Q&A: Movie Host Ben Mankiewicz on Boca, Backdrops, TCM and Extra

Early this month, Boca Raton obtained a uncommon go to from Ben Mankiewicz, scion of Hollywood royalty and prime-time host on Turner Basic Motion pictures, movie buffs’ cable channel of selection. The grandson of “Citizen Kane” scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz and the grand-nephew of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ben was invited by the Boca Raton Museum of Artwork for 2 occasions on Dec. 10: At 1 p.m., he greeted followers on the Museum’s blockbuster “Artwork of the Hollywood Backdrop” exhibition (on view by means of Jan. 22), and at 4 p.m. the identical day, he interviewed Thomas A. Walsh, one of many two co-curators of the exhibition, as a part of an unique lecture collection at The Boca Raton.

The next week, Mankiewicz carved out a while by way of telephone to debate his weekend in Boca, the “Backdrop” exhibition, life because the host of 1 cable’s premier networks, and extra.

Mankiewicz and Thomas A. Walsh onstage at The Boca Raton

So how was your time in Boca Raton?

It was beautiful. My mother lived for 20 years or so in Delray, and I did about three years in South Seashore. I used to be as much as see my mother usually, and clearly spent a while in Boca. It was not new to me, however that half of Boca was new to me. The lodge is gorgeous, and the museum—so spectacular. I used to be blown away by each.

What was your takeaway from the “Artwork of the Hollywood Backdrop” exhibition?

Although I understand how films are made, and the way backdrops are used, it nonetheless blows me away. The hair nonetheless stands up on my arms once I see it. To be within the presence of that backdrop, the “North By Northwest” one which opens the exhibition … it’s such a seminal film in my life. It’s the basic film that … awoke me to the truth that dismissing previous films, just like the dumb child I used to be, was an enormous mistake. My mother advised me to look at “North by Northwest” when it was on TV. And I’ve this reminiscence of watching it and being thrilled by it from the second I noticed it, and being actually taken with Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant. However my reminiscence of it was that it was in black-and-white. However it wasn’t. It’s loopy how the mind tips you.

Anyway, the expertise is jaw-dropping. And although I do know it, to see what these artists are able to, whereas working with the cinematographer and director and artwork director, it’s a magic trick—an awesome magic trick. It nonetheless dazzles me although I’m keenly conscious that it’s magic.

Mankiewicz with Boca Raton Museum of Artwork Govt Director Irvin Lippman (all photographs courtesy of Information Travels Quick)

It’s ironic you weren’t into “previous films” if you had been a child, as a result of your loved ones legacy is steeped in previous films.
There may be some thriller there. However my father was the neatest Mankiewicz who ever lived. And he was in politics, and he moved to D.C. simply earlier than I used to be born. After I was born, he was working for Sen. Bobby Kennedy as his press secretary within the Senate, and afterward his presidential marketing campaign. Politics was the factor I used to be, fairly early on, into and concerned about. I grew up in D.C., a city that’s some ways similar to Hollywood.

Whereas I knew that we had this Hollywood background … it was secondary. It’s somewhat embarrassing that I used to be not fairly as keenly conscious as I must have been about how vital my household was within the historical past of Hollywood. I knew, however it performed such second fiddle to politics.

Like Robert Osborne, you make the introductions on TCM have the phantasm of effortlessness. What’s the ability set, or perhaps the particular sauce, that makes you a perfect film presenter?

I don’t know that I’m a perfect one. TCM got here into one thing by means of trial and error; Robert Osborne, in 1994, was the primary host and the one host till I confirmed up in 2003. He type of figured it out. A few of these early lead-ins by Robert would run 4 minutes lengthy. You determine what works, and what labored was that after two or two and a half minutes, individuals had been like, OK, that is nice info, now you can begin “Casablanca.” It’s an awesome job, as a result of it’s a tough job to screw up, to be the one that talks for 2 minutes earlier than “Citizen Kane” or “North By Northwest” or “Singin’ within the Rain.”

