It was the credits at the end of an episode of Miami Vice that first drew my attention to the work of Michael Mann. The words "a Michael Mann production" appeared over the top of an animated abstract painting of pink and blue - jazzy italics making a claim for authorship. It was as executive producer of this extraordinarily successful, groundbreaking television series that the name and the figure of Michael Mann first entered popular and global consciousness - credited and celebrated with bringing a cinematic style to television. He then used this power and notoriety to do two things. The first was to make more exceptional television. The second was to continue pursuing his passion for the cinema - to make highly individual films of his own. And so the commanding words "a Michael Mann production" metamorphosed into the more subdued, but equally significant "a Michael Mann film". But Mann had traveled a long, hard road to get to that watershed moment of Miami Vice, and his return to full-time feature filmmaking proved to be just as long and difficult.
The Mann biography spans nations, passions and storytelling forms. Mann majored in English literature at Wisconsin University, and, at one stage, even considered pursuing an academic career. However, he fell in love with filmmaking and decided to move away from America to study at the London International Film School. His time at film school intersected with that remarkably rich middle period of the '60s from the Nouvelle Vague to the Paris riots. It was also the halcyon time of the "director as auteur". In London, Mann's compatriots were Alan Parker, the Scott brothers and Adrian Lyne - filmmakers who started out in the commercial, highly stylised pictorial field of advertising. Mann himself followed a similar path, making shorts, and advertisements as well as documentaries for television. One of his first projects was an NBC documentary about the May '68 Paris riots - a film called Insurrection. Shortly after, he also made a well-received abstract experimental short - Jaunpuri - which won a Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. (4)