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Michael Mann

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Michael Kenneth Mann (born February 5, 1943 in Chicago) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He has been nominated for four Oscars for writing, directing and producing during the 72nd and 77th Oscars in 1999 and 2004 respectively.


His father, Jack, was a Ukrainian emigrant and World War II veteran who became a greengrocer and his mother, Esther, a local Chicago girl. Mann was close to his father and his paternal grandfather, Sam, a Russian immigrant who had fought in World War I. Mann grew up in the rough Humboldt Park neighborhood and immersed himself in the burgeoning Chicago blues-music scene as a teenager.

He studied English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and developed interests in geology, history and architecture. It was at this time that he first saw Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and fell in love with movies. In a recent L.A. Weekly interview, he describes the film's impact on him: "It said to my whole generation of filmmakers that you could make an individual statement of high integrity and have that film be successfully seen by a mass audience all at the same time. In other words, you didn’t have to be making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you wanted to be a part of the commercial film industry, or be reduced to niche filmmaking if you wanted to be serious about cinema. So that’s what Kubrick meant, aside from the fact that I loved Kubrick and he was a big influence."

Mann later moved to London in the mid-1960s, in part to dodge the Vietnam draft[unverified] (for which he was ineligible because of asthma). He went on to receive a graduate degree at the London International Film School. He spent seven years in the United Kingdom going to film school and then working on commercials along with contemporaries Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and Adrian Lyne. In 1968, footage he shot of the Paris student revolt for a documentary, Insurrection, aired on NBC's First Tuesday news program and he developed his '68 experiences into the short film "Juanpuri," which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1970.

Mann returned to United States after divorcing his first wife in 1971. He went on to direct a road trip documentary for ABC, 17 Days Down the Line. Three years later, Hawaii Five-0 veteran Robert Lewin gave Mann a shot and a crash course on story structure while he wrote the first four episodes of Starsky and Hutch and writing the pilot episode for Vega$. Around this time, Mann worked on a show called Police Story with cop-turned novelist Joseph Wambaugh. Police Story concentrated on the detailed realism of a real cop's life and taught Mann the essential for first-hand research to bring authenticity to his work.

His first feature movie was a made-for-TV special called The Jericho Mile, which was released theatrically in Europe. His television work also includes having acted as director and producer on such shows as Miami Vice and Crime Story. Contrary to popular belief, he is not the creator of these shows but the executive producer. However, his influence is felt throughout each show in terms of casting and style.

Mann is now known primarily as a feature film director and he is considered to be one of America's top filmmakers. He has a very distinct style that is reflected in his works: his trademarks include ethereal synth scores, such as Jan Hammer's theme to Miami Vice or the New Age score to Manhunter. Dante Spinotti is a frequent cinematographer of Mann's pictures. Mann has an affinity for stark urban landscapes and a visual style which often places an emphasis on soft blues and harsh, sterile whites.[unverified]

Mann's first cinema feature as director was Thief starring James Caan - a commercially overlooked gem that set the blueprint for many of Mann's later works and has a central performance that Caan has said he is most proud of after The Godfather.[unverified]

1983's The Keep was in retrospect an uncharacteristic choice, being that it is a supernatural thriller set in Nazi occupied Romania. It was a commercial flop and provoked almost universal confusion in those who did manage to see it. Though it is believed that the 96 minute released cut was significantly shorter than Mann had intended.[unverified]

Mann was the first to bring Thomas Harris's character of Hannibal Lector to the screen with his adaptation of novel Red Dragon, as Manhunter, the film was quite different from the future, more successful entries to the series and starred Brian Cox as a more down-to-earth Hannibal. The story was remade less than 20 years after it came out by Brett Ratner presumably because Anthony Hopkins reprisal of the role in Ridley Scott's Hannibal had made the character a highly lucrative property. In an interview on the Manhunter DVD, star William Petersen comments that because Mann is so focused on his creations, it takes several years for Mann to complete a film; Petersen believes that this is why Mann doesn't make films very often.[1]

His biggest critical successes came at the end of the 1990s with the release of Heat in 1995 and The Insider in 1999. The films, both of which featured Al Pacino along with Robert DeNiro in Heat and Russell Crowe in The Insider, showcased Mann's visual style and adeptness at creating rich storylines. The Insider was nominated for several Academy Awards as a result, including a nomination for Mann's direction.

With his next film Ali in 2001, he started experimenting with digital cameras. On Collateral he shot all of the exterior scenes digitally (with the Viper FilmStream camera) so that he could achieve more depth and detail during the night scenes while shooting most of the interiors on film stock. The film helped catapult Jamie Foxx to greater notoriety, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

In 2004, Mann was nominated for producing Best Picture nominee The Aviator, a film he had developed with Leonardo DiCaprio with Mann at the helm, he then decided to direct Collateral and left the director's chair to now-frequent DiCaprio collaborator Martin Scorsese

Since Collateral Mann has made Miami Vice, the film adaptation of the hit TV series of the same name which Mann executive produced. It stars a completely new cast with Colin Farrell in Don Johnson's role and Jamie Foxx filling Philip Michael Thomas' shoes.

According to a May 2, 2007 article in Variety magazine, Mann's next project with be a 1930s film noir starring Leonardo DiCaprio.[2]

Thematic preoccupations[edit]

Template:OriginalResearch 1. Professionalism: Mann’s films are obsessed with the common bond between men and the notion of professionalism between them.[unverified] The protagonists in his films are the very best at their respective vocations: from an efficient safe-cracker in Thief to 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman in The Insider. These men are loners who have little time for families and personal relationships.

