Page 1

001


003


IT IS A DANGEROUS JOURNEY.

005


TABLE OF CONTENTS


06 PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER 08 THE BIOGRAPHY 12 THE INTERVIEW 22 THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER

34 FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER 36 A SICKENING CATALOG OF SINS 42 TERRIFYING TRICKS THAT ,AKE A BIG MAN LITTLE 48 SUCH A VERY LONG WAY FROM DUVETS TO DANGER 54 NIGHTMARE ON 94TH STREET

60 HUNTING A KILLER AS THE AGE OF AQUARIUS DIES

66 BESIDE THE FILMOGRAPHY 68 A DANGEROUS JOURNEY 70

THE LOCATION

72

THE SCHEDULE

007


F O T I A R T OP R FINCHER D I V DA 009


THE BIOGRAPHY

Fincher may not have enough movies to his credit to round out a Top Ten, but many of the ones he has made are among the most compelling of the last 20 years.

B

Born on May 10, 1962, Fincher originally hailed from Denver. Like one of his predecessors, the infamous Kenneth Anger, he stepped behind a camera at the tender age of eight and, particularly inspired by the work of George Lucas, reeled in his first major industry job ten years later at Lucas’ own Industrial Light and Magic. After his four-year stint at ILM, during which he worked on such productions as Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Fincher helmed commercials and music videos for the likes of Aerosmith, Paula Abdul, and Madonna. Following the disappointment of Alien 3, his directorial debut, the filmmaker received Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay for Seven, and almost immediately signed on to helm it; it reached cinemas in late 1995. A noirish, grimly atmospheric crime thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as detectives following the gruesome trail of a serial killer ( Kevin Spacey), innumerable critics hailed the picture as one of the most innovative and unsettling of the decade, and duly established its director as one of Hollywood’s most exciting and unusual new talents. Relentlessly grim and oozing with rancid cynicism, this A-budget feature strayed so far from the escapist fare that typically primes a film for mainstream box-office success that many insiders anticipated limited appeal, but Fincher’s stylistic panache and inhibition-defying gutsiness turned Seven into a runaway smash, on both commercial and critical fronts. Because the acclaim surrounding Seven made the relatively unknown Fincher one of Hollywood’s hottest young directors, considerable anticipation and buzz surrounded his follow-up, The Game. Released in 1997 and starring Michael Douglas as a soulless attorney who becomes caught up in the sinister, Kafkaesque machinations of the titular scheme, the work boasted almost as much feel-bad cynicism as Seven, but failed to resonate with audiences or critics who found it hopelessly convoluted and shallow. The relative disappointment of The Game, however, did little to dim the excitement that accompanied Fincher’s next project, a screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s apocalyptic, of-the-moment novel Fight Club. Featuring a sterling cast that included Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Seven collaborator Pitt, the 1999 film -- about a couple of depressed urban

011


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE BIOGRAPHY

“YOU CAN MAKE MOVIES FOR A SELECT AUDIENCE, BUT YOU HAVE TO MARKET IT TO THEM. YOU CAN MAKE MOVIES FOR A SELECT AUDIENCE, BUT YOU HAVE TO MARKET IT TO THEM.” —DAVID FINCHER

loners (Norton and Pitt), who vent their aggressions in ultra-violent street brawls – was easily one of the most publicized of the decade and no less dynamic than either of Fincher’s prior films. Fueled in equal measure by stylistic audacity and the spirit of disenfranchised machismo, Fight Club failed to become the incendiary hit both its fans and detractors predicted, although its pre-millennial nihilism influenced directors for years to come and garnered a passionate cult fan base. In spite (or perhaps because) of Fight Club, expectations were high for Fincher’s next project, Panic Room, a thriller starring Jodie Foster, Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam, and penned by the prolific David Koepp ( Bad Influence, Carlito’s Way). As pure an exercise in suspense as could be expected from the director, the film ratcheted up tension as it told the tale of a newly single Manhattan mother (Foster) and her diabetic daughter ( Kristen Stewart) who use a high-tech “safe space” to protect themselves from a particularly nasty trio of burglars. Calling to mind the brutality of Peckinpah, Panic Room was greeted by positive reviews and a healthy box-office take, and marked a successful return to the big screen for the two-years-dormant Foster. Dormancy would characterize Fincher’s career in the five years following Panic Room, although his name would be bandied about in association with a slew of high-profile projects (including Mission: Impossible III and the feature-film adaptation of Lords of Dogtown). When he finally returned in 2007, it was with Zodiac, a period thriller that resembled, at least on the surface, his Seven salad days. Pairing the director with such young, in-demand performers as Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo to tell the true story of the cryptic serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the early ‘70s, the highly anticipated project was given a March berth similar to that of Panic Room. As Fincher made the media rounds for Zodiac, he was deep into production on the New Orleans-set The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story of the same name that reunited him with Brad Pitt, and co-starred Pitt’s onscreen spouse from Babel, Cate Blanchett. When that film finally hit theaters, during the awards season of 2008, it rung up strong box office receipts, and garnered 13 Oscar nominations, more than any other film that year. In addition to Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay nods, the Academy handed Fincher his first nomination for Best Director.


013


THE INTERVIEW Todd Doogan had a interview with David Fincher about this direct’s works.

D

David Fincher is a poet of images. Not many can do what he does (sometimes even he can hardly do what he does). He’s known to do many takes of some of the most mundane things. But he always gets the shot that he wants to get. He’s a filmmaker with a wide fan base, and he deserves it. Todd started following his filmmaking career after Todd saw his music videos, and couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with a wider screen. It helped that his first project was Alien 3. Although ill-fated, David seemed to learn a lot from that experience and, after a few years away from the big screen, he came back with a vengeance with Se7en. At that point, Todd wanted to be David Fincher. Todd may never get the chance to hold a big ass camera next to his face, but he can watch his movies and dream. Todd recently had the opportunity to talk with Fincher about one of his favorite movies of David Fincher, Fight Club, and how it came to be. And that was just the starting point. Todd Doogan (The Digital Bits): How did Fight Club first come about? How did the project find its way onto your desk? I mean, the novel wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves before people heard it was going to be your next picture.

David Fincher: Josh Donen, who is one of my agents now, was a producer at the time and he told me, “I’ve got this book and you’ve got to read it.” I’ve got no time to read books, so I told him I couldn’t. And he just says, “Yeah, it’s really thin. I’ll send it over. You’ve got to read it.” So I tell him I can’t read it, and he reads me the Raymond K. Hessel scene, where Tyler puts the gun to the guy’s head and tells him, “I know who you are. I know where you live. I’m keeping your license, and I’m going to check on you, mister Raymond K. Hessel. In three months, and then in six months, and then in a year, and if you aren’t in school on your way to being a veterinarian, you will be dead.” [Fight Club, chapter 20] I just said, “All right, you’ve got to send it over. I have to read this.” So I read it that night and I flipped out. I was laughing so hard that I just said to myself, “I’ve got to be involved in this. If anyone should make this movie, I should at least give it my best shot.” So, I called and found out that Twentieth Century Fox had bought the rights. I didn’t have a very good time with Fox the first time [Alien 3, anyone], so 015


I was basically going thinking, “Oh, no that’s over with.” But Josh called and told me to just go in and talk with Laura Ziskin, and tell her that I wanted to make it. So I do - I go in and talk with Laura Ziskin and I told her, “Here’s the movie I’m interested in making and I’m not interested in watering any of this shit down. I’m not interested in explaining, but I think I can make a movie that you don’t need to have read the book in order to understand what’s going on. I have no interest in making this anything other than what this book is, which is kind of a sharp stick in the eye.” She was very cool with it. We could have made it a three million dollar or five million dollar Trainspotting version, or we could do the balls-out version where planes explode and it’s just a dream and buildings explode and it’s for real - which is the version I preferred to do - and she backed it. The agreement I made with her was that I didn’t want to have to see a committee about this, because I just didn’t think a committee would be able to understand this. I said, “Laura, I’m looking you in the eye and Bill [Mechanic] I’m looking you in the eye and I’m telling you this is going to be a singular thing and it’s going to be something you’re going to be proud of, but I can’t, we can’t market test it. There’s no way we’re going to be able to ask a focus group if they like it.” They were totally cool with that. So I said, “Let’s get a writer that we both agree on and let me go away. And when I come back to you, I’m coming back with a script and it’s going to be the script I want to shoot. Instead of coming back and saying, “What do you think? Oh, yeah, I can change that.” I’m coming back with a script I’m willing to kill for. But I’m also coming back with a budget and I’m coming back with a schedule and a cast.” So I went away for about a year, and we came back. Poor Jim [Uhls] had to write something like five drafts, most of them for free. We went back to them [the studio] and we dropped this huge pile of stuff. Actually, we took them out to dinner, Art Linson and I, and we took them into a back room at a restaurant in L.A. called Chianti. They came in and we gave them something like three bibles worth of stuff - a huge package. I said, “This is the movie. 67 million dollars, here’s the cast, we have this many days of shooting, this is why, these are the stages we want at Fox. We don’t know who’s going to play Marla, but we think it’s going to be this person - give us your answer tomorrow.” They called back and said, “Okay.” Todd Doogan: Did you have final cut? David Fincher: Well, no. We had in my agreement that I had final cut - that was in my deal. But when the [proposed] budget went over 50 million dollars, Bill Mechanic said, “I can’t do this to my shareholders. I can’t give this to you because then I have no recourse when this movie goes over budget.” I said okay, I understand that. But we had some little contractual loopholes, where - the title sequence was about $800,000. There’s no reason for that, we could have done the sequence with white titles over black and then cut to Edward’s face. So they held that out for the first six months. If we were going rampagedly over budget, and were getting careless about spending money, then they weren’t going to give us the title sequence. But we stayed pretty much on schedule and pretty much on budget, and by the end, 10 or 12 weeks into the shooting, they finally said, “Okay... you can start the title sequence.” Ultimately, when Bill said, “I can’t give you final edit over 50 million. If you can do it for 49.9 then you can have final cut,” I said, “I couldn’t do it for that, but I trust you and you trust me so let’s do it.” Todd Doogan: That’s pretty daring considering what happened with Alien 3. David Fincher: Well, Bill Mechanic’s a different animal. Here’s a guy who bets


