Thursday, September 30, 2010

Modern Maestros: David Fincher

Robert here, continuing my series on important contemporary directors.  As Nathaniel has mentioned, the series is coming to an end.  This will be the third-to-last entry.  Enjoy!

Maestro: David Fincher
Known For: dark, suspenseful, psychological thrillers.
Influences: Hitchcock, all kinds of noir, Welles, Kubrick, Ridley Scott

Masterpieces: Seven
Disasters: Alien³
Better than you remember: some of his films like Fight Club or Benjamin Button get considerable hype blowback.  But looking at them as works of direction they're very very impressive.
Box Office: 127 million for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"Tales of the strange and unusual" might be a fitting title to David Fincher's filmography.  But don't be mislead.  His "strange and unusual" isn't the same as other such directors'.  It's not the surrealism of Lynch or the benign fantastical of Burton or the sterile other-worldliness of Kubrick.  David Fincher's films are set right here in our reality, featuring characters who reflect you and I.  Only through the slow process of plot development do we (and they) realize that they're inhabiting a darker, stranger, often more sinister version of what they considered to be their world.  And it's how they face that, that primarily interests Fincher.  Not all of Fincher's films may have as obvious a revelation as, say, Fight Club.  But each character is forced to confront and understand the mysteries that have uprooted their lives.  It's a matter of psychology, a butting of the heads of the normal and abnormal, and Fincher wants to know which wins out.  To his credit, Fincher provides us with stories that lack such clear answers.  Killers are never found (or they are with mixed results), evil is vanquished too late, or the promise of answers (by, for example, a life lived backwards) is not fulfilled.  All dark endings necessary to enlighten the complexities of characters.

Since Fincher is primarily interested in his characters his often-noted stylish direction takes on expressionist flourishes meant to place us, the viewer, into the swirling minds of our heroes.  His low angles, dark lighting, wide shots and flashy editing are occasionally dismissed as needlessly excessive.  But they add to his reality, but taking the setting of our world and creating the unreality felt by his characters.  Fincher makes mood pieces that mimic the moods of his subjects.

Fincher has noted what he considers two distinct types of filmaking.  The cold technical Kubrick style and the personal sentimental Spielberg style.  While he may not have the resume to compete with those men quite yet, Fincher's own style is an interesting marriage of the two.  Like Kubrick his interest in his characters more of the clinical variety.  He cares not for developing warm and fuzzy sympathies.  Yet it is essential to his work that the audience becomes the character.  In this way he is very Spielbergian.  We must empathize, and inhabit the character.  We must know them emotionally or the cold clinical reality will be utterly pointless.

It's been much written that The Social Network is a serious departure for Fincher.  I've not had the fortune of seeing that film quite yet, but I think that assessment is most likely true and false.  The film still presents a unique psychological case study and a character faced with a redefined reality.  It still features dueling psyches and ambiguous resolutions I'm guessing [Editor's note: Your guess is right on the money].  Yet it is tied so distinctly to our modern world, it's hard to see how the encompassing darkness of Fincher will present itself.  Fincher has said that he was attracted to the project because it was a departure and it seems to be winning him the best notices of his career.  It's a career that's going strong and will hit next with a film that shouldn't be too much of a departure for Fincher (although remakes are new territory): The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Fincher fans will be anticipating how this exciting filmmaker stretches himself into new strange and unusual realities for years to come.


Robert Hamer said...

He's not the most consistent filmmaker out there, but I have always been fascinated by David Fincher. I would probably classify Fight Club as a masterpiece and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as a disaster.

Andrew R. said...

Three masterpieces (Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club), one pretty good movie (Benjamin Button-I'm alone here, I can tell), two good movies (Panic Room and The Game) and one sack of shit (Alien 3).

OtherRobert said...

Unless that forever-long gunship battle sequence was an insomnia-driven hallucination, I doubt ...Benjamin Button is better than I thought it was. Cut that reel out and I'd love the film. With it, it feels all Oscar-baity in the worst way possible. Does every epic need explosions?

Then again, I liked Alien3, so what do I know? My taste level is admittedly questionable.

Kyle said...

None of his films are masterpieces, but Zodiac and Se7en are quite good. I agree with Robert, he's terribly inconsistent...and while I'm sure The Social Network will be a decent time at the cinema, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo....meh...I disliked the original, so, ya know...

