.post-body img { width: 500px!important; height: auto!important; }

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Director Retrospectives- David Fincher Part 4

This is the final part of a four part retrospective reviewing all the major works major of David Fincher. 

Part Four- You've come a long way baby- The progression from the first feature to the latest production.

Fight Club (1999)- Nearly everyone knows the rules, number one of which I’m about to break.

What do you do if you’re sick of your boring, pathetic life? In the most cathartic, DIY approach possible, Fight Club answers this question: you change it. The absolute specimen of an existential thriller, it wouldn’t be taking too much of a leap to suggest that Fight Club is one of the best films ever made.

Jim Uhls’ excellently adapted screenplay of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel (this is the only major work by Uhls that I can find), this thriller has been exciting male audiences the world over since its release in 1999. Even Palahniuk himself said the film was amazing. In fact, he admitted that film was so good, the book in comparison made him feel ashamed.

A nameless, pitiful, seemingly friend and family-less Office worker (Edward Norton) suffers from insomnia. True to Palahniuk’s style, the solution to the insomnia comes in a bizarre way. He finds relief by attending support groups for diseases, diseases he doesn’t have; these people really listen to him, and afterwards, he sleeps. At these meetings he meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Character), a nemesis and lover, and it is through her that Mr. Office worker discovers his true self, but not until after he’s transformed more than just his own life.

Mr. Pitiful Office worker meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden helps Mr. Pitiful Office worker admit to his misery once and for all. Channeling their suppressed male aggression in its rawest form, they start fighting each other. Soon Mr. Pitiful Office worker realizes that he and Durden are not alone.

Men, downtrodden, tired of their insignificance as worthless individuals all aim to do something greater. They jump at the chance to vent their primal steam, and the solo fights turn into group fights. 

Durden’s vision eventually transcends aggression in its physical form and becomes something much greater, a community where the individual ceases to exist. As part of this whole, every unnamed member is an equal and significant contributor, and it is through the whole that the individual finds meaning. As part of the whole they are changing the future together.

This movie is a directing marvel. With time shifts, psychological manipulations, and very meticulous scene planning, we are kept on the edge of our seats for the entire film. Accompanied by the pounding soundtrack composed by the Dust Brothers, Fincher achieves the rarity of making a movie better than a book. Fincher turns the concrete basement of Lou’s Tavern into perhaps the most famous arena in all of modern film. The house on Paper Street, a lone abandoned mansion, becomes a factory of redefinition, of reinvention. In the final scene an amazing mesh between the visuals and the music, The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind,” Fincher creates one of the most stunning combinations of sight and sound in all of film. And it's a pretty damn good ending to the plot too.

The most memorable scene is when Durden is behind the wheel of a car full of passengers. He buckles up, pins the gas, and lets go of the wheel. The car veers off the road and crashes, flipping multiple times. We are force fed the hard truth here. The Fight Club mantra: to change to our lives we need to rid ourselves of our past failures, forget the job, the kids, the car, the living room, the flat screen HDTV, and just let go.

You are not your fucking khakis.


Alien 3 (1992)- Fincher's firm hand of creative direction is not there as the actors visibly struggle through scenes. Sigourney Weaver is okay but doesn’t mesh well with a cast that just doesn’t cradle her character; they have no idea what she has been through in the first two films and how tough she is. For some reason too she is very cryptic about her past, and reveals little information about the alien situation. Why wouldn’t she just tell them the truth?

The relationships she does form with the cast are shaky and forced. Almost every character ends up dead, but it doesn’t matter because we didn’t know them anyway.

As Fincher’s first major feature film, the style of Alien 3 bears the least resemblance to his other films. It is his most inexpertly made film. AKA, his worst film, technically anyway. I still prefer Aliens 3 to The Social Network any day, but after investigating the production of this film I came to realize that Fincher was not totally responsible for the lackluster film that made it to theatres.

When David Fincher was brought into direct Alien 3, it was after another director had already begun production, and was fired. There was not even a finished script. As one contributor wrote in the IMDB Alien 3 FAQs about, Fincher “was forced to effectively write, shoot, and edit the film, all at the same time.[1] There were millions of dollars worth of sets built and many takes and scenes had already been shot. Twentieth Century Fox insisted Fincher incorporate these into his production to save money.  