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE INTERVIEW

on horses, not races. I think the only way you can do that job [studio head] is to have respect for the people that you hire and let them do what they do. There’s no way you can go into the movie - if you read the book, there’s no way you can go into this movie and think this is going to be Pretty Woman. I think they [the Fox brass] fell in love with it, warts and all, in the dailies. A lot of people get back on their heals about this movie and feel assaulted. But I think if you take that assault over 20 weeks of shooting, then you have a better chance of people warming to it. Think about what happens in two hours after it downloads in front of you, and you get all “whooooahhh!” I think they really embraced the tone of it. So by the time we were done, they knew what this movie was. Although, the first time we screened it was, (laughs) it was amazing. We screened it for Laura, Bill and Arnon Milchan, who came in three weeks after shooting and put up half the money, so he became a partner in the whole thing. I remember showing it to them... it was about 2:25 or 2:29 [running time] - about 15 minutes longer than it is now. By the time it was over and the lights came up, they were like... their mouths were open and their eyes were wide. That’s a very awkward thing, when you show people who paid that much money for a movie like this. What are they going to say that’s going to live up to it? They all said exactly the right thing: “I’ll call you tomorrow.” I thought, well we did it - we made it. Because that’s the reaction we should be getting. You don’t want people to jump up and go, “GOD, I love it!” You wouldn’t believe it. Todd Doogan: You’d look at them weird. David Fincher: Yeah. You’d be like, “You love it? Seek therapy.” Todd Doogan: Now, there’s no doubt that Fight Club was misunderstood by a lot of people, who initially took the violence at face value and thus condemned the film. What’s your response to that? David Fincher: I always saw the violence in this movie as a metaphor for drug use. I mean, is drug use glamorized in Pulp Fiction? I guess it is. But what you’re trying to show in the character is that he has a need. There’s sensuality to this need and there’s sensuality in this need being fulfilled. So maybe that’s wrong, but it’s the only way to help talk about it. The violence gives him [Norton’s unnamed character] the pain he feels. You’re talking about a character who’s ostensibly dead. You’re talking about a guy who’s been completely numb. And he finally feels something and he becomes addicted to that feeling. He has a need to feel, and that need is fulfilled by the Fight Club. So there’s a kind of parallel in a weird way to people who disappear into drugs. The secret society and the people who congregate there, the lingo, the code and all that stuff. The drug metaphor I felt was clearly obvious, but I never thought the violence was glamorized. I think there much more glamorization of violence in the kinetics of chaos and the ballet of chaos in The Matrix then there is in this film - but it didn’t offend me in The Matrix. Maybe I’m the wrong person to ask about it. I thought Raging Bull was beautiful and I know it was talking about something that was ugly. But I thought that the way it made that ugliness fascinating was making it beautiful. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to talk about characters who are beyond redemption. I don’t know if you’d get out of bed if you had to worry about how two hours of controlling everything somebody sees and hears can be misconstrued. You have no option, it is going to be misconstrued and it is going to offend someone - paintings are misinterpreted. There are things that you don’t even know what the effect on an audience is going to be until you try it. You don’t even know what it’s going to be on yourself. A movie is a prototype. Every single one of them is a prototype - it’s not the finished thing. You’re spending a hundred million dollars on an airplane, but you get a couple of runs in a wind tunnel. You don’t 017


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE INTERVIEW

A INTERVIEW OF D

get that with a movie. There are a couple of things that you think are going to work a certain way, and you think they are going to mean something. But as soon as you create the context for designing the moment, you create a context for defining the moment and it’s very difficult for you to understand it out of that context. It’s a tough thing. I did not think people would be as offended as they turned out to be with the movie. After the initial onslaught of derogatory comments about how offended they were, I could just not give a fuck. I’ve gotten beyond it pretty quickly. Todd Doogan: P.T. Anderson has said that he thinks a film like Fight Club is “incredibly irresponsible” - his quote [Creative Screenwriting, Jan/Feb 2000 issue]. With today’s climate of extremist P.C., and the fear of violent acts like Columbine and Oklahoma City happening again, what’s your take on the effect of violence in the media and the catch all concern of “responsibility as a filmmaker” in that regard? David Fincher: The nature of what inspires people and what repels people is all happening at once. There’s no way to know. If we could understand abhorrent thinking, then it wouldn’t be aberrant. If we could predict how people were going to behave, we wouldn’t have Columbine. But to say that because we have Columbine then we have to be very careful about the ideas we put out there is inane - ludicrous. As for Paul Thomas Anderson, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Todd Doogan: On a lighter vibe, from the perspective of a filmmaker, how do you view the DVD format? Is it a chance to teach something about the filmmaking process to a larger audience than laserdisc had? Is it an opportunity to say more about a particular film that you’ve wanted to say? Is it a chance to revisit a film, and get the last word, so to speak, with a commentary and a director’s cut and the like? David Fincher: I don’t think about it. I think there are many great attributes to DVD and many unfortunate ones. The most unfortunate being that this is probably the best chance of a pristine record of any motion picture out there. That’s truly sad. I think that we owe it to our culture - and we owe it to


DAVID FINCHER “I ALWAYS SAW THE VIOLENCE IN THIS MOVIE AS A METAPHOR FOR DRUG USE. I MEAN, IS DRUG USE GLAMORIZED IN PULP FICTION? I GUESS IT IS. BUT WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SHOW IN THE CHARACTER IS THAT HE HAS A NEED.” — DAVID FINCHER ourselves - that we have some sort of record of our culture. When I saw Rear Window’s recent resuscitation... it’s tragic. You look at that film and you go, “This may be the best restoration two million dollars can buy, but it’s nowhere near good enough to be released again.” It’s horrifying. Not what they did they did a lot of really great work, but it’s horrifying that movies get to that place where they need such extensive restoration. So in that respect, DVD is truly a godsend. We will have a fairly permanent record of movies that are made these days. But should they compressed? Should we go 720 progressive or should it be 1080 progressive? And what does that mean in terms of owning copyright and being able to master? You’ve got the DLT manufacturer saying that the Phantom Menace hi-def television release was good enough for George Lucas, so it’s good enough for everybody. A lot of tragic decisions are being made based on where technology is right now, that are going to make DVD the final records of movies being made right now. I would bet you in 10 to 20 years that these are going to be the best records of these films that we have. I mean, unless someone decides to go in and start doing 4K scans of classic movies or movies that make over 100 million dollars. Todd Doogan: Now, that’s a sad commentary - that it takes 100 million dollars to make a movie important. David Fincher: It really is. Look at Star Wars - you can’t ask for a creator who’s more interested in making that document a permanent thing. Then you look at the 20th Anniversary re-release, and you just go, “Wow. That kind of looks crappy.” They lost so much stuff here and there and reconstructed things and you look at it and go, “Ugh...” But that’s the way things are going to go. And it’s unfortunate. It’s either all going disappear into dust, or someone is going to say, “Hey, there’s a whole business out there that needs to be defined.” Which is, once a movie has enough people who have seen it, and it becomes a part of the public consciousness, then we owe it to ourselves to have some sort of digital record. The look of a 4K scan, as good as it is, is different from the original thing. We’re doing tests on Se7en right now, and we’ll probably try and archive it to do a 4K record of the movie, and then do a timed-perfect 2K record that New Line would have forever and would be 019


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE INTERVIEW

updated onto new media. We’re talking about a movie that’s only five years old. Five years ago, they vaulted the negative, and now it’s already getting scratched up and starting to decay. Todd Doogan: Probably the thing we hear most from DVD fans is, “When is David Fincher going to go back and revive his original director’s cut of Alien 3 on DVD?” Because, having seen that cut - your original vision for Alien 3 - a lot of people think it’s a much better film than what was finally released in theaters. David Fincher: I have no plans to revisit Alien 3. There was a kind of famous encounter about that, when footage was cut and I remember saying, “Can we possibly save this stuff for the laserdisc?” And I was told by someone with great relish, “There are no plans ever to do that.” You know... it was flawed from its inception and it was certainly flawed - actually pretty fucked up - well before we started shooting. So there you go. Todd Doogan: What’s it like having people constantly speculating about the next projects that you’ll do? People have a certain project in mind when they think of a “David Fincher film.” I think it would be maddening to know that every book I read, every CD I buy, every video I rent - suddenly it all becomes an aspect of “my next project.” David Fincher: I don’t know, because I don’t keep track of that stuff. Every once in a while, someone will call me up and say, “So, you’re gonna do this...” And I have to go, “No, no, no - we’re just talking about it.” I have that, but I don’t know anything about Internet speculation. I only went into the Internet Movie Database once in the last couple of months, just to see what people had to say about Fight Club. It was interesting, when the movie came out. I thought, “Wow, we’re getting some great reviews.” And now it’s remembered as being trounced. I was going back to see if I was sane - kind of taking stock after. Being inside the cyclone... things look different. I just fled town when it opened, so I had no idea what was going on. I did my “six months later” taking stock thing. That’s the only stuff I do on the Internet. I use it like a librarian. Todd Doogan: There are seven things that I know of that have you attached in some way... David Fincher: Yeah, you know... I’m trying not to be a whore, but if it’s something I’m interested in, I go, “Yeah, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring.” But, I don’t have anything yet. Todd Doogan: How important do you think credit sequences are to a film? Yours are pretty impressive and seem to really set the tone in each of the films they appear in. David Fincher: I don’t know that they are. I love Woody Allen’s stuff - I think they’re fucking hilarious and they haven’t changed over the years. I don’t know if it’s that important. I mean, looking back... in the end, would I rather not spend $800,000 on Fight Club? Yeah. Given that the film only grossed 100 million worldwide, you kind of go, “Ah... maybe we shouldn’t have.” But for prosperity, they’re kind of great. If they can help you set the tone - I just want something that starts the movie by going, “Everybody, open your fucking eyes and shut your mouths and get ready because we’re moving. If you trip up, we’re leaving without you.”

