Adam Nyman is a fellow film critic and the author of several books about films and filmmakers, including but not limited to The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (2018) and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks (2020). (Though we’ve never crossed paths in person, he also teaches in the department where I did my Master’s program.) He opens Mind Games with a dedicated discussion of the decade or so before Fincher ever made his narrative feature debut with ALIEN³ (1992), but then continues to come back to his commercial and music video work for the remainder of it, wisely treating his adman past as, well, more of an adman present. A few weeks back, Adam and I chatted for an hour about Fincher’s short-form oeuvre, but also his features because—again—the two aren’t as discrete as a lot of people believe. Our conversation has been edited for clarity, but not really so much for length.
For nearly three decades, David Fincher has been making gorgeous bummer movies that — in defiance of Hollywood’s first principle — insist that happy endings are a lie. Filled with virtuosic images of terrible deeds and violence, his movies entertain almost begrudgingly. Even when good somewhat triumphs, the victories come at a brutal cost. No one, Fincher warns, is going to save us. You will hurt and you will die, and sometimes your pretty wife’s severed head will end up in a box.
Long a specialized taste, Fincher in recent years started to feel like an endangered species: a commercial director who makes studio movies for adult audiences, in an industry in thrall to cartoons and comic books. His latest, “Mank,” a drama about the film industry, was made for Netflix, though. It’s an outlier in his filmography. Its violence is emotional and psychological, and there’s only one corpse, even if its self-destructive protagonist, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), can look alarmingly cadaverous. Set in Hollywood’s golden age, it revisits his tenure in one of the most reliably bitter and underappreciated Hollywood tribes, a.k.a. screenwriters.
From the pen of Jack Fincher comes Mank, the story of how perma-soused Hollywood hack Herman J Mankiewicz happened to write one of the greatest screenplays of all time. Sadly, Jack didn’t live long enough to see the words he had written transformed into sound and light, but it’s something that his son David had wanted to realise for close to three decades.
It’s been six years since Fincher Jr’s last feature film, 2014’s Gone Girl, and in the interim we’ve had two series of Rolls Royce TV drama in the form of Mindhunter. For someone who has already made a tech bro riff on Citizen Kane (2010’s The Social Network), and a melancholic homage to his late father (2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mank combines these two career poles, while also posing such existential hypotheticals as, what makes a man? And not only that, what makes a writer, and what makes a director?
LWLies: Let’s go on a quick flashback to the early days and the creation of this amazing script by your father, Jack. He was a journalist and author by trade. Did he pivot to screenwriting later in life?
Fincher: I think he wrote a screenplay that was optioned and Rock Hudson wanted to do it – this was in the late ’60s. That fizzled out. Then he wrote spec screenplays in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and then when he retired in the ’90s, he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to have all this time on my hands, what do you want to read a script about?’ I said I had always been interested in ‘Raising Kane’ which I was exposed to in middle school. I had read Pauline Kael’s essay on microfiche in the school library, and then I noticed a copy of it in my father’s library, and we talked about it. Then, 12 years later, I was about to go off to do Alien3, and he was retiring and wanted a new challenge.
Le grand film de Fincher débarque sur Netflix le 4 décembre. L’occasion d’un entretien avec le cinéaste, mais aussi avec ses collaborateurs les plus proches. 16 pages spéciales.
Scénario pour une critique par Nicolas Tellop
Filmopathe entretien avec David Fincher – par Nev Pierce
Collaborer avec Fincher entretiens avec Erik Messerschmidt (chef opérateur) – Donald Graham Burt (chef décorateur) – Trish Summerville (costumière) – Kirk Baxter (monteur)
2. Revisiter Fincher
Plongée exceptionnelle dans l’oeuvre de l’un des plus grands cinéastes contemporains. Filmographie commentée, analyses… 50 pages à lire.
4 nuances de Fincher par Jean-Sébastien Massart et Fabrice Fuentes
David Fincher en 14 titres Propaganda Films (clips) – Alien 3 – Se7en – The Game – Fight Club – Panic Room + les plans de Panic Room – Zodiac – L’Étrange histoire de Benjamin Button – The Social Network – Millénium + la musique hantée de Millénium – Gone Girl – Mindhunter
Démoniaque – la perfection du crime par Nathan Reneaud Fantômes et paranoïa par Jérôme d’Estais Solitude & obsession – Fincher Dogma par Alexandre Jourdain Poétique du suicide par Aurélien Lemant Le système des objets – design finchérien par Dick Tomasovic
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social Network, The 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.
David Fincher’s entry in the ‘Alien’ franchise was particularly dark and divergent from the tone of its two predecessors. The director has disavowed it. But, in retrospect, the film may not have deserved all the flak it received.
Here’s my lukewarm take about the Alien franchise: Every single film is good in its own unique way. (Like most Alien fans, I’m going to pretend that the two spinoffs in which Xenomorphs fight Predators do not actually exist—those are quite bad.) Instead of following a regimented franchise blueprint like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the series has given blank slates to its talented filmmakers. But what the franchise has lost in continuity, it’s gained in the creation of some of the most ambitious projects conceived at a blockbuster scale.
