is the quality of the work they produce.

Symbolism behind Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst

Symbols and Symbology in  Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst. Source
 Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst. Source Imdb, Netflix

Leading to this scene:

It is 1933. During one of Mank’s flashbacks, we join a glamorous birthday party at San Simeon where the Julia Morgan–designed castle and Hearst’s inheritance are located. Champagne flows, all are gay, and a live piano punctuates a careless conversation.

When the discussion turns to Hitler’s speech followed by kissing babies, as witnessed by Marion Davies during the newsreel of a movie she watched recently, only Mank and Marion point out the potential danger of the growing Nazi regime, while L.B. Mayer (MGM’s co-founder and Birthday Boy at Heart’s party) and Irvin Thalberg (Mayer’s right hand and head of production) reveal their ignorance of the Nazi leader. Then the conversation turns to current affairs and the political climb of socialist Upton Sinclair, Marion makes a faux pas and leaves the party room.

Next, we witness a nod from Sara Mankiewicz towards her husband, showing us how well she knows him. Thus Mank, always the emotional caregiver, always the indulgent father, follows Marion into the garden to comfort her.

Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden:

We find Mank and Marion outdoors, away from the glitz and glam of the party, and we witness a true camaraderie blossoming between two fellow New Yorkers, both outcasts in their own way here, in Hollywood (Davies the child of a working-class family from Brooklyn, Mankiewicz the child of German-Jewish immigrants). Mank seems to be the only man (in a world dominated by boys) to notice and appreciate Davies’ intellect. While Marion Davies looks up at Mank, asking him for advice to further her career as an actress, and not only as a prized mistress of a newspaper magnate (Hearst.)

And now we discover the symbolism behind Mank and Marion’s garden walk.

It is past dusk, the sky is laden with plumb and here and there, between the trees, we spot Hearst’s castle-like mansion. The gardens Mank and Marion stroll through have pathways bordered with neatly trimmed hedges in heavy shades of iron and charcoal, while Marion’s dress gleams in the moonlight like a gray pearl.

Marion Davies party dress in movie Mank, glamorous gold or rosebud pink? Symbolism
Marion Davies party dress in movie Mank, glamorous gold or rosebud pink? Symbolism.

What is the symbol behind Marion’s gleaming party dress?

We don’t know what color her dress is. It could be gold, after all, she is a top-ranked Hollywood movie star, but it could just as well be satin pink, to match her rosy cheeks, as Mank states, or perhaps to match Hearst’s private nickname for her, Rosebud.

Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank. Moonlight stroll, Marion’s dress gleams in the moonlight like a gray pearl
Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank. Photo source Imdb, Netflix

Further they stroll, past monkeys in a cage, just as Marion laments that ‘people think because you’re on the cover of “Modern Screen,” they know you.’ The monkeys flare up and Marion turns towards them and shouts out her anger, ‘Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ – then laughs.

The monkeys jump on the cage’s walls, yet they can’t reach Marion – much like a symbol for a flash of paparazzi.

‘Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ Marion Davies, symbolism behind the moonlight stroll in Mank
Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ (Marion Davies in Mank). Image source Imdb, Netflix

And on Mank and Marion’s stroll, under the moonlight, until they reach the maze made of shrubs, punctuated by garden statues and topiary. We get a sense of opulence even here, away from Hearst’s mansion. The maze is a symbol for crafting one’s future, a task that is never a straight walk. The menagerie of wild animals is a symbol for whimsy, for the make-believe that movie-business is.

The scene is lit by ball-shaped garden lights on stands. They glow in the night like one hundred moons, all casting their light on Hearst’s collection of wild animals. Are Mank and Marion part of this collection? We now spot elephants in the far background.

Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank, Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden
Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank, Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden

There is a visual game of sharp shadows here, with Marion’s platinum blond curls glowing as if under their own spotlight, even in the darkness of the night, as though she has a designated spotlight forever shining brightly down on her. It is the spotlight Hearst keeps her under by the use of his newspapers, building her fame, for which he spends millions of dollars.

But Marion’s glowing curls seem to be lighting up the garden as much as the ball-shaped garden lights, presenting her like another one of Hearst’s prized possessions. This media-magnate who controls the news and owns a zoo, with caged monkeys, herds of silent elephants, and giraffes too, also has his very own movie Star, always kept under a spotlight, lit from above.