021


I WOULD DESCRIBE DAVID FINCHER AS A PERFECTIONIST WHO GOES INTO EVERY LITTLE DETAIL OF THE FILMMAKING PROCESS AND IS ABSOLUTELY SET ON BRING OUT THE IMAGES AND IDEAS HE HAS IN HIS HEAD ONTO THE SCREEN. FINCHER IS KNOWN FOR DOING TWO TO THREE TIMES THE AMOUNT OF TAKES FOR A SCENE AS A NORMAL DIRECTOR DOES. HE ALSO IS KNOWN FOR GIVING EXTREMELY SPECIFIC DIRECTIONS ON EVERYTHING.

023


THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER D By Brian Mockenhaupt

David Fincher sometimes slips into theaters for early screenings of his movies and listens for the gasps and laughs. He sometimes stands outside on opening night and watches the expressions of those coming out. And sometimes the critiques come to him. “I don’t have the Tom Hanks fans,” he says. “When you make the kind of movies I make, you get weird letters from people.” They say, Seven was my idea. That sort of thing. And all the noncrazy types have comments, too, when talk at a cocktail party turns to work, to his movies, and a Beverly Hills wife wants to tell him what she really thinks. You have no right. It’s not good to show Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box, she’ll say. It’s unnecessary. I didn’t do that. No, I saw it. Uh, no. You’re wrong. Those conversations heat up because Fincher, known for directing dark, hyperstylized movies, has little patience for the ignorant. But such comments also tell him he’s getting through, making his audience work for him and fill in the gaps, imagining what isn’t there. Watch Seven again, look for the violence, and you won’t see as much as you remember. Maybe he’s a bit misunderstood because of it, this guy who makes movies about a killer carving up people for a Bible lesson on the deadly sins or frustrated men beating the crap out of one another for fun. But while he doesn’t mind filming a good, blood-spattering punch to the face,

the question for Fincher is not one of quantity, but of intent. “You can do something that walks a line, and invariably, whatever that line is, it will be crossed by people who don’t know any better and want to ape the success,” he says. “People say, ‘Wow, Seven’s about degradation, and it made some money.’ I don’t mean this as highminded or artistic, but it does, I think, walk a fairly tasteful line.” He’s still walking that line, this time with the story of the Zodiac killer, who shot and stabbed several people around the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s. Like Seven, the movie downplays the killer’s “wet work,” as Fincher calls it. “I want to make a movie that has enough impact that it’s going to do what it needs to do,” he says. “But I don’t want to make a film that serial killers masturbate to.”

Slashing and screams can be scary. But far more disturbing for Fincher is the aftermath, seeing a killer take stock of his work, wash his hands, mop the floor, plan the rest of his day. And more disturbing still is the unknown. Think of Jeffrey Dahmer eating people in his apartment, with his neighbors none the wiser. “For me, the scariest thing about a serial killer is that there’s somebody who lives next door to you,” Fincher says, “running power tools late into the night, and you don’t know he has a refrigerator full of penises.” Okay, but still, it must be said: David Fincher’s are vastly entertaining.

025


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER

H

He is a reluctant standard-bearer for the darkness of our inner lives, but he has become a standardbearer nonetheless. This is notable because he has made but six movies, including two about serial killers (Seven, Zodiac), two portraits of abject paranoia (The Game, Panic Room), and one genuine work of art, Fight Club, for which he was called a sadist. His reputation, then, is much larger than his resume. And for making the kinds of movies that he makes, he seems like a very happy man. Untortured, unbothered, unguarded, socially adept. Friendly. Kind. Nice guy. Doesn’t seem to have an inflated sense of his own importance. Of course, the very fact of David Fincher’s own normalcy tends to support his basic theory of life and alienation and art: “As much as people pretend ‘I fit in, I understand, I get the rules,’ there are always times spent away from that where you go, ‘I thought I knew. It seemed so clear to me, and then . . .’ That sense of loneliness, or the sense of not fitting in or being out of depth, is probably the most common denominator,” he says. Behind his desk in his Hollywood office hangs a seventies-style oil painting of waves crashing on a beach with the words pitiless purity dude superimposed across the scene in huge white letters that shrink toward the horizon. It seems like a declaration of principles. And you might expect Fincher to be cynical, brooding. He laughs at this, then responds rather seriously that he’s not cynical; he’s just realistic. “Entertainment has to come hand in hand with a little bit of medicine,” he says. “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s okay. I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not okay.” He says this with a smile on his face, not wry or ironic but sweet. He pauses, closes his eyes, and tilts his head back. Fincher is deliberate and specific in speech. He measures his words. He works his fingers into his temples, then presses his thumbs over his eyes, building thoughts the way he constructs his mental scenes, laying out his plans. He opens his eyes. “You have a responsibility for the way you make the audience feel,” he says, “and I want them to feel uncomfortable.” It’s not easy to reconcile the guy who says that with this dude who makes movies, is wearing a T-shirt and corduroys, feet kicked up on a table, letting the unreturned calls pile up, answering an e-mail an hour, pecking the letters with index fingers, easygoing, unpretentious, happy. Well, not

totally happy. He didn’t sleep last night. He’s still finishing Zodiac, tweaking and trimming, and next week he’ll be in New Orleans shooting his next movie, but right now he’s just chilling. He seems too laid-back for the Teutonic minimalist chic of his office, with its cement floors and bare walls and skylight twenty feet above casting pale light through the room. His massive wooden slab of a desk, three feet wide and ten feet long, is clutter free, save for a pile of scripts and binders marked confidential. Of course, he has stacks of coffeetable film books--Hitchcock, Kubrick, European cinema. On the back wall hang several small photographs of his teenage daughter. Parked next to the Zodiac poster is his Segway scooter, and parked under the TV are his Xbox and PlayStation. He has several games, some driving, some shooting, but he plays just one: Madden 2007. The only reading material in his bathroom is Madden NFL 07: The Official Guide. “I like the idea of football as chess,” he says. “I love the strategery.” But playing Madden is fun, and directing movies isn’t. He says his job is like four- dimensional chess, and he finds it painful and frustrating and too wrought with compromise. “I do films because I love films, because otherwise it would just be too damn hard, too painful. It’s just too awful,” he says. At forty-four, he is a middle-aged dad with a longtime girlfriend who is also his line producer. He watches football on weekends, a little indulgence, and doesn’t exercise as much as he’d like. Gray is spreading through his goatee. His hair’s thinner and his body thicker. But his eyes counter those benchmarks of age. They are the eyes of the young, the curious, and the questioning. His creative interests run wide, same as when he was a boy, making fake blood, building models and blowing them up. Now he wants to make video games and an opera, turn Fight Club into a musical, and make an adult cartoon. Not that kind. A computer-generated animated movie for grown-ups. This town is the place for that, with all its quirkiness and artistic energy. “Hollywood is great. I also think it’s stupid and small-minded and shortsighted,” he says. “I’m sure there are people who get into movies so they can get nice tables at restaurants.” Do you get nice tables? No. Do you ask for nice tables? No.


F

For his eighth birthday he told his parents he’d like a BB gun or an 8mm camera, knowing he’d never get the gun. So he got the camera, which led to backyard movies, which led to movie grunt work, which led to dozens of music videos for the biggest names, back when people still watched music videos and talked about them as something special, which led here, where he wanted to be all along, making his movies his way. And while Fincher says he wants to expose truths, he’s not overly concerned with deeper messages. He readily acknowledges the absence of the profound in movies like The Game, with Michael Douglas running for his life in what turns out to be an elaborate birthday present, or Jodie Foster spending a night holed up in a room in a house under assault by a gang of thieves in Panic Room. “You can either look at your career as the things that you’re going to leave behind, and they have to be extremely precious and they have to be executed flawlessly and you have to know exactly what it is that you’re doing,” he says. “Or you can be realistic about the fact that you’re going to learn as you practice what you do.”

doesn’t much care about critics. And besides, in the end, his explanations, interpretations, and justifications matter little. “The movie will speak for me whether I want it to or not,” he says. And with a movie like Seven to his credit, another serialkiller film brings certain expectations. As a killer, Fincher calls the Zodiac an underachiever. He’s credited with at least five victims, though he may have had many more. But what made him special was his marketing campaign: He named himself, announced his crimes, and taunted police and the public with notes masked by complex cryptograms. Several local newspapers printed the letters, and the people fell into fits of paranoia, waiting for the Zodiac to kill again.

He looks back now on some of his work and winces, embarrassed, and maybe he’ll feel the same about this movie. “Who knows?” he says. “Zodiac might be a Dubious Achievement next year. It might be better to call it in advance. Does it hurt less if you predict it?”

Fincher dispatches the victims quickly and without melodrama, the violence stark but brief, which clears the way to explore the Zodiac’s other victims, the people who wrecked their lives trying to catch him, which they never do. Absent is Fincher’s hallmark darkness, the constant rain or dripping water, the impossible roller-coaster camera movements with shots that move through floors or keyholes. He puts away the tricks and makes way for the actors, building a world that supports their work. This, a talking movie, is new territory for a man who says he doesn’t much care what people have to say. “If you want to see what someone is about, you look at what people do,” he says. “What they say is how they want to be seen.”

Of course, this is the self-deprecation of the successful. He knows what he can do, he says, and

Fincher wants truth, or as near as he can get. “There is no truth after thirty-five years. There 027


TH are only varying degrees of falsehoods,” he says. “So how do we make it true to an experience?” Many scenes were shot around San Francisco, at the original locations. Four actors play the Zodiac in various attacks, based on widely varying descriptions from witnesses. Fincher and his crew met with many of the people involved in the case, including the two surviving victims and many of the cops who investigated the crimes. “This is a real story. Real people really got hurt,” he says. “There are terrible fallouts from these murders, and it didn’t seem right to turn it into a video game and put the audience in the stalker’s head. We’re responsible to the people.” Fincher was a kid then, in the Bay Area. He and the other first graders talked about the Zodiac on the playground. The stories grew and grew. “It was really scary,” he says. “He was the ultimate bogeyman.” Fincher saw sheriff’s cars tailing his school bus. Some parents started driving their kids to school. You know, police cars are following our buses, Fincher told his father. Well, his father said, you should know that a man who has murdered a handful of people has sent a letter to the Chronicle saying he plans next to take a highpower rifle and shoot out the tires of a school bus and kill the children. Uh-huh. Fincher stared at his father. “And I kept thinking, You know, you have a car, you could give us a ride to school. You’re a freelance magazine writer. There’s really nothing to stop you,” he says. “I remember being kind of appalled. My parents didn’t seem that concerned about my well-being.”