2. Family vs. Profession: Family and material items only get in the way of or cause the downfall of a Mann protagonist.[3] Each one is driven by an all-consuming goal, often in the form of a dream. However, in Manhunter, Will Graham is able to do his job successfully and return to his family safely.

3. Dreams: In Mann’s films there is always a key scene between two people in which they tell each other their dreams and personal philosophies. During the course of the narrative, Mann protagonists are forced to make a life-altering decision that will determine their fate and inevitably push their dreams just out of reach. They often sacrifice their dreams when they acknowledge and embrace their aloneness. In Heat, when Hanna realizes that he cannot be with Justine because he is consumed by his job, he is then free to catch Neil.

File:Neil in blue.jpg
The use of color and physical space to symbolize the isolation of Neil (Robert De Niro) in Heat.

4. Color: There are several colors that he uses in every movie that symbolize specific meanings. Blue often represents romance and safety.[4] In Manhunter, when Will Graham is at home, he makes love to his wife in a room bathed in blue light. In Miami Vice the main characters retreat to a staging area under a freeway bridge illuminated in blue neon. No harm will come to them in these spaces. It has also been equated with isolation and loneliness[4] as in Heat when Neil arrives at his home bathed in blue light. Green is equated with danger and death.[4] In The Insider, when Wigand golfs at night and is threatened by a mysterious man, the lighting of the scene is an eerie green. In Manhunter, Will Graham tries to catch a serial killer by using himself as bait, to the backdrop of a green-colored FBI headquarters and a view of Graham through a green nightvision scope. Red, to a lesser degree, is also associated with danger and death.[4] In the climactic bank heist in Heat, two cops hide behind a red truck (using a blue bus as visual cover to advance to the bank) and Hanna returns to his hotel room to find his step-daughter, Lauren, in a tub filled with her blood. Gray and white represent authority and conformity.[4] In Manhunter, Lecter’s prison cell is completely white, which enhances his intimidation of Will Graham, and in Heat in Roger Van Zant's (William Fichtner) office, where the colors are striped white and black, representing his mixed conformity and corruption.[4]

5. Architecture: Mann’s films also pay particular attention to architecture and a sense of place. It is used to enhance or reflect the mood of his characters.[3] His films are full of empty houses, lonely hotel rooms, endless oceans, and dark city streets. Mann’s urban films are populated by hi-tech buildings that are spartan and impersonal by design, like the prison that houses Lecter in Manhunter or Hanna’s home in Heat (described as a "dead-tech, post-modernistic, bullshit" house). Characters inhabit clean, uncluttered spaces with large picture windows that often offer a view of an expansive body of water. In Miami Vice, Sonny and Isabella cruise to Cuba in a speedboat with a clear horizon of undisturbed water. Water represents a place of relaxation (Manhunter), a search for identity (The Last of the Mohicans) and a place of refuge (The Insider) for the Mann protagonist.

6. Firearms: Most of Michael Mann's crime/cop film protagonists wields .45 ACP caliber pistols. Some examples are James Caan (Thief), Al Pacino & Robert De Niro (Heat) and Tom Cruise (Collateral). Michael Mann is a firearm instructor himself and he also pays extra attention to recording sounds of firearms in his films. As a result his film characters wield their guns in a professional style and firing sounds in Mann's films are usually loud and realistic.

7. Sociopathy: Most of Mann's main characters are described (even by him in commentary) as sociopaths or possessing sociopathic traits. This is especially in the case of the films Thief (James Caan), Manhunter (Tom Noonan), Heat (Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore), and recently Collateral (Tom Cruise), where the traits of sociopathic personality coalesce with professional crime. Other characters, such as Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Waingro (Kevin Gage), are marked by either mild narcissism and histrionics (or as Mann states as "ego-centered") or, in Waingro's case, psychopathy. Most notably in Heat, both sides of the law exhibit a form of high in sensory addiction[unverified] (thrill of apprehending dangerous criminals or the thrill of robbery at gunpoint). Mann also describes in many of his commentaries how the outlook of his characters range from hopeful to nihilistic.

Awards and honors[edit]

Mann received an Emmy in 1979 for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for The Jericho Mile. The following year he was honored by the Director's Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for The Jericho Mile. In 1990, he won another Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries for Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. Mann was the recipient of the Humanitas Prize in 2000 for The Insider. In 2005, he received the BAFTA Film Award for co-producing The Aviator.

To date he has received four Academy Award nominations: in 2000, the Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Motion Picture of the Year all for The Insider.

Select filmography[edit]

Year Title Other Notes
1981 Thief also screenplay
1983 The Keep also screenplay
1986 Manhunter also screenplay
1989 L.A. Takedown also written by
1992 The Last of the Mohicans also screenplay
1995 Heat also written by
1999 The Insider also written by
2001 Ali also screenplay
2004 Collateral
2006 Miami Vice also written by
2008 Arms and the Man (film) also screenplay
2008 The Few (film)
2009 Irania (film) also screenplay

External links[edit]


  1. Inside Manhunter: Interviews with stars William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Tom Noonan
  2. Fleming, Michael (May 2, 2007). "Mann, DiCaprio team for drama". Variety. Retrieved 2007-05-03. </li>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thoret, Jean-Baptiste (2000). "The Aquarium Syndrome: On the Films of Michael Mann". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 2007-01-11. </li>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Dourountzis, Peter (September 19, 1986). "Le Code Couleur de Mann" (in French). Retrieved 2007-01-11. </li> </ol>
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