Among all this madness Mank and Marion share a heart-to-heart conversation by the water fountain. He is in the shadows, she is under the spotlight; a man of many dark shades (a big mouth and addictions) and a glowing Diva.

Mank and Marion’s night garden stroll is their last innocent game before all hell brakes loose; MGM gets involved in politics, Marion Davies leaves MGM for Warner Brothers, Mank writes his script based on Hearst (pulling Marion in it).

Mank and Marion’s night garden stroll is a playful exchange of wits. On one side, we have a gifted actress who is clever enough to understand and accept the compromises she has to make in exchange for ‘making an exit’. On the other side, we have an alcoholic writer who chooses the exact opposite course of action, that of being a participant observer who eventually learns that words throw long shadows even after their entertaining value has evaporated.

Their garden moonlight stroll reveals a game of light and shadow, of night and day, of right and wrong, co-existing, much like life at Hollywood must be, for actors and writers.

Mank and Marion by the fountain, moonlit stroll. Symbols and symbolism
Mank and Marion by the fountain, moonlit stroll. Imge source Netflix

Mank’s Shades of  Black and White

The idea of a black and white film might put off some movie-viewers, yet once watched, the monochrome Mank movie makes sense through its multiple gray-shaded pigments.

It was in keeping with Jack Fincher’s wish, his father and the writer of the original Mank script back in the ‘80s that David Fincher held the production until a production company (Netflix International Pictures) finally accepted to shoot Mank in black and white.

By shooting Mank in black and white, David Fincher forces the viewer to focus on the story and its characters, eliminating the distraction added by splashes of color. The black and white film draws the eye into following the actors, it emphasizes their performance. It is the perfect recipe for a movie that deals with actors portraying other actors.

By shooting Mank in black and white Fincher zoomed in, and brought the story-line and the ‘40s Hollywood drama into focus. His zooming creates an instant nostalgia, but not over a by-gone era, yet over a loss of moral values. It symbolizes Mank’s nostalgia over the debut of his career at Hollywood when all the doors were open, and were gilded, and he seamed to have reached the stars. It is Marion’s nostalgia too, over a time when her career was still on the rise and Hollywood was just that, a movie-making industry, not a business.

Symbols and symbology in Mank, day night, black white, Netflix. What color is Marion's dress?
Mank, black and white, day and night. Image source Netflix

Yet Mank is not monochrome per se. It has plenty of silver in it and this gives the film an aura of eerie wistfulness as if Fincher does more than re-creating the past, he communicates with it, just as Mank does with his flash-backs (communicating in a way with his past self). The use of black and white makes the story-line feel more intense, it has immediacy, we sense Mank approaching his six weeks deadline; we taste his impending need for alcohol; we witness his climbing of the Hollywood ladder and his rapid falling out with Hearst.

Because the movie is in black and white, the audience can relate to Mank’s point of view. Hollywood is not all that glamorous as Mank thought it to be when he first arrived, moving from the east coast and trading his career as a playwright and drama critic for that of a Hollywood screenwriter.

Life in Hollywood is filled with threat, layered corruption, even an underworld of crime that creates weaponized movies, and no-one can escape its suppression. Mank believes he can, by going after Hearst the magnate, by exposing him, escaping his toxic friendship. Mank hopes he can free the monkey in the parable of the “organ grinder’s monkey” (see below for the symbology behind the “organ grinder’s monkey”).

Yet Mank, after the release of the American (Citizen Kane) is never to write another script again. He never works again, he never writes an original screenplay again. And he will never fight for credit again.

Shooting in black and white also afforded Fincher his darkness and shadow signature. At times, Mank the movie looks like a glossy ‘40s magazine, especially when it affords Marion Davies to glow in the scene. And this, the old-world glamour, is something Fincher is familiar with since the times he filmed Madonna’s ‘’Vogue,’ and it is how he shakes off any old-fashioned connotations that might come with making a black-and-white movie in the 21st century.

By shooting in black-and-white, Fincher created a delicate, old-world look that is fit for a contemporary of Citizen Kane rather than a film merely about Kane’s creator (Mank). And Fincher, or rather Ren Klyce, the sound designer, gave it a sound fit for Hollywood’s golden age, warm, albeit crackly, popping, that evokes a sense of remembrance, of daydreaming rather than reality.

