Monday, October 11, 2010

Familiar Faces. The David Fincher Hierarchy

By now you've undoubtedly confirmed for yourself that Brad Pitt is not in David Fincher's The Social Network... Unless you count that "Tyler Durden" Facebook profile on a computer screen in Jesse Eisenberg's room (blink and you'll miss it but I did catch it the second time through).

A Fincher sandwich. Brangelina brung the bread.

If you foolishly expected Brad to pop up for a cameo, you're forgiven on account of your totally understandable great love of David Fincher movies, in which Brad often stars (Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). They're friends in real life and only one year apart in age. But for now, no new movie collaborations are on the docket. 

<--- Fincher winning an MTV Award for Se7en (1995). It wasn't the first time MTV honored him but more on that later.

Beyond the obvious and uncurious case of Brad Pitt, does the popular director even favor repeat actors?  He's not visibly a creature of habit like Woody Allen, previously featured in this new series, but he does reuse actors, like favorite daubs of paint on his auteurial palette. Let's investigate!

The David Fincher Acting Hierarchy
(Quantitatively Speaking)

4 Films.
There's a three way tie for the top honor, each beating Brad Pitt by one film, albeit with much smaller roles than Brad's movie star status would allow.

  • Richmond Arquette. Yes, that's the least famous member of the Arquette clan (brother to Alexis, David, Rosanna & Patricia). Fincher always gives him tiny roles but some are key: he makes the dread box delivery at the end of Se7en, makes the first two kills in Zodiac and also appears in Fight Club and Benjamin Button.
  • Bob Stephenson, who you might reconize as a series regular from TV's Jericho or The Forgotten, is part of the SWAT team in Se7en, a security officer in Fight Club and a killer in both The Game and Zodiac.
  • Christopher John Fields stretches the furthest back with the director, all the way to Fincher's debut feature Alien³ (1992) where he played "Rains" one of the first victims of the acid-blooded beastie. Poor guy. He also appears in The Game as Detective Boyle, Fight Club's dry cleaning man and he's a copy editor in Zodiac.
3 Films.
A man that needs no introduction.

  • Brad Pitt delivered his two best performances,  Se7en (1995) and Fight Club (1999), under the director's guidance. Their third union for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), though a substantial hit, didn't deliver in the same way. It's one of Pitt's duller performances, Oscar nomination be damned, and entire scenes are stolen from him by the make up f/x and the supporting actors.
2 Films.
The Fincher filmography is, we hope, just barely starting its second act. He's currently making his 9th feature (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and several people have now appeared in two. It's possible some of the smaller character actors will show up in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but we won't know they're there till the credits confirm their existence. We'll take the two-fers in semi-random order...

  • Holt McCallany is the tattooed prisoner who tries to rape Ripley in Alien³ (clearly he had never seen Alien or Aliens) and he's also one of Tyler Durden's disciples/bruisers in Fight Club.
  • Jared Leto Remember that Fight Club line "I felt like destroying something beautiful?" used in connection with the destruction of Jared Leto's dreamy face? Leto and Fincher both obviously took that to heart in subsequent projects, too like Panic Room. (What a strange career Leto has had since the teen heartthrob days.) And think of the visual beating Brad Pitt takes in every Fincher film! Fincher definitely wants to destroy his beauty.
  • Elias Koteas is one of dozens of cops caught up in the Zodiac case and he's also in Button.
  • Rooney Mara is onscreen now in The Social Network and so good in it, too. Like "Mark Zuckerberg" we'll be refreshing our screens until she returns in Fincher's version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

  • Paul Schulze, is probably best known as Nurse Jackie's pharmacist / lover. He appears in both Panic Room and Zodiac (with hair!)
  • Charles S Dutton is the prison colony's spiritual leader in Alien³ and a cop in Se7en
  • Andrew Kevin Walker is the screenwriter of Se7en but he also acts in the film (he plays "Sloth" ... shudder one of the dead bodies). He's also in Panic Room as "Sleepy Neighbor". Hee.
  • Michael Massee who'd you recognize as a regular on one season of television's 24 or FlashForward appears in The Game as an EMT and in the massage parlor in Se7en. I think he's also in Madonna's "Bad Girl" video, directed by Fincher but I'm not positive on this. (But that'd make him a 2+)
  • John Getz is Zuckerberg's lawyer in The Social Network and Templeton Peck in Zodiac. Poor man is always shot sitting behind a desk. Does he have legs?
  • John Casini is one of the cops in Se7en and a "man in airport" in The Game.
1(+) Film
  • James Rebhorn appears in The Game but he's also in the Madonna video "Bad Girl". Just think. If his date with Madonna had gone well, maybe she wouldn't have gone home with that serial killer!? Fincher sure loves the serial killer trope. And "Bad Girl" sure is an interesting piece in understanding David Fincher; the "angel of death" is visualized as a film director.
  • Trevor Wright appears in The Social Network but when he was a little kid he appeared in the Fincher directed Paula Abdul video "Forever Your Girl".
1 Film. Hundreds of people share this distinction but the two actresses we'd really like to see David Fincher reteam with are Helena Bonham-Carter who was so against-type revelatory in Fight Club and Nicole Kidman who was supposed to get locked up in that Panic Room but ended up just being a disembodied voice on a phone in the same film.

