Michael Mann Facts Presents: Cinco de Manno
Cinco de Mayo, 2023: the Fifth of May, and the fifth weekend of Michael Mann Facts Presents at The Roxy Cinema. This May, we celebrate Cinco de Manno.
Miami Vice and Public Enemies arrived three years apart as an exhalation: the dying breath of adult blockbuster filmmaking. They relished in the downward slope of peak Hollywood excess—multiple, global red carpet premieres for vehicles built around capital-S stars, not (comic book) characters, despite both stories revolving around iconic twentieth century men on both sides of the law. High-definition cameras like those Michael Mann utilized to shoot much of each picture have now become commonplace in film production, although not for the same reasons that Mann initially adopted them.
In Vice and Enemies, the shooting format lends each film an iconic visual aesthetic that is unmistakably Mann; not imitating filmic texture but instead completely departing from it, shooting men out of place and time, up close and personal. The look is not for everyone, and while Miami Vice’s reputation has only blossomed since its release, Public Enemies’ lags in part because of the clarity with which it presents a historical tale so often told via talking heads and Ken Burnsified, sepia-toned photographs.
There’s no antique distance: Mann’s digital photography closely monitors the characters of Vice and Enemies, echoing the systems of institutional power which swallow them whole (perhaps why it seems so discomfiting to some). Crockett and Tubbs were in over their heads, undercover without sense of up or down, crossing personal and geographical borders to take down global criminal enterprises that dwarf the Dillinger gang. But they wouldn’t be in their position without Public Enemies’ Melvin Purvis, who helped lay the groundwork for a surveillance state fully realized in the globe-spanning, high-tech criminal worlds that Mann’s later works probe.
Between Miami Vice and Public Enemies there are no pet alligators named Elvis, and Dillinger is not just an American myth manufactured by the press. The hyperrealism of the digital camera accentuates each character losing their privacy, their agency, but most devastatingly and blatantly, each other. In a world where governments abide by no law, no rules, and no order, a shower kiss or a bathtub seduction seems visceral on digital, and fleeting in the way a person experiences a moment, not how they remember it. A safehouse door for a laptop camera, the heat is now always around every corner. Mann’s pioneering formal choices marry the anxieties of his characters and viewers, and while the stakes for each party are different, the prognostication is the same, and still rings true today. For instance, 33 Thomas Street is a stone’s throw away from The Roxy’s front door.
While we presented the prior four weekends of Mann on 35mm, both Miami Vice and Public Enemieswill be shown digitally—not their original exhibition format, but one truer to the intentions of the Mann behind the camera. Imperfect men projected without imperfection. Feliz Cinco de Manno, chica.
Words by Michael Mann Facts