S

So he’s been at this for thirty-six years, since he asked for the camera, which came after watching a behind-the-scenes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Prior to seeing that, I just assumed that movies took place in real time,” he says. But they were filming train robberies and shoot-outs and blowing up balsa-wood trains at locations across the West. “It never occurred to me that you could infer this whole world, putting together the pieces. It was just revelatory,” he says. “And that’s pretty much when I made up my mind. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to direct movies.” In Fincher’s version of the early-seventies San Francisco Bay Area, movies are king. Coppola’s making The Godfather, with Michael Corleone standing there talking to his girlfriend. Fincher can’t get enough. He and his friends hang out on Fourth Street in San Rafael and watch Lucas shoot American Graffiti, and they make movies based on shows like The Six Million Dollar Man.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF DAVID FINCHER


HE CURIOUS CASE Kids are always working in movies as extras and reading Super 8 Filmmaker magazine. “In my neighborhood, none of my friends ever looked at the film industry as this thing you couldn’t do, couldn’t dream of, because that was Hollywood, and you had to have all these different skill sets. It was like, There’s this guy with a beard who comes down in his bathrobe every morning to pick up his Independent Journal. So why not?” The bearded man was George Lucas, two doors down. By eighteen, Fincher was doing visual effects on an animated movie called Twice Upon a Time. During lunch he’d find a way to eat with the producers, pitching them ideas. “He’d use his hands and tell a story, and everyone at the table would be completely silent listening to him describe this movie idea he had floating around in his head,” says Ren Klyce, who met Fincher on the movie and has done frequent sound work for him since, including for Zodiac. “He had this knack at eighteen to hold court in a very creative manner and suck people in.” Fincher worked for Lucas at Industrial Light & Magic on special effects for Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the early eighties he directed his first commercial, an American Cancer Society ad warning about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy. Fincher showed a fetus smoking in the womb. The commercial created huge buzz for its shock value, and that led to music videos, more elaborate versions of the short movies he’d set to songs in junior high. “Then all the sudden there’s this thing called MTV, and I’m going, Fuck, I know how to do that,” Fincher says. “That’s actually all I know how to do.” Through the eighties and nineties he directed dozens of videos for Rick Springfield, the Outfield, Loverboy, Paula Abdul, Sting, and Michael Jackson. He’s best known for his videos for Madonna’s “Vogue” and “Express Yourself” and the Rolling Stones’ “Love Is Strong,” which won him a Grammy in 1994. But Fincher loves film, and he directed commercials and videos because no one said come make a movie for us. He learned technique and style and how to manage a crew. When the movie bigwigs did call, Fincher thought he was ready. What followed was utter misery.

W

When people talk about Fincher’s movies, they usually start with Seven and skip right over Alien 3. Following Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens, the studio expected big returns, and, as Fincher says, money makes people fucking cra-

PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER –THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER

zy. Long before he showed up, the project was in trouble. Directors and writers had come and gone. No one could agree on a story line. Space? Earth? A planet made of wood inhabited by monks? (Seriously.) They settled on a maximum-security prison on a desolate planet. Sigourney Weaver’s Lieutenant Ellen Ripley crash-lands there with an alien baby in her belly. Fincher was a twentyseven-year-old music-video director, taking over a $60 million movie with a crew of hundreds and no script. It was the biggest budget ever given to a first-time director. “They probably hired me because they wanted someone to push around,” he says. “That was a bad situation. I don’t respond well to that.” He shot the movie, arguments were had, and feelings were hurt. Fifteen years later, the debate continues. Internet message boards overflow with praise and vitriol: those who say he turned a disaster into a decent movie and those who say he single-handedly ruined the Alien franchise. Fincher calls it a clusterfuck. But he learned from it. Why does he micromanage, why is he combative? Alien 3. “I have many, many friends who are vice-presidents and presidents of production at movie studios, and they never understand this very simple thing: My name’s going to be on it. Your name’s not on it,” he says. “Your point of view is as valid as any member of the audience. But it’s a different thing when your name’s on it, when you have to wear it for the rest of your life, when it’s on a DVD and it’s hung around your fucking neck. It’s your albatross.” Fincher gets along well enough with the studios. They give him handsome budgets--$70 million for Zodiac and $150 million for the film he’s shooting now--and he’s widely respected. “He’s just scary smart, sort of smarter than everyone else in the room,” says producer Laura Ziskin. “There’s just a handful of those people who know absolutely everything about the process. They could do everyone’s job brilliantly. Every aspect is under their control.” He can be a brutish ascetic, denying himself the extravagance of letting stories unfold, approaching them as intricate mathematical problems: one method, one answer. “Editing David’s film is like putting together a Swiss watch,” says Angus Wall, the editor on Zodiac. “All the pieces are so beautifully machined. He’s incredibly specific. He never settles. And there’s a purity that shows in his work.” “There’s what he thinks is right, and there’s little

029


THE CURIOUS CASE OF sold,” he says. “The problem with that is you’re saying to the audience, ‘Don’t worry, this is one of those. It’s not something other than what you’ve experienced before. It’s a Quarter Pounder with cheese, medium fries, and a vanilla shake. That’s what it is.’ And then when it isn’t that, people come out of the theater and say, Screw that, they told me it was going to be x.” Movie trailers really piss him off, with every trailer urgently pitching the same movie, just switching the scenes and actors. “When you make trailers, you constantly have to do this to the audience,” Fincher says, and starts jabbing a finger into my shoulder. “You watching? You still watching?” “Have you seen the Shining trailer?” he asks. No. “Dude, you gotta see this.”

else,” Ziskin says. “If you have a difference of opinion, he’ll listen politely, then tell you in no uncertain terms how completely wrong you are.” Ziskin first worked with Fincher on Fight Club, where they sometimes sparred over the budget. Then came the abortion argument. In an early cut of the film screened for test audiences, Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden rolls off Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla, who says, postcoital, “I want to have your abortion.” The audience laughed, but Ziskin, hard to offend, was aghast. The studio was already nervous about spending more than $60 million on such an unconventional movie. You have to change the line, she told Fincher. That’s too much. He agreed, so long as the new line stayed. He wouldn’t shoot a third time. Fine, she said. Anything else. Now Marla flops off Tyler and says, “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school.” He has learned which fights are worthwhile and which ones are wasted breath, like arguing with the movie marketers. Invited to a test screening of Seven, guests were told the movie starred Brad Pitt--Legends of the Fall--and Morgan Freeman-Driving Miss Daisy. Recounting this on Seven’s director’s commentary, Fincher giggles. “They couldn’t have been more offended,” he says. “You couldn’t molest the audience more than to promise Legends of the Fall and Driving Miss Daisy then to unleash this on them. They’d just been gang-raped.” “There’s this fear of being punished for selling something in any way other than how things are

THE CURIOUS CASE

He pulls up a video on his computer screen, a farcical trailer for The Shining. Instead of pitching a psychological thriller, the trailer twists it into a popcorn flick, anchored by a feel-good-movie voice-over: “Meet Jack Torrance. He’s a writer looking for inspiration. Meet Danny. He’s a kid looking for a dad.” So they come together, the new family. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” starts in, and the once ominous drive up the mountain to the hotel becomes the beginning of a happy life together. They should have made a trailer like that for Fight Club, Fincher says, should have used “Solsbury Hill.” At least that would have captured more of what he saw as the point of the movie, summed up by Edward Norton’s character in the film’s last line: “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” Instead, the trailer pushes the idea of expressing yourself through the catharsis of violence. “We don’t have confidence in people understanding what this is, and we certainly don’t have confidence in our ability to lay it out there in three words or less. So here’s what we’re going to sell. We’re going to take Fight Club and we’re going to turn it into: ‘It’s a movie about people who hit people.’ “Well, it’s a movie about people who hit themselves. They’re looking for ways to feel again,” he says. “There was a malaise and frustration and sadness that movie had at its core. And they say, Oh, no, no, no, whoa, whoa, whoa. People. People who hit people. That’s what this is. And I can’t help you there. I don’t think like that. Do people like ambiguity? I guess not anymore. Do I like ambiguity? Yeah, I guess I do. Is that going to come into conflict? Probably.” To minimize these annoyances, Fincher still makes commercials, earning money that brings


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER

freedom to be extra picky in his movie choices. The commercials also serve as his sandbox time to work out new techniques. After Panic Room in 2002, he did four commercials digitally, including a Hewlett-Packard ad shot against green screens in which the scene changes every seven frames as a man walks through an office. By Zodiac, he was ready to shoot without film, which streamlines the process and trims fixed costs. Most directors shoot about seven hundred thousand feet for a movie. Fincher shot the equivalent of 1.3 million for Zodiac, all of it stored in a six-foot Apple tower-a virtual warehouse accessible to the picture and sound editors and the visual-effects crew. His new movie draws heavily on his new techniques. People have talked for years about making The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man who’s born as a seventy-year-old baby and ages backward. But technology lagged behind the demands of the story line. Fincher thinks he’s got it now. Instead of using different actors for Benjamin Button and asking the audience to make the mental leap, he will be played at almost every age by Brad Pitt, with his head put onto other actors’ bodies. Fincher plays a demo scene, and it’s a little freaky and utterly believable. A man sits at a table tapping a spoon, and then the head changes. Same scene, same body, but a new head, flawlessly switched. When Benjamin is aged and decrepit--or young and decrepit, in this case--the role will be played by a smaller actor. The same scene will be reshot with Pitt playing

Benjamin. The movements of both actors’ faces will be tracked, with Pitt’s replacing the original. That’s the plan at least. “I sure hope we’re right,” he says. “Or it’s going to be terrible.”

