Thursday, 19 January 2012

David Fincher: Some Thoughts

On Saturday Rob Beames and I will be recording one of our 'pantheon' podcasts, where we look at a director we both like and discuss their work. We chose Fincher to coincide with the release of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO but the homework took a bit longer than we expected. Rob watched a lot of his films for the first time and I revisited all of them.

In many ways, Fincher's film career started exactly like Ridley Scott's and James Cameron: taking on an ALIEN film for Fox while still being an unknown, untested. This experience, unlike Scott and Cameron, nearly destroyed his career and he still disowns the film. But you can see, even in that flawed feature, the seeds of his future career.

For me, Fincher is the master of two things: night time cinematography and unnerving tension. Like a goth version of Hitchcock, he builds uneasiness into his films, and at the end of a Fincher you feel unsettled, shaken. This atmosphere exists in all his work, even his lesser features (Benjamin Button, Alien 3) and is the foundation of his best films (Zodiac, Se7en, Fight Club).

His technical know-how and narrative grip puts him in the camp of efficient manipulators in Hollywood, which starts with Hitchcock but also runs through Spielberg and De Palma. But apart from his capacity to grab you by the throat through the medium of cinema, he also betrays an ambition to say something. Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network are works of an artist struggling to break free from the 'head in the box' syndrome post-Se7en, a genre he has returned to again and again (Panic Room, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Does he enjoy the down and dirty serial killers or is he paying the mortgage?

If we were looking for auterist signature preoccupations, the one that I find over and over again is his interest in research. From Morgan Freeman's long hours in the library to Daniel Craig's looking at pictures over and over again, his love of looking stuff up reached its zenith in Zodiac, a film that resembles more a puzzle than a movie.

I think that given the right material, Fincher could produce a series of masterpieces of the caliber of Zodiac - but his next project doesn't inspire confidence: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a big Disney property which will have to adhere to strict market rules.

In a relatively short career he has achieved quite a lot. Here's to a long and puzzled career.

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