Black and white (with the many gray shades in between, with the glistening silver, the pearls, the glowing beige) symbolizes the glamour of classical cinematography. Even the music for the movie has been recorded with older microphones.

The symbolism behind Fincher’s use of black and white to shoot Mank resides in the kaleidoscope of shades of greys found between dark and light, evil and righteousness, corruption and idealism. The two timelines that spiral around one another in Mank, each with their own threads of plots, form a symbolic kaleidoscope-like image in shades of grey, as there is no right or wrong in Hollywood, there is no good choice or bad choice, anything goes as long as it’s for the sake of the movie.

Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt  (Mank’s director of photography) used a RED specially-made black-and-white camera, the RED Monstro Monochrome (Monstrochrome). 

‘The Monstrochrome captures black and white imagery with more precise resolution and enhanced light sensitivity. Capturing monochrome natively is better than shooting in color and then eliminating the saturation in post. What you will get is a real, pure, stunning, accurate black, and white artistic image.’

Y.M.Cinema Magazine

Fincher tells Mark Harris for Vulture that they shot the movie in super-high resolution, then they softened it ‘to an absurd extent to try to match the look of the era’, and added ‘little scratches and digs and cigarette burns.’

Symbolism Behind the Parable of the Organ Grinder Monkey

Mank the movie, Symbolism Behind the parable of the Organ Grinder Monkey
An Organ Grinder Monkey

The parable of the organ grinder monkey is mentioned only twice in Mank, yet it is what fuels Mank in going after Hearts, it is the motor that pushed the action forward.

Mank is the first to mention the parable of the organ grinder monkey to John Houseman.

John Houseman: Why Hearst? Outside his own blonde Betty Boop, you were always his favorite dinner partner.
Herman Mankiewicz: Are you familiar with the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey?

Mank the Movie

What is the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey?

Tagging someone as an “organ grinder’s monkey” means that they do anything a powerful person wants them to do, without having any real power. They make money for their boss without whose presence they are nothing – yet they don’t know it.

Mank first heard about the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey from ‘Willie’ Hearts, during what was to be their last encounter, albeit a drunken one for Mank.

At this moment in time Hearts sees Mank as his grinder monkey, whom he thought to be a “Shakespeare of talking pictures.” Yet Hearts knows that Mank would not have been afforded the audience and the connections he made has it not been for Hearst and his glamorous parties.

And Mank understands the parable of the grinder monkey and his associate with the ape, but it is now, after Sinclair lost the campaign due to Meyer and Thalberg’s smear campaigns; after his friend and co-worker Shelly Metcalf commits suicide, that he just discovers that his words are important. That he can be a monkey without an organ-grinder.

But can he?

It is the same parable, placing Mank as the grinder monkey, that Mank refers to at the beginning of the story, when he chats to Houseman.

Yet Mank sees himself as a monkey who can prove his organ grinder wrong. A monkey who will free himself and will still be able to sing, dance, and receives everyone’s attention.
On his own.
This is why Mank went after Hearst. This is why he fought his demons and finished the screenplay.

Yet no one can destroy the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey, for without his organ-grinder, the monkey is just a primate. While without his monkey, the organ grinder, by definition, can always find himself another monkey.

Perhaps this is what David Fincher and his father Jack Fincher, who wrote the screenplay, tried to prove in the first place, by focusing on Mank’s character. That the monkey can live outside the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey. As Fincher told Mark Harris for Vulture, in an interview, ‘My dad, […] was a journalist, lived by the axiom that the greatest entertainment was written by people who understood the real world.’.

Have they succeeded in giving the monkey a new life in the spotlight? Had they aimed as high as Mank did when writing his screenplay? Or have they shows that the parable is true and that the monkey’s chance of survival without his organ grinder is just in the monkey’s perception?

Either way, I think that the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey will prove to be that gold thread that will render the movie Mank timeless.

Mank by David Fincher is a kaleidoscope in black and white, portraying the golden era of Hollywood in a modern way, with its good and bad, with its stars adorned atop a scaffolding and its moonlit secrets, and with its monkey and organ grinder too. Perhaps Fincher placed less symbols in his movie than I enjoyed picking, but this is the magic of ‘the magic of the movies,’ isn’t it?

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.