A

After a morning spent laying out the geometry of every shot for Benjamin Button, Fincher’s picking minor rolls and body doubles, watching audition tapes, and flipping through a pile of head shots, checking resumes on the backs. “This girl played Giggling Coed?” he says. “I can’t believe this is Giggling Coed.” “I know,” Laray Mayfield says. “Amazing, right?” She’s worked for Fincher for twenty years, since starting as his assistant. “Is he too handsome?” Fincher says, holding up another glossy photo. “I’m just worried that he’s a little modelly. We’ll just scruff him up and make him look as bad as he’s ever looked.” The last one was too cute, this one too well fed. “He needs to be gaunt,” Fincher says. “He’s gotta get gaunt.” “I told him that, and he’s lost thirty pounds,” Mayfield says. “But I told him to keep going.” In the hallway, Fincher eyes a wall of head shots, many of them elderly actors for the nursing-home scenes. “Are these people robust and healthy?” he says. “I just don’t want to get into any tragic continuity issues.” 031


PORTRAIT OF DAVID FINCHER - THE UNUSUAL CASE OF DAVID FINCHER

THE CURIOUS CA

“YOU EARN THE RIGHT TO HELP WRITE OR REORDER A SCENE WHEN YOU PROVE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND WHY EVERYTHING IS THERE AND NOT WHEN YOU DECIDE ON A WHIM THAT SOMETHING DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU PERSONALLY.” —DAVID FINCHER “Well, it’s a possibility. God is certainly going to be on our side if we make it without that happening,” Mayfield says. “We’re dealing with these people at the most vulnerable time of their lives. But this guy’s a firecracker. And he drives. All these people still drive and travel.” He nods, satisfied that his actors won’t be dying on set. On the way back to his office, Bob Wagner, his assistant director, intercepts him with pictures of blind people circa 1900, answering an earlier query about when the blind started wearing dark glasses. “It doesn’t matter how much you do your homework,” says Max Daly, the researcher who fields these requests. “He’s really good at finding the one detail that was missed. He knows more than anybody.” Fincher knows people call him a perfectionist. They’re just wrong, that’s all. “What I’m really always trying to do is get rid of the things that are taking me out of feeling a certain way or causing me to think in another direction,” he says. “So it’s more about limiting distractions. My gig is, You’re going to play this part, and it’s my job to make sure that everything around you and everything you’re going to come in contact with and every person you’re going to be speaking with supports what you’re doing.” Some actors appreciate this and say so. Others no doubt feel confined but stay quiet because they need to keep working. And then there’s R. Lee Ermey, who played the police captain in Seven and the drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal

THE CURIOUS CASE OF DAVID FINCHER


ASE Jacket, where he helped create much of the role. He calls Fincher a chickenshit. “He’s afraid to take chances. He’s afraid to let anybody change one word in the script,” he told UnderGround- Online. “He wants puppets. He doesn’t want actors that are creative. If you’re not worth a shit at acting and you’re not creative, then I would recommend that you go work with David Fincher, because he won’t let you act, even if you are a fucking good actor.” Fincher smiles at that. “You cast them for this certain thing that they bring to it and maybe not for another thing that they would like to bring to it. And I think it’s difficult for actors,” he says. “My rule is simple: Come having memorized the text. I don’t mind having discussions about what the intent of something is or what the dramatic structure of a scene is with somebody who’s done their homework. But I won’t have this discussion with somebody who’s just hung-over. Because that’s just disrespectful to everybody else.” He pauses to say he’s not referring to anybody specific. “You earn the right to help write or reorder a scene when you prove that you understand why everything is there and not when you decide on a whim that something doesn’t work for you personally.”

it down a couple points,” he says. The audience would never notice, but Fincher does, so he keeps on like this, making tiny adjustments. “And a little more warmth,” he says. “Add some yellow.” Next. “Just give me a little fog back in here.” Next. “Tone down the neon sign.” “Good.” Next. He slumps further into his chair, flops his arm across the table, and lays his head across his bicep. He looks at the screen sideways, with his laser pointer dancing across the images, and ponders the minutiae. The images change, ever so slightly, finally matching the story he has told in his head, again and again all these months, and the corners of David Fincher’s eyes crinkle into a smile.

H

He’ll take the bad reviews and the snide comments. Fight Club is a cult hit now, but it opened in 1999 to $11 million and tepid reviews. Roger Ebert said it was macho porn, and The Hollywood Reporter called it morally repulsive and socially irresponsible. And that brought out the smugness in Hollywood. Look at Fincher. Look at Fincher fail. Serves him right for coloring outside the lines. “It was amazing how many people, unsolicited, went out of their way to say, I’m really sorry about your movie,” he says. “And it wasn’t a ‘Good on you, fuck them’ kind of thing. It was like a ‘Welcome back. Now you’ll understand what we’re in for--we keep trying to tell you.’ “ Fincher has no time for that. He’ll stumble and struggle, so long as he’s not complacent.“Do your best work,” he says. “Work as hard as you can on any given day and try to live it down.” Which brings Fincher, at the end of this very long week, after stopping to see his daughter’s volleyball game, to a darkened screening room in Burbank to make color corrections on Zodiac. He plops into a plush black leather chair. He yawns and rubs his face and looks as if he’s about to fall asleep. He settles his chin onto his palm and looks at his newest work, in freeze-frame before him, through heavy eyes. “That’s a little pink. Take

033


THE MASTER OF DARKN


NESS

FINCHER OFTEN SEEMS TO LIVE IN THE NEAR FUTURE, RELEASING HIS FILMS A YEAR OR TWO BEFORE AUDIENCES ARE REALLY READY FOR THEM.

035


F O S M L I F HT E FINCHER D I V DA 037


SE7EN (1995)

A SICKENING CATALOG OF SINS B By Ryan Lambie

By now, David Fincher’s 1995 serial killer thriller should be hopelessly passé. More than a decade of cheap TV murder mysteries and needlessly sadistic horror movies, all of which have borrowed freely from Fincher’s blackly recognisable visual style, must surely have stripped Seven (or Se7en) of its murky appeal.

That Fincher’s movie relies so heavily on style over logic, with a shock ending (“What’s in the box?”) that probably ranks alongside The Sixth Sense as the most widely known denouement of the 90s, should also make it an unrewarding candidate for repeat viewings. And yet, 15 years on from its initial release, here comes Seven once again, appearing in high definition for the first time. Morgan Freeman stars as Somerset, the world weary detective who, after 35 exhausting years on the force, has just six days to serve before retirement. Spending lonely evenings in his sparse flat, he drowns out the wailing of the gloomy city outside with a ticking metronome.

At the scene of a bloody homicide, Somerset meets Mills (Brad Pitt), his replacement and polar opposite: cocksure, energetic, and filled with aggressive positivity. Where Somerset is reserved, thoughtful and quiet, regarding each crime scene with infinite care, Mills shouts, sulks and wields his torch like a child with a lightsaber. It’s not long before Mills and Somerset are asked to forge an uncomfortable allegiance. A sadistic

killer has embarked on a series of gruesome crimes and targets victims with no obvious link. A morbidly obese man is tied up and forced to eat himself to death. A high profile lawyer is coerced into cutting off a pound of his own flesh. Mills, whose enthusiasm far outstrips his intellect, is stumped. The quiet, scholarly Somerset, meanwhile, spots the connection with a brief trip to the library. Using the seven deadly sins as the basis for his crimes, their quarry is performing a grotesque sermon to what he sees as a godless, evil city. But despite Somerset’s intelligence, the bodies continue to mount, the criminal always one step ahead. As Somerset laments in one memorably poetic exchange, “We’re collecting all the evidence, taking all the pictures and samples, writing everything down, noting the time things happen. That’s all. Putting everything into neat little piles and filing it away on the off chance it will ever be needed in the courtroom. Picking up diamonds on a deserted island, saving them in case we get rescued.” Seven continues along similarly bleak lines, as Mills and Somerset are outwitted at almost every turn. Even their discovery of the killer’s home, a dingy flat whose only apparent light source is a huge neon cross suspended above a moth-eaten bed, brings them little closer to catching him. The anonymous killer continues leading the detectives on his grim waltz, luring them, and the 039


A SICK

THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - A SICKENING CATALOG OF SINS

viewer, to a conclusion that is both disturbing and grimly inevitable. Following the debacle that was Alien 3 (which we’d maintain has its own merit, despite its inferiority to the movies that came earlier), Seven saw David Fincher return to feature directing with assured style. The unremitting darkness of Alien 3 was used to better effect in Seven, and Fincher invests every scene with palpable tension and menace. Indeed, Fincher’s direction, along with Darius Khondji’s prowling cinematography, adds far more tension than is present in Andrew Kevin Walker’s script. While Seven’s screenplay is well-written, its plot is fairly formulaic if its sadistic crimes are overlooked. The odd couple detective pairing, the cop with six days to retirement, and the sadistic serial killer are all movie tropes that have been played out many times before and since. It’s the heavyweight performances of Fincher, Freeman and an uncredited Kevin Spacey that propel Seven into the major league of genre thrillers. Freeman’s turn as Somerset is brilliantly nuanced, turning a fairly stock character, the world-weary, crumpled cop, into something far more tender and engaging than it would otherwise appear on a written page. Pitt’s performance as Mills is less subtle, but works well in the context of the film, his coarse dialogue (“Just because the fucker’s got a library card doesn’t make him Yoda”) sparking off perfectly

against Somerset’s quietly astute observations. And for all the horrific moments suggested by Seven’s crimes, Fincher remains restrained throughout. Scenes of explicit violence and bloodletting are kept to a minimum, with the killer’s deeds related through the picking over of crime scenes, or the occasional ugly sheaf of photographs. Fincher is also wise enough to offset his darker scenes with ones of unexpected beauty. The sequence shot in an after-hours library provides soothing respite, while a descent into a hellish, crimson nightclub basement is so disturbingly raw that it appears to have left an indelible impression on director Gaspar Noé, whose films Irreversible and Enter The Void both contain strikingly similar moments. Howard Shore also deserves a mention here, for a score that provides a perfect counterpoint to Fincher’s visuals, with prowling, murmuring strings building to a hackle-raising crescendo. It’s the quality of Seven’s production and acting that makes it such an engaging genre classic. Even as repeated viewings throw up glaring plot holes, the detail in Gary Wissner’s art direction is often startling. Viewed on Blu-ray, this detail is more evident than ever, with flickering torches lighting up the oddly beautiful textures of peeling paint and rotten wood. A brief scene, in which Mills recounts the details of a fatal shooting as dazzling sunlight floods into a moving car, is starkly engaging, the only respite


KENING CATALOGUE OF SINS

in a film of otherwise unrelenting rain. Fincher’s early films, while very different in terms of genre and plot, have strikingly common themes, most obviously in their examination of flawed protagonists and moral decay. In Alien 3, Sigourney Weaver’s weary heroine Ripley is as much an alien as the titular creature. There’s a suggestion that the two are inextricably linked, as though the acidspewing monster is an inhuman version of herself. In Seven, this theme is continued, with its killer representing the pitiless flipside to Somerset, his smoothly delivered condemnation of the city’s moral decay worryingly similar to remarks Somerset made earlier in the film. Their reactions to that decay may be different, but their opinions are not. Lesser genre thrillers pass into the landfill of movie history, Seven remains largely undiminished. Its shots, tone and ideas may have been repeatedly stolen, but Seven, along with the remarkable Fight Club, remains one of David Fincher’s finest, most enduring cinematic achievements.