I spent a whole lot of years as a journalist, and for those who ask me what I do, I’ll say I’m a bunch for TCM. However I’m a broadcaster. I’m happy with that. The individuals who influenced my life had been David Letterman, Howard Stern, Walter Cronkite, Kelly Ripa—good communicators. Then you definitely craft these lead-ins in a method that doesn’t appear to be you’re studying one thing, however all of them begin the identical method, principally: “Howdy, I’m Ben Mankiewicz, welcome to TCM”—some model of that. However I at all times assume that what I’m saying proper earlier than that, is, “oh, oh, you’re going to like this film! I’ve received an awesome story to let you know.”

As a broadcaster you need to be conversational, however it’s not a dialog. One other particular person isn’t speaking again; it’s a really one-sided dialog. However you need to preserve the concept that you’re storytelling. That’s actually what it’s. You’re not studying a lead-in; you’re telling a narrative earlier than they watch a greater story: Right here’s a really cool story that I hope will transfer you, anger you, perhaps at occasions get you somewhat emotional, however principally that can seize your creativeness, that units you as much as watch a film.

Is it ever your job to be movie critic on this position, or are you at all times a champion of no matter movie you’re presenting?

I don’t need to lie. That’s a part of it. They’re seeing me. Mainly there have been years that I spent as a information anchor or reporter, attempting to play the position of an individual on TV. I knew the belongings you say, I knew how reporters speak. After I was anchoring, I’d have a pretend giggle. And it’s all these indicators that get despatched out to viewers that this isn’t actual; that is inauthentic—which is the principle purpose individuals don’t watch native information. It’s virtually a parody of what newscasters must be. There are nonetheless some good ones, however they’re uncommon.

So a while throughout that second information job I had, I found out I can’t do that. That is false. I do know it’s false. Each intuition I’ve is fake. I can solely be myself. It’s the one position I can play. And the TCM job lets me do this.

I attempt to be reasonably amusing, and I fail typically; it’s bizarre, with out an viewers there. You don’t actually know if persons are reacting to it. However it doesn’t matter—it’s true, it’s trustworthy, and it’s me saying, “that is such an excellent story, let me inform it to you in two minutes.”

So that you simply hope it connects with individuals. And I’m so grateful I don’t need to faux to be one thing I’m not. So the reply to the critic query: I used to be additionally a critic for some time. And I felt like I used to be, for essentially the most half, enjoying that position. I wasn’t good at it. I by no means felt genuine doing it. And I don’t like saying issues are unhealthy that individuals poured their coronary heart into. I don’t need this taken as a knock on movie criticism; I feel it’s vital, and artwork criticism has been round because the first time a man drew one thing on a wall in a cave, and the subsequent man stated, “Oh, that sucks.” I simply by no means felt super-comfortable.

I’ll actually say after the film, “perhaps that didn’t work in addition to they’d supposed.” However TCM is free; they’re already paying for cable. You possibly can watch as many TCM films as you need. And watching a 1942 film that isn’t superb can nonetheless be a whole lot of enjoyable. You’re not having a nasty time. Generally we now have some seaside films or some foolish sci-fi films with horrible particular results, and we’ll make enjoyable of the entire thing, however these films are enjoyable in their very own method. So our job is to speak about why they’re enjoyable. I’ll positively have a line for “Seashore Blanket Bingo,” “this went on to win 9 Oscars.” After which I’ll pause and say, “I learn that mistaken.”

The significance for me is simply to place it in context, respect the curation that we do, and provides individuals some extra causes to look at and perceive this film. And so they’ll determine for themselves in the event that they prefer it. The viewers in the end is the arbiter.

Mankiewicz with Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer

The definition of what constitutes a basic has modified over the many years, by way of increasingly latest movies screening on TCM, or maybe the time period “basic” itself has taken a special which means. What’s the consensus from the community on this?