The shadows of the masterminds behind the first two Alien films, Ridley Scott and James Cameron, must have been looming over the production, because as Fincher completed a rough cut of film, Twentieth Century Fox panicked. They began started dictating that certain things were going to have to be re-shot in certain ways, essentially stripping Fincher of all creative control. He would eventually walk away from the film. The version that was released in theatres was his rough draft, completed by a new crew in LA.

In 2003 editor David Crowther took up the task of assembling what was of the original draft, and re-edited it in a way he though was most likely the way the Fincher version would have turned out. This release was called the Assembly Cut (I have yet to see it).

All that drama of the film’s production aside, the story had real potential. Even following Cameron’s greatness on Aliens (1986), enough time has past that Cameron’s production was no longer fresh, and this third installment could have made a significant contribution to the series. The idea of a pod crashing on a giant prison planet bringing with it an alien that threatens to wipe out all life there, and possibly even all mankind is a cool idea, right? What would have become of this rough draft had studio execs not meddled? All we’ll ever have is the Assembly Cut.

The most modern incarnation of the Alien series lives on in the amazing contemporary film Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott, and on November 27th, 2015 the second installment of the Prometheus series is set be released with both Ridely Scott and Jack Pagen, the man who wrote Prometheus 1 involved. This is a film I’m counting down the days for.  


[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103644/faq?ref_=tt_faq_2#.2.1.14

House of Cards (2013)- Episodes One and Two- Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is the smartest guy in Washington, but we meet him just as he suffers a devastating betrayal shifting his career into neutral, but this is only the beginning. We can tell by his acute composure and his stiff body language that even though he is extremely distraught, he is very far from defeated. He will never reveal his distress. That would be a sign of weakness. Underwood will even play his subservient role, for now, but eventually, his time will come, with the help of reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) Perfectly cast as here, Mara has a unique allure as an actress, and as with all her roles, she is unassumingly engulfing. 

The congressman makes it loud and clear that he yearns for power. Using off-stage, to-audience-only recitations, he shares his real thoughts and objectives; it’s like getting inside the head of a sociopath, making an almost trite connection between pathology and politics, but Spacey is so convincing as an individual, he doesn’t speak for the masses, fuck the masses, that the intended commentary on the sociopathic political mindset actually becomes more ingrained and powerful than trite. It works cleverly it all its glaring obviousness.

We observe characters alone, watch them move, interpret their body language. Especially Underwood’s lovely wife Claire (Robin Wright). A fog of loneliness wafts over the show even as characters embrace, make alliances, and settle debts. Everyone competes neck-in-neck for Washington’s top spots, of which there are few.  

When Netflix, supposedly nothing more than your friendly neighbourhood video store, started making its own productions, the stakes were low. But Netflix has officially hit the ball outta the park. Way Out. Both of its debut series House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are blazing successes, and not just commercially, but as statements themselves: artistically, emotionally, and stylistically unique, they are really very good. Orange is the New Black especially has come up with some ultra-creative plots and characters that are a blast to watch.

How did a first time production company, that was observably not-at-all subtle in its blazing out of the gate with such pomp and circumstance over it new shows’ greatness, make such great debut shows? With very deep pockets, they hired the expert help. Not just movies stars like Kevin Spacey, but veteran film directors.

As the debut director for the series House of Card, David Fincher sets the tone of intrigue and shadows that shroud his dark thrillers. Post-HBO renaissance, Fincher achieves what any great director working in upscale TV does: he makes the episodes come across as mini-political thrillers, pieces of cinema unto themselves. The newsroom scenes are vaguely reminiscent of Zodiac. But as he directs the first episodes, it is his footsteps all others must follow.

With so many scenes, directors of this kind of TV work hard. Big shows need a surplus of directors. Breaking Bad had a different director for almost every episode. Most directors work in other capacities on other episodes as writers or producers. Compared to film, how much does the director of the cinematic TV show’s vision actually make it to the screen? The Sopranos had dozens of directors, but none really left a distinct imprint on the show. Do we remember their names? Not really. It was the show itself that had a style.

It seems like with shows like House of Cards, The Sopranos, or Breaking Bad that the momentum of the cast, combined with writers great scripts, makes the job of the director to step in and to channel this momentum, rather than drum it up from scratch as in film. But Fincher’s first two episodes of House of Cards are the force that starts the momentum. It is his footsteps that all others must follow in what continues over the season’s following eleven intriguing episodes.

So that's the end of my Fincher Retrospective. From now on I think I'll just do "the best of's."