041


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - A SICKENING CATALOG OF SINS


“WE SEE A DEADLY SIN ON EVERY STREET CORNER, IN EVERY HOME, AND WE TOLERATE IT. WE TOLERATE IT BECAUSE IT’S COMMON, IT’S TRIVIAL.” —JOHN DOE

043


THE GAME (1997)

TERRIFYING TRICKS THAT MAKE A BIG MAN LITTLE 1 By Sam Loomis

1997 was a strange and fun year in Cinema. We got to see sequels we never had any inclination would even be a thought in a studio head’s mind (An American Werewolf in Paris and Free Willy 3). There were inevitable sequels that should have gone back to the drawing board or scratched all together (Batman and Robin, Alien Resurrection, Lost World: Jurassic Park). We found out in Pierce Brosnan’s 2nd outing as Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies) that Bond was back in a big way; Austin Powers made his first appearance on the big screen; Burt Reynolds made an honest to god comeback (Boogie Nights) that he would squash just as quickly. That perverted clothing shop manager in Mallrats teamed up with the drug user from Courage Under Fire, wrote a script, and raked in all the glory at the Oscars with Good Will Hunting. Oh, and James Cameron made this little movie about a boat that sank; I think it made a few bucks. In the midst off all this chaotic big screen madness, David Fincher unleashed his third offering as a director. The Game was an interesting follow-up to Se7en. Fincher was initially going to make this film before Se7en, but when Brad Pitt had a short window in his schedule open up he chose to make the latter first. This ended up being a very good thing because the huge success of Se7en allowed Fincher to have a lot more control over The Game; it also allowed the filmmaker to have a healthier budget and attract some bigger name stars. The Game was a spec script written in 1991 by John Brancato and Michael Ferris. Director

Jonathan Mostow (who would eventually make his feature film debut with 1997’s Breakdown) was initially attached with Kyle MacLachlan and Bridget Fonda signed on as the leads. This particular arrangement never happened and eventually the script landed in Fincher’s hands, and he brought in Se7en’s scripter, Andrew Kevin Walker, to flesh out what he thought was a pretty cool mind twister of a screenplay.

After Fincher came aboard and Se7en proved to be such a huge success, the studio was able to lure Michael Douglas into the picture as the lead. The Bridget Fonda character (at one time offered to Jodie Foster) was changed to a male character and Sean Penn was signed on. If anything, The Game makes you wish Douglas and Penn would do more movies together in the future. Douglas’s more laid back approach vs. Penn’s wildly unpredictable mannerisms proves to be a great combination on screen.

In The Game, Michael Douglas plays Nichols Van Orten, a successful and extremely wealthy investment banker. He is estranged from his ex-wife and his brother, Conrad (Penn) and is nearing his 48th birthday. Forty-Eight is relevant because that was the age of Nicholas’s father when he committed suicide and Nicholas witnessed the entire event. Conrad decides to give his brother a birthday present that will get Nicholas out of his lonely existence for a bit and have some fun. The present is a voucher for a “Game” offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services 045


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - TERRIFYING TRICKS THAT MAKE A BIG MAN LITTLE

(CRS); Conrad promises that this will change Nicholas’s life.

Memento; when it’s executed poorly you are left with a Saw sequel.

Nicholas has his doubts and not until after he meets a person at a business meeting that has also played the game does he even show enough interest to give CRS a call. After going to CRS to take part in some psychological testing he receives a call a few days later telling him that he will not be allowed to play the Game. Then things get really fucked up from this point.

Thankfully, The Game is one of the ones that work, and oh, does it ever. Sure I can fault The Game for certain aspects. I found the love interest (Deborah Kara Unger) a little forced, but Unger is really good in the role and she does play a pretty integral part in the climax. Granted, how they would ever meet up in the first place is circumspect at best. There will be spoilers ahead, my dear readers.

So of course, being told he can’t participate is a way to catch him off guard once the game actually begins. Nicholas soon starts having doubts about where reality and fiction end when it comes to this contest. He is being led in the direction that the Game itself is simply a con to get at his finances. All of a sudden Nicholas finds himself in a fight for his life (Or does he?) and becomes even more concerned after a later meeting with his brother where he learns that CRS might have gotten to him as well. And this is all before he ends up across the border with no passport or money.

The ending, as in most of these types of movies, is where you are going to love it or hate it. The game, of course, ends up being just that. The psychological testing was used to figure out what Nicholas needed to get on with his life and the set-up and everything after that was to provide this kind of help. Yes, it’s ridiculous to think anything like this would ever exist, but my basic rule when assessing the reality of a particular film is that I ask myself the question: Does the movie play fair within the rules of its own set-up? And The Game for the most part does. You could dissect the particulars, especially during the finale (shooting Conrad, jumping off the building, etc.), but within the movie’s structure all of these scenarios play out effectively.

The Game is what many people refer to now as a “Puzzle Box” movie. Its basic storyline is mere set-up for some kind of big twist or two at the end. The narrative typically unfolds in a way where we, along with the main character, are completely in the dark and unfamiliar with our surroundings. It’s a very effective way to tell a story when it works, but like most genre filmmaking, it just doesn’t work that often. For instance, when it’s pulled off correctly you get something along the lines of

The Game might not be groundbreaking cinema, but I don’t think that’s what Fincher is going for. Fincher, if anything, which I will get into more detail in a later review, is a top of the line studio director that you could compare in some ways to the greats of this type (Hitchcock, Huston, Hawks,


etc.). And The Game is a great example of that. I hate to use the term “Roller-Coaster Ride” when discussing film, but if you were to use that clichéd phrasing then this would be a great example. Fincher, as in Se7en, keeps building the tension to a point where you think you might burst from excitement or flat out curiosity and he is even able to pad along the calmer moments with some perfectly placed humor; the T-Shirt that Conrad gives him at the end is a personal favorite moment. The Game, unfortunately, is the least discussed of Fincher’s films (I think even Alien 3 gets brought up quite a bit more in conversation) and a lot of people might cite it as their least favorite. The Game might not be Fincher’s best film (That is still to come, my dear readers), but it’s arguably his most entertaining.

047


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - TERRIFYING TRICKS THAT MAKE A BIG MAN LITTLE


“DID I HAVE A CHOICE? DID I HAVE A CHOICE?” —NICHOLAS

049


FIGHT CLUB (1999)

SUCH A VERY LONG WAY FROM DUVETS TO DANGER C By Dennis Lim

CULT films, the critic Danny Peary wrote in his 1981 book “Cult Movies,” “are born in controversy” and elicit “a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases.” By those measures David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” a movie that stirred vitriolic ire when it came out 10 years ago and today inspires obsessive, often worshipful scrutiny in both lowbrow and highbrow quarters, is surely the defining cult movie of our time. In his memoir Art Linson, a producer of the film, describes the aftermath of the first screening at the 20th Century Fox lot: ashen-faced executives imagining their higher-ups (including Rupert Murdoch) “flopping around like acidcrazed carp wondering how such a thing could even have happened.”

The nervousness over screen violence was at a renewed high in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School, and this must have seemed like the worst possible time to release a film in which an army of alienated men, led by Brad Pitt’s charismatic Tyler Durden, an übermensch in a red leather jacket, engage in bareknuckle brawls, antisocial vandalism and outright revolutionary terrorism. When “Fight Club” opened in October 1999 after much defensive maneuvering from the studio (which delayed the release and struggled to find a marketing hook), the pundits eagerly took aim. “The critical reaction was polarized,” said Edward Norton, who plays the film’s nameless narrator,

“but the negative half of that was as vituperative as anything I’ve ever been a part of.”

In one of the more apoplectic slams, Rex Reed, writing in The New York Observer, called it “a film without a single redeeming quality, which may have to find its audience in hell.” More than one critic condemned the movie as an incitement to violence; several likened it to fascist propaganda. (“It resurrects the Führer principle,” one British critic declared.) On her talk show an appalled Rosie O’Donnell implored viewers not to see the movie and, for good measure, gave away its big twist.