To come full circle from his music video days, wouldn't it be fun to see three actors Fincher used there in one of his feature films? Why not cast Christopher Walken (Madonna's "Bad Girl"), Elijah Wood (Paula Abdul's "Forever Your Girl" when he was only 8!) or the egregiously underused Lesley Ann Warren (Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun") in a future movie?

We must dedicate this list to the woman who introduced us to one of our favorite directors. David Fincher famously built his visual rep on a series of gargantuan Madonna music videos (Fincher won an MTV Video Award for "Express Yourself" though the big M did not) before escaping to feature films.

 Most people went to see Alien³ because it was the third in a franchise. I went to see it because I wanted to see if the man behind the frankly incredible images in Express Yourself, Oh Father, Vogue and Bad Girl had a feature career in him. He clearly did though most critics and audiences were not impressed. That movie needs a critical reevaluation because it was plain as day even then that he was already a cinematic wizard. My suspicion is that the shockingly nasty and merciless tone threw people off and he lost them in the opening shots by killing off Newt. It was always going to be roughly received, no matter how well made, coming after James Cameron's untoppable Aliens (only among the greatest action films ever made) but the tonal shift further chilled that inevitably cool response.

The second woman we reluctantly must dedicate this to is Paula Abdul since she's also a 4 time Fincher graduate. His videos for her aren't as good but he didn't have as much to work with, you know?

This series is about director's actor preferences but we'd like to note that Fincher, like most great auteurs reuses behind the scenes personell as well. Frequent collaborators include composer Howard Shore (3 films), editors James Haygood (3 films) and Angus Wall (4 films), cinematographer Jeff Cronenwerth (4 films), and production designer Donald Graham Burt (the past 4 films).

If you enjoyed this article, pass it on to your [ahem] Social Networks. Wink! Nudge!

further reading? SEE THE NEW BLOG
also... "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" on Se7en

and Oscar discussions regarding The Social Network


Rob said...

Nicole Kidman and David Fincher.


I remember being so bummed when she had to drop out of Panic Room.


I was too. But I like Panic Room as is way more than most people seem to. That cel phone scene. GAH. so exciting. Jodie did good. But yeah, Kidman all locked up in that room woulda been swell.

Magicub said...

I love the "Bad girl" video

Seeking Amy said...

Alien 3 really does get a bad rap, the atmosphere is fantastic and not many films stick out as much as it does in regards to it's sets. I wouldn't say an unqualified triumph, but definitely a worthy entry.

Joe Reid said...

Me-YOW re: Paula Abdul. Leave it to a Madonna fan to continue smacking down pop music competitors from 20 years ago!

OtherRobert said...

So you're all telling me that Nicole Kidman could have done Panic Room. The Nicole Kidman that just doesn't do suspense/thrillers nearly enough? The one who killed it in The Others, another claustrophobic little chiller based on the fear of someone entering the house uninvited and trying to survive the ordeal?

Next you'll tell me she could have filmed the whole Lars von Trier America trilogy and saved us all the brutal exorcism of filmmaking known as Antichrist. Oh wait, she could have. Curse her busy schedule.

Iskandar said...

Loveeeeee MADONNA. All her David Fincher's directed videos are some of best.

Nancy Collins said...

Kidman should NOT have done Panic Room, its not a good movie. Also, I like Fincher well enough but in all honesty he probably wouldn't even land in my top 15 for directors.

Oh and Benjamin Button was bile.


Nancy -- fair enough. But what don't you like about Panic Room? People seem to really hate that movie but i don't get why. I think it's such a fun thriller.

Everyone -- I considered briefly doing a whole post on "BAD GIRL" but I'm not sure the interest for the topic is there ;) because it is pretty crazy how it fits so well into the Fincher filmography (which the other music videos don't) and it was one of his very last music vids -- same year as Alien3 -- and the meaning you can derive from it with Fincher visualizing an angel of death as a film director. Ha!

HeatherLee said...

