Archive for October 24th, 2009

Modern Auteur #1 David Fincher

David FincherIn preparation for this post I have watched my favourite three David Fincher films in a week, it’s a hard life! There aren’t that many directors around these days that you can truly call an auteur, David Fincher is a member of a very select group of directors who makes films accessible, enjoyable and entertaining and can be described as both movies and art. His movies often have an Existential feal without being esoteric or elitist.  For this series of blogs I have decided to limit the directors to those who made their feature début as a director within the last twenty years.  I already have an idea of who I will be writing about but suggestions are welcome.

fight clubFight Club (1999) Based on the novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club is better than the book it is based on. Director David Fincher had read the book and tried to buy the rights himself before being hired by 20th Century Fox. He cast Edward Norton against the advise of the studio and Brad Pitt who he had worked with on Se7en. Helena Bonham Carter completed the leading cast, playing against type and beating actresses as diverse as Courtney Love and Reese Witherspoon. One of the most controversial and thought provoking films of the late of recent years it works as a precursor to the lack of hope and direction. The film challenges personal cultural values and consumerism, it is best summed up by the quotes of Tyler Durden: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis”. And: “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” Poorly marketed the film made a small profit on it theatrical release it found its true audience on DVD, I saw the film at the cinema then went back two days later to see it again to make sense of what I had seen. The other thing about the film that people often forget, it is at times very funny.  But the true genius of the film lies in what it does.   It lulls an unsuspecting viewer into thinking they are watching a dumb action movie about illegal fighting, what it then gives them is an intelligent thought provoking satire. 


se7enSe7en (1995) A film about a serial killer with an elaborate theme is not original, we have seen it many times before most notably in Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs. But Se7en was different, not because of the clever (or contrived depending on your point of view) use of the seven deadly sins as both a way of choosing the victims and the manor of their death.  It offered the viewer so much more, or so much less to be precise.  The film is very economical, there is nothing going on that is not relevant and integral to the story.  Even the domestic scenes and the interactions between the characters becomes relevant as the plot unfolds.  One of the most notable things about the film when I first saw it was Brad Pitt, although I had enjoyed some of his previous films this was the first time I actually looked at him as an actor and not a movie star.  Set in an unnamed metropolitan city where it constantly rains the film is filed with despair and is virtually devoid of hope. The dark and gloomy interiors and exteriors have a perverse beauty, shot by Darius Khondji who had previously worked with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, he went on to work with directors as diverse as Bernardo Bertolucci, Alan Parker, Roman Polanski, Kar Wai Wong and Michael Haneke.  Reminiscent of but more subtle than Hitchcock’s Vertigo the photography is unnerving  for the viewer, this is achieved in the angles, the framing and the use of colour as well as the lighting.  Making full use of the dark build-up the juxtaposition of image and plot is staggering in that the story reaches is darkest despair in the films only bright and sunny scene.  It ends with Morgan Freeman quoting Ernest Hemmingway: “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for”  he follow this by saying “I agree with the second part”.  What else can you say about the film? What more do you need to say about it! 


the gameThe Game (1997) After the success of Seven The Game had a lot to live up to. It received mixed reviews and I was very unsure about it when I first saw it.  I felt cheated by the ending.  But watching it again over the last few years I have grown to both appreciate and enjoy it more on every viewing.  Although not as good as Fight Club or Se7en it is still a great film with lots to offer.  The great thing about the game is you are never exactly sure what is going on.  We learn at the start that Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) has been given a gift by his brother (Sean Penn) that is some type of game but the viewer and the character alike are never really told what the nature of the game is.  This combined with the slow building plot helps create a sense of frustration in the viewer and the protagonist.  The unfolding of the plot is like a magicians slight of hand trick, we know he is being played but we aren’t sure how or why, is it the game or is the game a cover for something more sinister?  This is played out perfectly when he is told by Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) that they are after his money.  Is that part of the game, is she playing her part in the game?  The casting is superb, Michael Douglas is totally believable as the cold and ruthless banker, where the baggage of having played Gordon Gekko could be a hindrance to some parts it is a benefit here.  It is the strength of the performance that makes it acceptable to relegate the talent of Sean Penn to a relatively small part.  Set in San Francisco, the director shows great maturity and restraint to avoid lingering shots of clichéd locations.  The film is shot in a very similar style to Se7en although he used a different cinematographer, Harris Savides.   These days he is probably best know for his collaborations with Gus Van Sant but he did work with David Fincher again ten years later on Zodiac.  The film isn’t as dark in its look or subject matter but don’t let that fool you, although a far more hopeful and atomistic film with themes of salvation and redemption it still digs it to the mind sole of its characters and audience.

Filmography ( As director, features only)

  • Alien³ (1992)
  • Se7en (1995)
  • The Game (1997)
  • Fight Club (1999)
  • Panic Room (2002)
  • Zodiac (2007)
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
  • The Social Network (2010)
  • Filming: The Social Network (2010): The story of the founders of the social-networking site, Facebook. Staring Jesse Eisenberg & Justin Timberlake

Next: Quentin Tarantino


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