As many had hoped and predicted “Fight Club,” which had a budget of more than $60 million, bombed at the box office, earning $37 million during its North American run. But the film’s potent afterlife is proof that, as Mr. Norton put it, “you can’t always rate the value of a piece of art through the short turnaround ways that we tend to assess things.” Not only has “Fight Club” performed exceptionally well on DVD — it has sold more than six million copies on DVD and video, and is being issued in a 10th anniversary Blu-ray edition on Nov. 17, but it has also become a kind of cultural mother lode. Besides elevating the profile of the novelist Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote the original 1996 book, Mr. Fincher’s film has spawned a game (featuring the Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst as a character) and a Donatella Versace fashion line (men’s wear 051


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - SUCH A VERY LONG WAY FROM DUVETS TO DANGER

FIGHT GOES ON Mr. Palahniuk went further and called the film “the best date flick ever.” “The ‘Fight Club’ generation is the first generation to whom sex and death seem synonymous,” he said, pointing out that the “meet-cute” between the characters played by Mr. Norton and Helena Bonham Carter occurs in a support group for the terminally ill. Having grown up with an awareness of AIDS, younger readers and viewers, he added, “could identify with the implied marriage of sex and death; and once that fear was acknowledged those people could move forward and risk finding romantic love.” Mr. Fincher, Mr. Norton and Mr. Pitt, who were all in their 30s when they made the film (as was Mr. Palahniuk when he wrote the book), have each talked about being personally struck by the angryyoung-man disaffection of “Fight Club.” When Mr. Fincher read the novel, he said, “I thought, Who is this Chuck Palahniuk and how has he been intercepting all my inner monologues?”

adorned with razor blades). The swaggering gospel of Tyler Durden, much of it taken verbatim from Mr. Palahniuk’s book, has provided the cultural lexicon with one seemingly deathless catchphrase (“The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club”) and numerous pop-sociological sound bites (“We’re a generation of men raised by women”; “You are not your khakis”). Reports and urban legends about real-life fight clubs and copycat crimes still pop up occasionally. In the academic sphere, as an Internet search of scholarly journals reveals, “Fight Club” has inspired a host of interpretations — Nietzschean, Buddhist, Marxist — in papers that take on topics including the “rhetoric of masculinity,” the “poetics of the body” and the “economics of patriarchy.” Mr. Fincher, who crammed the collector’s edition DVD, released in 2000, with a trove of deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes supplements (all are available on the new Blu-ray version), said the movie needed time to be freed from initial preconceptions. “It was sold as, hey come see people beat each other up,” he said recently by phone from Boston, where he was shooting a film about the founding of Facebook called “The Social Network.” To his irritation Fox ran ads during wrestling matches, and many critics described it as a head-banging testosterone fest. But Mr. Fincher has observed that “women maybe get the humor faster,” he said, adding that young female audiences seemed to appreciate the film’s satirical spin on macho posturing. Reached by e-mail,

The movie’s arrival in the season of pre-millennial anxiety gave it the aura of what Mr. Norton called “an end-of-the-century protest.” A highly personal work made within the studio system, it also seemed like part of a larger cinematic groundswell. “There was a feeling that our crowd was starting to express itself,” Mr. Norton said, referring to a bountiful year for young American filmmakers that also saw revelatory works like Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich.” But as with all generational touchstones there is the matter of a cultural divide. “People get scared, not just of violence and mortality, but viewers are terrified of how they can no longer relate to the evolving culture,” Mr. Palahniuk said. Some older audiences prefer darker material in conventional forms; they “really truly want nothing more than to watch Hilary Swank strive and suffer and eventually die — beaten to a pulp, riddled with cancer, or smashed in a plane crash.” The secret to the enduring allure of “Fight Club” may be that it is, as Mr. Norton put it, quoting Mr. Fincher, “a serious film made by deeply unserious people.” In other words, a film as willing to take on profound questions as it is to laugh at and contradict itself: what is “Fight Club” if not the most fashionable commercial imaginable for anti-materialism? A movie of big ideas and abundant ambiguities, it can be read and reread in many ways. Mr. Fincher said, “Every once in a while someone will send me their thesis and ask, Is this close to


N

the mark?” He sometimes shares the papers with Mr. Palahniuk and the actors but said it’s ultimately not for him to decide. Mr. Norton agrees. “Joseph Campbell has that great idea about mythologies, that a myth functions best when it’s transparent, when people see through the story to themselves,” he said. “When something gets to the point where it becomes the vehicle for people sorting out their own themes, I think you’ve achieved a kind of holy grail. Maybe the best you can say is that you’ve managed to do something true to your own sensations. But at the same time you realize that this has nothing to do with you.”

053


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - SUCH A VERY LONG WAY FROM DUVETS TO DANGER


“THE THINGS YOU OWN END UP OWNING YOU.” —TYLER DURDEN

055


PANIC ROOM (2002)

NIGHTMARE ON 94TH STREET D By Eric Allen Hatch

David Fincher makes movies so amazingly well that they almost validate Hollywood’s current approach to filmmaking. Fincher’s films are flashy, expensive, and crammed with special effects; they’re also timely, vital, and damn entertaining. From his feature debut, the third Alien film, through Seven, The Game, Fight Club, and now Panic Room, Fincher has had his cake and eaten it too, generating--and deserving--excitement among both mass audiences and critics. If Panic Room lacks Fight Club’s sweeping ambition, it proves itself that film’s equal in its precise mastery of the thriller genre. Panic Room opens with recently divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) inspecting a brownstone in an affluent New York neighborhood. This enormous house contains a “panic room”--a safe haven, built to be impenetrable and equipped with a high-tech surveillance system, where residents can hide in emergency situations. But before mother and daughter are even settled in, three burglars break in, sending claustrophobic Meg and diabetic Sarah to the room they never imagined they’d need. The situation gets even tenser as the burglars, Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto), and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam), let on what they’re really after. Naturally, Meg and Sarah refuse to open the panic room; the intruders won’t leave the house until they get what they want. There are precious few other characters or settings, but like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope or the first

Dogme 95 films, Panic Room thrives within very set parameters. Unlike Fincher’s last two films, or other scripts by screenwriter David Koepp (Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes), Panic Room doesn’t operate as a mind game but as a ticking clock. The plot never tests your patience with bizarre twists or multiple faux endings, but advances methodically, one step at a time. Each moment, Meg or the burglars must make a decision in response to the other’s last action; with each step, you breathlessly contemplate each decision and its possible results. As in another gripping New York thriller, 1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the potential outcomes are finite; the pleasure comes in getting there. It helps that all the principle actors deliver exemplary performances. Foster is particularly good, as are Yoakam as the loose cannon of the burglars and Whitaker as the group’s brains and conscience. Fincher’s films are intellectual as well as genre exercises, which is why they’ve gained resonance over time. Seven luridly, moodily reflects many of society’s sicknesses and even dares to suggest that, through our fascination with serial killers (and serial-killer flicks), we may be in love with our own immorality. Fight Club has generated even more sociopolitical discussion. While it struggled to find a first-run audience, it has emerged since as one of the most enduring American films of the last few years. Much criticized for its violence, Fight Club can be read as a pacifist plea, and an anarchistic, anti-globalization indictment of self-absorption. Its own multimillion-dollar corporate backing 057


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - NIGHTMARE ON 94TH STREET

notwithstanding, the film could not voice its contempt for corporate colonialism more clearly. Panic Room smuggles its ideological baggage more surreptitiously. The film quietly raises issues about wealth--specifically, why we spend so much of our lives in blind pursuit of it--and posits the futility of assuming that money can provide any measure of security. Further, the film mounts an attack on our possessions, lambasting the things we buy to simplify our lives and the way in which we allow these gadgets to box us in. These are far from new ideas, but Fincher pushes old buttons in new ways--just as he does in truly making you feel Meg’s fear. Whether or not Panic Room puts audiences in a philosophical mood, it will certainly deliver thrills. It’s that rarest of rarities, a Hollywood film that’s more than equal to its trailer. And worthy of its influences: The title sequence riffs off of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and the film closes with a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. In the hands of a lesser director, these flourishes would seem derivative, but Fincher pulls it off. He might be the only big-budget director we have whose name merits mention alongside those two late masters.


059


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - NIGHTMARE ON 94TH STREET


“I SPENT THE LAST 12 YEARS OF MY LIFE BUILDING ROOMS LIKE THIS SPECIFICALLY TO KEEP OUT PEOPLE LIKE US .” —BURNHAM

061


ZODIAC (2007)

HUNTING A KILLER AS THE AGE OF AQUARIUS DIES W By Sam Loomis

With Zodiac, David Fincher returns to the scene of his first cinematic triumph: the serial killer genre. Unlike his self-consciously stylish, surprise twistpunctuated Se7en, however, the director’s latest is played for exacting realism, with a conclusion that any true-crime buff will know from the outset. Operating according to different ground rules this time around—the most pertinent being the wellknown fact that, in real life, the titular Zodiac killer was never formally identified or apprehended— Fincher aims for suspense via both traditional thriller means as well as through a comprehensive analysis and recreation of the sprawling investigation into the Zodiac’s random murders during the ‘60s and ‘70s by San Francisco Chronicle “boy scout” cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and hard-nosed, soft-spoken inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). Based upon his own extensive research as well as Graysmith’s two nonfiction books about the case, the Fight Club auteur’s first film in five years is a police procedural creatively indebted to works like All the President’s Men, much of Sidney Lumet’s canon, and HBO’s The Wire, with which it shares a detail-driven focus on the process of formal police and journalistic inquiry. Yet as this sprawling opus unfolds, what emerges isn’t simply a routine detective story but something far more masterful, and haunting: a two-and-a-half hour portrait of obsession run amok, and of the multifaceted influence of the media—and the cinema—on society. Zodiac’s exhaustive attention to minute facts and theories forms a parallel not only with Graysmith

and Toschi’s fanatical need to nab the killer—who terrorized the Bay Area with murder and taunting letters to police and newspapers (replete with mysterious ciphers) that, per his demands, were published as front page news—but also the director’s own perfectionist filmmaking methods (which reportedly included upward of 70 takes for a given scene). This bond shared by Fincher’s fictionalized material and his own techniques is a fitting one, given that Zodiac’s concerns extend past simply depicting the efforts to nab the titular fiend, and toward an examination of the two-way mirror between film and reality. In one of his first missives to the San Francisco Chronicle, the man-hunting Zodiac aptly references The Most Dangerous Game, an instance of life being influenced by (and imitating) art that finds its flipsides later on, first when someone calls Toschi “Bullitt”—a sly allusion to the fact that the detective was the basis for Steve McQueen’s iconic S.F. cop—and then when Dirty Harry premieres, Zodiac-ish villain in tow. Fincher decorates background walls with classic movie posters and includes a self-indicting, preopening credit visual clue (elucidated during the third act) that speaks to cinema’s potent cultural impact, a point succinctly emphasized by Zodiac in a late letter: “Waiting for a good movie about me, I wonder who will play me.” The influence movies exert on Zodiac’s rampage, and the resultant desire to have his deeds refracted through the camera’s eye, is a dynamic that manifests itself similarly in the killer’s relationship with the news media. Through his numerous hand-