We’ve at all times aspired to indicate a broader vary of films. The stumbling block has at all times been buying the rights to these films. We’ve got fewer than 50 individuals on workers. We’re a really small tv community with a really rabid fan base, which makes us appear in some ways larger than we’re. So I don’t know the price range for programming off the highest of my head, however we are able to’t get most fashionable films, as a result of they’re too costly.

However we’re not, typically, going to indicate a film from 2013 or 2021 with out placing it in some context for the night time. And each night time on TCM is somewhat mini pageant. So the programming division does that. The instance that our head of programming has used usually, and I feel it’s actually good, is we confirmed the 1994 model of “Love Story,” the remake of “An Affair to Keep in mind,” which is a remake of the sooner “Love Story,” which was Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, in 1994. It’s not an awesome film. And it’s fairly latest. However it’s also Katharine Hepburn’s last big-screen position.

Clearly, we’d present it, and we’d present in prime time, if we confirmed all three films. We’d additionally present it on an evening after we’re exhibiting Katharine Hepburn films. Or an evening the place we’re exhibiting basic stars of their late performances. All of these issues, in context, would make quite a lot of sense to indicate that film. It in all probability wouldn’t simply present up in the midst of the day with out a lead-in, unconnected to the rest.

We’ve proven the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy throughout 31 Days of Oscar. I don’t assume we’ve ever proven “The Godfather,” however that’s a rights challenge. However I’m in all probability mistaken—we in all probability had it sooner or later. We are able to’t, typically, get it, as a result of it’s coveted and it’s costly. It doesn’t imply we’ll by no means get it, however we’re continually working with the studios in order that they’ll minimize us a break, in order that perhaps annually we are able to present one thing of observe.

We’ve been getting questions on why we’re exhibiting extra fashionable films for a very long time, and we’re actually not. Our wheelhouse is the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, with some ‘60s and the ‘20s too. That’s the overwhelming majority. It was 20 years in the past, and it nonetheless is.

Why does TCM proceed to have such a loyal following within the streaming period when most—actually not all, however many—of the titles you broadcast are accessible on demand by means of different suppliers?

I feel it’s the context, the curation and the communication—these three ‘c’s. The connection we now have with the viewers. I feel that issues. Additionally, the channel doesn’t seem like every other channel. Every thing we placed on the air we’re cautious about—the whole lot we present between films. We hope that the expertise of watching TCM means one thing that’s completely different.

Additionally, with all due respect to a zillion different channels which have reveals that I like, you’ll undergo your entire life overlaying leisure, overlaying tv, and nobody will ever say, “oh my God, I like Showtime. I’ll watch something on Showtime. I like Starz.” Nobody’s ever stated that. “Oh my god, I like ABC.” Nobody talks that method. They may say they love TCM. It’s the one channel, with perhaps the exception of a information channel that persons are weirdly obsessive about. However on the subject of leisure tv, there’s one channel meaning one thing.

HBO has, to me, arguably, the 5 greatest reveals to ever air on tv: “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Succession” and “Sport of Thrones.” However I identical to the reveals. It’s not like I’m a devoted HBO fan. And even for those who don’t like a few of the films on TCM, the channel issues. You’ll see it on Twitter and Fb. Our followers will say, “I’m proud to be a mother, and a nurse, and a canine proprietor, and a TCM fan.”

Do you get to see many 2022 films, and in that case, I’m positive our readers are curious what has topped your listing for this 12 months.

I haven’t seen as many, so with the numerous caveat that my listing is incomplete, I liked “Girls Speaking.” I noticed it at Telluride. I simply noticed that Nicolas Cage film, “The Insufferable Weight of Huge Expertise.” I liked, it was pleasant. I liked “Confess, Fletch.” I’m an enormous Fletch fan, and it felt like a film from the ‘90s. I imply that as a praise; it was a film for grown-ups. I liked “The Banshees of Inisherin.” I preferred “Armageddon Time” fairly a bit.

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