Director's Chair: David Fincher

In the first edition of a new feature, Film Editor Joe Holloran sings the praises of Hollywood director David Fincher.

Joe Holloran
1st March 2020
Image:IMDB
This new feature is intended to be a space where our writers can examine the life and work of some of their favourite film directors. They can be from any country, any genre and be either living or dead. We ask that you pick 2 or 3 films that you feel best showcase their talents and then write about why you like them, their impact and what they say about the chosen director.
David Fincher (b.1962). Image:Wikimediacommons

Chosen Director: David Fincher.

Year of birth / Nationality: 1962 - / American.

Years Active: 1980 - present.

Number of Feature Films: 10.

Genre(s): Crime / Thriller / Horror / Sci-fi.

Chosen Films: Se7en (1995) & Fight Club (1999)

In 1983 a young effects producer named David Fincher was working as an effects producer for George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, helping to create the effects for Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fincher left ILM shortly thereafter to begin his own directorial career with Propaganda Films. After a spell directing acclaimed, often odd commercials for some of America's biggest brands, Fincher was tasked in 1992 with salvaging the mess that was Alien 3. Few could have predicted that from the rubble of that film would emerge a director who would go on to create some of the most revered and respected movies of the last thirty years.

Film #1 - Se7en (1995)

Image:IMDB

After doing his best to salvage the third instalment in the Alien series, Fincher set out on his own and in 1994 he got began production on a dark crime thriller (his first of many) called Se7en. Based on a wonderfully dark script from screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, Se7en stars Brad Pitt (then one of the most bankable male actors in the business) and Morgan Freeman as two Mills & Somerset respectively. These two homicide detectives live and work in a Hellish version of New York City. One that makes the Gotham of Tim Burton's series look like the kiddie section of Alton Towers. Somerset is kind but beaten down old cop who is on the brink of retirement having succumbed to nihilism after years of dealing with the worst in humanity. His retirement plans have to be delayed however, when a brash, eager and young cop - Mills - joins the department and the pair soon find themselves dealing with a religious zealot and budding serial killer.

Se7en lays the ground work for what would become common traits, both aesthetically and thematically that he would explore throughout his career. His films often focus on someone who is lost, lacking purpose and worn down by existence, but who must put that aside for the greater good. That is the case with Somerset in this film and much credit must go to the legendary Morgan Freeman for his outstanding performance. Aesthetically and tonally Se7en is drab, bleak and depressing. The environment reflecting the people within. The camera focuses on the minute and makes the viewer feel claustrophobic. One of the many things this film does so well is that it shows the horrific crimes but does not focus on them or indeed show them happening. We are left in the same position as Mills & Somerset. We see the scene as they see it, fresh, raw and shocking.

Our detectives are out to stop the killer before he can punish those who break the so-called 'The Seven Deadly Sins'. Image:IMDB

Despite its' reputation for violence, Se7en is a film focused on those who have to deal with the aftermath of these crimes which in the movie is he two detectives but in reality is all of us who live in a society where these things happen. The film is a classic of post-modernism, that horrible academic term used by everyone to describe anything self-referential. But, this film truly ticks that box by posing the question If we are so advanced, so civilized with all our technology and science, why do terrible things still happen with such frequency that most of us become numb to them? Why strive to make the world a better place when nothing fundamentally changes?

Well, detective Somerset answers this for us at the films climax by quoting the great one of the 20th century's great writers:

"Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."

Film #2 - Fight Club (1999)

Image:IMDB

Also known as the Fincher film you definitely seen. Based on the cult 1996 novel by the...eccentric Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is a scathing attack on the banality of modern existence in a America where the dream is long dead and men fine themselves living through the never-ending nightmare. Starring the always fantastic Edward Norton as an un-named office worker credited only as 'The Narrator' who finds a release for his depression and tension in the form of soap salesman Tyler Durden played by Brad Pitt. From there, we follow Norton's character as he falls deeper down the spiral into the underworld of violence, drugs and sex.

Fight Club sees Fincher further refine his cinematic style, while also being the first film to showcase what would become some common elements of his movies. Extreme CGI close-ups into the minute details of the world and the importance of sound design to tone. While latter movies will see Fincher prefer original scores when he teams up with a certain industrial rock hero, in Fight Club the soundtrack plays an important role. As does cinema itself, both are used as examples of post-modern nihilism, where comedy and tragedy walk hand-in-hand.

Norton is the everyman in this movie. The guy who followed the rules, believed the hype and is waiting for the long promised rewards. Durden represents nihilism, hedonism and anarchy incarnate. Perfect casting and performances from our two stars - and others including Helena Bonham-Carter - make what could have been a simple uber-macho festival of dull violence and decadence into one of the most philosophically and socially important films of the 90s.

Edward Norton (left) & Brad Pitt (right) represent two extreme and conflicting outlooks on life. Image:IMDB

The movies Fincher made in the 90s are reflective of that period in many ways. Dirty, depressing and full of existential questions. What Fincher did so well was create highly-stylized visual worlds that bring the source material to life. From here Fincher would go on to create more in-depth character pieces that focus on a protagonist overcoming a specific issue. Fight Club is Fincher's last allegorical film and remains for many his greatest achievments to date.

Fight Club is a difficult film to do justice to in writing, but perhaps, it can be best summed up by this quote from Tyler Durden to his fellow club members:

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.

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