Just an idea Nathaniel, you should do a post about repeat co-stars. I've noticed with some actresses, particularly the more commercially popular ones that they seem to repeat co-stars. Streep had Kline, Hoffman, Redford, Nicholson, etc. Julia Roberts has Richard, Clive, Hanks (just finished another movie with him), George, Brad. Naomi Watts has worked with Sean Penn twice and almost worked with him a third time in The Interpreter (but passed on the film because Nicole wanted the part).

It's interesting that Jolie and Bullock don't repeat co-stars often.

I wonder if there is some correlation between longevity in this business and the relationship you build with fellow actors or the goodwill that you create between peers.


Heather Lee -- hmmm. perhaps i can work that into this series in future editions. If people like the series. The jury is still out.

BUT i believe there's no question that the relationships can help build an enduring career. I'd argue that they also help you endure after you're dead... which is why it's weird to me when certain very big stars DON'T work with people more than once. If you think back to the legendary movies, you regularly see a through line: famous co-star pairs, famous director/muses, or character actor longevity or whatnot.


JoeReid -- a fan's work is never done!

Volvagia said...

Well, after ten years of being stuffed into Burton, I wouldn't say Fight Club is "against type" for Helena Bonham-Carter any more. That said: Probably should have one more Oscar nomination. (And Fight Club is a perfect example of WHY they should wait ten years. THEN: A slim majority of critics loved it. At the box, it barely broke even. NOW: Cultural powerhouse. Acknowledged as one of the greats. And, in terms of content, I prefer to compare Fincher to John Huston, as opposed to Kubrick. Huston's focal point was masculinity. Kubrick's focal point was, if I am to be frank, pure cynicism. Fight Club was the closest he got to Kubrick, but, personally, everything else he's done smacks more of John Huston influence.)

Mandy said...

I think Jolie doesn't have a lot of repeat co-stars because she's very serious at work and doesn't ever seem to socialize with co-stars outside of work. Clive Owen did an interview where they asked him to describe his co-stars and with Jolie he said "very serious."

/3rtfu11 said...

He played "Rains" the 3rd victim of that familiar acid-blooded beastie. He's the one that gets a shower of blood in his face from the beastie as it chomps up his best buddy in front of him. Gross!

Incorrect: he’s the 1st victim of the three men who are relighting candles. “Golic” is the lone survivor who gets his face sprayed.

Anonymous said...

A 1+ for you. Trevor Wright was in Paula Abdul-"Forever Your Girl" and THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Kev said...

That's the first time I've ever heard that Kidman was attached to "Panic Room." That's interesting. I find the film to be pretty disposable and beneath Foster, but if Kidman had been involved instead, it might have had an entirely different energy to it that I might have responded to better.

But back to David Fincher, I find myself liking more from his catalogue than I realized. "Fight Club" and "Se7en" still hold up as well as they ever did. And I'll always say that "Benjamin Button" didn't get the respect it should have. Adored "The Social Network" and can't wait to see what he does with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" next year.

Kev said...

Also, "Zodiac" was awesome and best picture worthy.

Anonymous said...

Madonna's BAD GIRL video was absolutely brilliant!!! Such a haunting and powerful song combined with equally jarring images... A+

Arn said...

You should do a Cronenberg heirarchy. Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Lack, Robert A. Silverman...

You still haven't added Trevor Wright to the 1+ list yet, btw.

Anonymous said...

Did Fincher actually kill Newt and Hicks off in Alien 3, or did David Giler and Walter Hill do it? I was never really clear on that. Cameron's anger at Fincher always seemed incredibly misdirected; not every director has his early force of ego.

Ross Birks said...

Great feature but just thought you should know Andrew Kevin Walker didn't play the "Sloth" victim in Se7en, he's the dead guy in the opening scene (i.e not one of the seven sins)

James said...

Andrew Kevin Walker did not play the Sloth victim in Se7en; he's a heavier set fellow. He was the body at the first crime scene that Morgan Freeman investigated (the one before Gluttony).

Patate said...

John Getz:
"Poor man is always shot sitting behind a desk. Does he have legs?"

Don't you remember?

He lost a foot at the end of The fly!!

Anonymous said...

Andy Kevin Walker didn't play Sloth, he was the corpse in the first scene of the movie

Anonymous said...

No mention of the great Edward Norton?

Dave the Movie Geek said...

Great blog. Someone may have already beaten me to the punch but you forgot character actor Zach Grenier, who pops up as Edward Norton's boss in "Fight Club" and a federal official in "Zodiac"


Patate --good one!

anon, james, ross -- THANKS. i have fixed.