Mierzwiak said...

Alien 3 (extended cut) - amazing, one of the most underrated movies. Brave and uncompromising.

Se7en - one of the best movies EVER.

The Game - great thriller.

Fight Club - good, but very overrated.

Panic Room - disappointing, but second viewing was better that first.

Zodiac - another great thriller.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - flat, trivial and extremely boring.

Anonymous said...

Seven is a brilliant film, but I consider Zodiac and Fight Club to be on the same level if not better. I thought Benjamin Button was very good, if not a perfect film (you're not as alone as you thought Andrew R.). Though they're on a lower level, I still think Panic Room and The Game are both good and enjoyable, and they actually improve upon repeated viewings. I've never seen the infamous Alien 3, and judging by the comments I should probably consider myself lucky.

Kokolo said...

Alien 3 is probably the most underrated film ever.


Kokolo -- agreed. totally worth a second look that ALIEN 3.

p.s. y'all are in for such a treat with THE SOCIAL NETWORK. it's so good.

/3rtfu11 said...

Alien 3 not a disaster. However it does fall into the category of interesting failure (see: Dune). Se7en is overrated. Never liked it during the initial hoopla and outside of the cinematography find nothing redeeming about it as entertainment.
Panic Room is hands down his disaster picture. One where there’s no additional footage or behind the scenes drama to excuse the inexcusableness of the whole affair. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie I enjoyed a great deal during my theatrical screening. The haters online have ruined the conversation one could seriously have about the movie bringing up Forest Gump. The Game looks good as pre Fincher’s mo but its copout ending takes away the desire for subsequent viewings.
Zodiac is a work of art in spite of Jake’s presence. Flight Club brings the straights and the gays together yeah.
I eagerly await seeing The Social Network tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hands down Zodiac is Fincher's best film. Haven't seen The Social Network yet.

I haven't seen Alien3, but didn't like Benjamin Button.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Can't wait to see The Social Network tomorrow. Still haven't seen Alien 3 or The Game. I like Panic Room (the only movie besides Last King of Scotland where I like Forest Whitaker) fine. Fight Club's great, Se7en is great. Zodiac and Benjamin Button are, for me, his two great masterpieces. Zodiac was the best birthday I've ever had, with "Easy to be Hard" cuing up just as I turned 17. Midnight showing, leading to a long discussion afterwards with the girl who would later be my other half. Also, Harris Savides.

And Benjamin just kills me. I think it's a great companion piece to Synecdoche, NY. No matter what the quirk in the characters' lives, or in the screenplay, no one can escape Death's inevitable embrace. Of course, is that Benjamin knows how much time he has, and that extra layer is evident in Pitt's performance and the overall tone. Love. That. Movie.

/3rtfu11 said...

I like Panic Room (the only movie besides Last King of Scotland where I like Forest Whitaker) fine.

You found fault with him in The Crying Game?

John said...

It's a sad day when a movie like Seven is considered a masterpiece.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

/3rtfull: Mayhaps I should've said, the only Forest Whitaker movie *I've seen* that I liked him in. Never saw The Crying Game. I'd like to, though, and honest, I hope I appreciate his performance. I prefer liking things to not liking things.

Caden said...

Don't end! This series is great!

Volvagia said...

It's great. Definitely the best picture of 1999. It may be a bit droll, and The Social Network may be looking to unseat Fight Club as the best film he's done, but it's still a great piece of work. Plus how much better a dark joke can you get than this, "Apart from seasoning the Lobster bisque, he's farted on merinques, sneezed on braised endive, and as for the cream of mushroom soup..." "Go ahead, tell 'em." "You get the idea."

Caroline said...

So terribly anxious for The Social Network. And terribly scared that it won't live up to my expectations and I'll get bored/admire it benignly while wishing I loved it more, which is what's happened with *every* hyped release in the past two years. AHHHH

Jordan said...

I very much enjoy the "Modern Maestros" series as well as David Fincher's films. I realise i may be in the minority with this but i actually rate Zodiac as his best, followed by Fight Club and Benjamin Button, and then just below that Se7en. For some reason Se7en didn't grab me as much as the others, although i have only seen it once, perhaps my opinions would change with a second viewing.