063


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - HUNTING A KILLER AS THE AGE OF AQUARIUS DIES

HUNTING A KIL

written letters, the Zodiac cannily (and chillingly) uses the press for his own devious means, an act of manipulation Fincher shows repeated by the papers and television, who latch onto the story not simply for objective reportage purposes but for their own self-interested reasons. “He’s [Zodiac] in it for the press,” deduces boozy, ascot-wearing San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr., exhibiting his usual quirky, flamboyant mannerisms). It’s a selfish motive that Toschi accuses Avery of sharing—saying the man’s articles are driven by the desire to “up circulation”—and which underwrites everything from the city’s broadsheet competition over the news item to Graysmith’s suggestion that Avery sell for profit the buttons (“I Am Not Avery”) which appear after the reporter receives a personal threat from the Zodiac. By the time attorney Melvin Belli (Brian Cox) appears on TV at the Zodiac’s request, it’s clear that everyone involved has helped greedily transform the case into sensationalistic entertainment, so that when Belli argues that “Killing is his compulsion” and Toschi shoots back “Could be, or maybe he just likes the attention,” Zodiac has already proven both lines of thought to be true, and inextricably linked. Questioned about the veracity of Avery’s apparent discovery of the Zodiac’s first victim, Toschi’s partner William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) replies, “It’s very real. You know how I know? I saw it on TV.” A sense of the media being the primary vehicle for truth permeates the proceedings. Fincher, however, shrewdly challenges such

impressions at regular intervals, such as when a Vallejo, CA sergeant (Elias Koteas) bends rules and gives amateur sleuth Graysmith access to confidential files because Zodiac is “yesterday’s news, so what’s the harm?”—a statement that reveals press attention to be the crucial force behind (and, as implied by Graysmith’s eventual success, an obstacle to) investigative work. In this light, Fincher’s sterling montage featuring newspaper headlines, Zodiac scribblings, and camera lenses overlaid on a shot of detectives in police HQ cleverly captures the incestuous bond between Zodiac and those who are covering/hunting him, a connection that increasingly seems to foreshadow elements of our own contemporary, exploitative information age. The Zodiac’s letter-writing antics may have been partially inspired by Jack the Ripper (a kindred spirit, certainly), but Fincher’s film astutely and persuasively intimates that his utilization of— and history of having been influenced by—the media and cinema also make him a distinctly modern serial killer. Shot on state-of-the-art HD by Harris Savides via a process that required absolutely no celluloid or tape, Zodiac is itself something of a technological pioneer. Fincher utilizes his all-digital medium for drab authenticity, his image’s flat quality giving his period detail an un-flashy fidelity. Such a toneddown aesthetic (full of fades to black) is matched by David Shire’s taut score and the director’s conspicuously reserved camerawork, which favors tense close-ups for its prototypical thriller-genre


LLER AS THE AGE OF AQUARIUS D sequences and little of the show-offery (rollercoaster pans and swoops, grandiose effects) that have increasingly defined his films. This subdued approach is in keeping with the film’s economical and absorbing attention to case particulars, though Fincher’s more exhibitionist tendencies do intermittently rear their head, with aerial compositions of a taxicab and the Golden Gate Bridge (and a time-lapse of a building’s construction) indicating that the director couldn’t completely quell the desire to visually let loose. While a tad distracting, these excessive cinematographic moments nonetheless smoothly mesh with Fincher’s aspirations for grand comprehensiveness—an objective that only seriously falters during Zodiac’s cursory, unresolved references to the problematic role that racial and homosexual stereotypes played in the citywide manhunt. Although striving to achieve the epic, Fincher’s story is backed by a solid character-based narrative foundation, as James Vanderbilt’s script never loses focus on his story’s human element. At heart a tale of consuming mania, the film diligently concentrates on the deleterious ramifications of Graysmith and Toschi’s work, capturing (thanks to Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo’s committed, no-nonsense performances) the way in which their uncontrollable fixations on uncovering the killer’s identity were symptomatic of a time and place engulfed by the case. Graysmith and Toschi’s partners Avery and Armstrong offer respective models for escaping the mystery: the former quitting the homicide beat for his wife and kids, the latter taking a swan dive into sloshed dereliction. Yet the duo persevere at the expense of sanity and familial stability, dramatic crises that are slightly weakened by cardboard-cutout spouses for both men, but which are still acutely affecting during a scene in which Graysmith’s bookish wife Melanie (Chloë Sevigny) discovers her estranged husband encased, like a Bob Woodward version of Richard Dreyfuss’s Close Encounters daddy, in a living room stacked with research documents. A later sight of Graysmith flipping through a family album-style scrapbook of Zodiac clippings merely underlines the cost of his cause: the killer has literally become his kin, his life.

are the stuff of fairy-tale fiction. (Spoiler alert.) Convinced that former military man and convicted pedophile Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) is the Zodiac, Graysmith finds himself incapable of doing anything substantial about it, his reward for going crazy and alienating loved ones and colleagues ultimately nothing more than a pitiful, catharsis-free staredown with the suspect that starkly emphasizes his powerlessness. An honest man who pays a weighty price for trying to be something he’s not (namely, a detective), Graysmith—despite a somewhat upbeat “where are they now” textual coda—thus eventually comes to resemble a classic noir hero. And the fact that he continues, to this day, to write about the infamous, never-captured S.F. boogeyman adds a final, poignant punctuation to Zodiac, with Graysmith’s inescapable enthrallment suggesting that for many, true obsessions never really die.

Zodiac forms something of a companion piece to Se7en and its cynical, worldweary view of personal quests for “justice.” As with Brad Pitt’s detective Mills, Gyllenhaal’s Graysmith brings himself and his clan to the brink of ruin in order to stop a serial killer, and learns—albeit to a lesser extent than the tragic Mills—that happy endings 065


THE FILMS OF DAVID FINCHER - HUNTING A KILLER AS THE AGE OF AQUARIUS DIES


“ARE YOU SURE NO ONE ELSE IS IN THE HOUSE?” —NICHOLAS

067


E H T E D I S BE GRAPHY O M FIL 069


INNER DARKNESS A DANGEROUS JOURNEY There are some demons live in our heart. These demons, the inner darkness, always hide themselves deeply and wait for your weakness appear. You haven’t realize the exist of these demons until they came out. When you find your inner darkness, what will you do? Most of us choose to avoid them, or even follow them. In David Fincher’s films, we can find a lot of similar situations. In Se7en, John Doe, the killer, killed people for his own justice, and detective Mills chose to kill the suspect because he want to revenge; In The Game, Nicholas was grown up under the affect of his father’s suicide; In Fight Club, the Narrator become a destroyer because the pressure of the society; In Panic Room, the robber break into the house for the desire of money; In Zodiac, Robert, the journalist, abandon his own life because his addict on finding out the serial killer. In the real life, most of us repaid the same things like this character in films. Facing your inner darkness is a necessary process to understand yourself. When we facing your inner demons, avoid is not a good choice, neither the following. These two options only let you hide from your demons for a while, and the darkness will comes only at any time. Only the facing can help you get through it. Even facing inner darkness is the only way to save yourself, it will be a very dangerous process. You might destroy your life or yourself. So, the question is, since it is so dangerous to face your inner darkness, is it worth you to do it? I hope all of you can find your answer in David Fincher’s films.


071


THR


ROUGH THE FOR OF SAN FRANCIS THE LOCATION Hold in San Francisco This David Fincher Film Festival will be held in San Francisco. There are three reason to choose San Francisco. First, two of the five filmographies were filmed in San Francisco. These two movies are The Game and Zodiac. Second, the urban environment of San Francisco fit David Fincher’s style: a long history and busy city around by large sub-urban area. This city have different neighborhood, some are dangerous, some are very traditional, some are very busy, and some are relaxing. San Francisco is a beauty city, but also includes some dangerous areas. This style of city fix Fincher’s style— combine the outside beautiful and the inside darkness. Third, the city is alway surrounded by fog. The fog bring mysterious atmosphere to this city, and the experience of pass through fog gives people the feeling of pass through their inner darkness. Hold in Sundance Cinema Sundance Cinema located at 1881 Post Street at Fillmore. The neighborhood is between downtown and the sub-urban area. It is a great place to experience two different paces of life, the busy downtown life and the leisurely life outside the central city. The unique location give audience two conditions to think about their life: which life style should they choose? Another reason to choose Sundance Cinema is it located in a safe neighborhood. After each day of the festival, the audiences can walk around and do some serious thinking in the quiet night streets.

073


THE CINEMA IN THE CENT


TER OF THE CITY THE SCHEDULE SATURDAY

SEP 22, 2012 5:30 PM OPENING

MONDAY

SEP 24, 2012 5:30 PM FILM: FIGHT CLUB

Celebrate the opening of david fincher film festival.

7:00 PM FILM: SE7EN Director david fincher’s dark, stylish thriller ranks as one of the decade’s most influential box-office successes.

Solid acting, amazing direction, and elaborate production design make it a wild ride.

8:00 PM SALONS This discussion series is designed to deepen and enhance THE FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE.

SUNDAY

SEP 23, 2012 3:30 PM FILM: THE GAME This is another sterling example of david fincher’s iron grip on atmosphere and storytelling.

7:00 PM FILM: PANIC ROOM Elevated by fincher’s directorial talent, panic room is wa well-crafted thriller.

TUESDAY

SEP 25, 2012 5:30 PM FILM: ZODIAC A quiet, dialogue-driven thriller that delivers with scene after scene of gut-wrenching anxiety.

8:15 PM ENDING Have a perfect ending at balcony bar in Sundance Cinema

075


GET READY TO FACE YOUR INNER DARKNESS.


077


SCHOOL DEPARTMENT

ACADEMY OF ART UNIVERSITY GRAPHIC DESIGN

STUDENT

ZIJIAN KEN LI

PHONE

415-519-3295

EMAIL

LI.ZIJIAN.X@GMAIL.COM

INSTRUCTOR TYPEFACE

HUNTER WIMMER KNOCKOUT HTF AKZIDENZ-GROTESK BQ ©2012 All Right Reserved.


079


David Fincher Film Festival  
Advertisement