Decoding David Fincher’s Gorgeous, Goofy, and Iconic Music Video Career

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social NetworkThe Ringer hereby dubs September 21-25 David Fincher Week. Join us all throughout the week as we celebrate and examine the man, the myth, and his impeccable body of work.

Before ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Fight Club,’ or ‘Se7en,’ the director made his bones directing videos for the likes of Madonna, Billy Idol, and George Michael. What can we learn from the auteur’s MTV hits?

Rob Harvilla
September 24, 2020
The Ringer

The alien slave rebellion begins, as all alien slave rebellions must, with a salad bowl. “Yeah, the thing opens with this amazing shot of a space dome,” says ’80s pop-star dreamboat Rick Springfield, describing, in a 2013 interview with Indiewire, the plot of the bonkers music video for his 1984 synth-rock ditty “Bop ’Til You Drop,” which depicts, in remarkably vivid and grody detail, an alien slave rebellion led by Springfield himself. “And we were looking at it, and he goes, ‘Yeah, that’s a salad bowl.’” The he in this story is David Fincher, who directed the bejesus out of this video and 40-odd others, mostly in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Get a load of the texture on this space dome.

Young Fincher had recently stumbled into a gig doing special effects for the little-seen 1983 underground flick Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi, and he brings just that sort of tactile, grimy, laser-blastin’, Jabba the Hutt–worshippin’ verve to Springfield’s empowering ode to resilience and the power of love. The alien slave masters look fuckin’ rad, man; undaunted, a heroic Springfield vanquishes them all and crowd-surfs his way to liberation. This was a director with a future: Fincher would not often go the sci-fi or action-hero route, and indeed he’d constantly juggle his visual and narrative approaches to avoid pigeonholing of any kind, but every video he shot was unmistakably the work of a wily and steely auteur.

Fincher’s debut feature film, 1992’s catastrophic but instructive Alien 3, was the better part of a decade away—the glories and depravities of Se7en and Fight Club and Zodiac and Gone Girl were further off still. In preparation, he would spend his formative years helming bizarre and/or workmanlike and/or luscious and/or goofy and/or deadly serious and/or iconic clips for the likes of Loverboy, The Outfield, Sting, Ry Cooder, Paula Abdul, Billy Idol, Aerosmith, George Michael, Justin Timberlake, The Rolling Stones, and Madonna. Here, now, is a humble attempt to sketch out Fincher’s MTV filmography and the major motifs therein. As with the hunt for the Zodiac Killer, decoding these clues is the obsession of a lifetime.

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