For the first Alien, and his second feature film, Ridley Scott crafted a tense, claustrophobic, existential horror movie—one frequently likened to a haunted house in space. Alien remains, to this day, scary as all hell; the chestburster scene is an all-timer. The follow-up, Aliens, directed by up-and-comer James Cameron after his success with The Terminator, is a loud, chaotic action film inspired by the Vietnam War. What Aliens lacks in scares, it makes up for in firepower and iconicone-liners. The fourth movie in the franchise, Alien: Resurrection, is a campy romp from the director of Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) in which an eccentric space general holds a chunk of his own brain after a Xenomorph takes a chunk out of his skull, Winona Ryder is a robot, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripleydunks a basketball. When the franchise returned to Scott for the prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, Scott used the Alien mythos to ponder the origins of mankind and what happens when an android that looks like Michael Fassbender tries to play God—and wherein Michael Fassbender becomes scarier than the actual Xenomorphs.
25th Annual American Society Of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards (2011)
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Oscar-nominated camera wizard Jeff Cronenweth sat down with us to talk about his origins in the film industry.
As a young man, Cronenweth spent time on the set of Blade Runner as his father, Jordan Cronenweth shot it. He walks us through the next chapter of his career, starting out as an AC for legendary DP Sven Nykvist and how his longtime working relationship with David Fincher began when shooting pickups for a Madonna music video.
We discuss his experiences crafting the look of Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, among other great films. Now in 2020, he is up for an Emmy for his work on the Amazon series Tales From The Loop.
Interview with David Fincher at the TAI University School of Arts (Madrid), hosted by Carlos Reviriego.
In English, with Spanish subtitles.
0:00:33 – What did the book ‘Gone Girl‘ is based on had that made you want to film a movie about it? 0:02:33 – Talk about your first years in the movie industry. 0:06:38 – You once said ‘No one hates Alien3 more than me’. Can you talk about it? 0:09:31 – David Lynch was here last year, and he said that the most important advice was to always fight for the final cut of your film. Do you think the same? 0:15:03 – Some critics think that ‘Fight Club‘ and movies on your filmography celebrate violence and anarchy. What do you have to say about it? 0:18:39 – Do you see yourself as a perfectionist? 0:22:17 – What’s more important, talent or hard work? 0:25:40 – What changes with digital cinema? 0:28:09 – How do you work with the Cinematographer and the Art Department? 0:34:31 – Can you talk about your work for TV and House of Cards? 0:36:37 – How do you feel about Amy’s character in Gone Girl? 0:37:53 – Do you get involved in the writing process? 0:39:08 – Why do you tend to use green and yellow colours in your cinema? 0:41:12 – Do you see a certain similarity between Brad Pitt’s character in ‘Twelve Monkeys‘ and ‘Seven‘? 0:43:02 – What do you look for in an actor? 0:48:38 – Is it more complicated to do fiction or documentary?
Encuentro con David Fincher en la Escuela Universitaria de Artes TAI (Madrid), conducido por Carlos Reviriego.
En inglés, con subtítulos en español.
0:00:33 – ¿Qué te atrajo de la obra literaria en la que se inspira ‘Gone Girl‘? 0:02:33 – Háblanos de tus comienzos 0:06:38 – Una vez dijiste que nadie odió Alien3 más que tu. ¿Puedes hablar sobre ello? 0:09:31 – David Lynch estuvo aquí el año pasado y dijo que lo más importante era tener el corte final de la película. ¿Opinas lo mismo? 0:15:03 – Algunos críticos opinan que ‘Fight Club‘ y otras de tus películas ensalzan la violencia y el caos. ¿Qué tienes que decir al respecto? 0:18:39 – ¿Te consideras un perfeccionista? 0:22:17 – ¿Qué es más importante, el talento o el trabajo duro? 0:25:40 – ¿Qué añade la conversión al digital del cine a tu obra? 0:28:09 – Tu estética tiene una firma o un sello personal. ¿Cómo trabajas con el Director de Fotografía? 0:34:31 – ¿Puedes hablar sobre tu participación en televisión y en House of Cards? 0:36:37 – ¿Qué piensas del personaje de Amy en Gone Girl? 0:37:53 – ¿Cómo te involucras en el proceso de escritura del guión? 0:39:08 – ¿Por qué tu cine tiene cierta tendencia a usar verdes y amarillos? 0:41:12 – ¿Crees que hay cierta similitud entre la forma de actuar del personaje de Brad Pitt en ‘Twelve Monkeys‘ y ‘Seven‘, que fueron rodadas en la misma época? 0:43:02 – ¿Qué buscas de un actor a la hora de trabajar con él? 0:48:38 – ¿Es más complicado rodar ficción o documental?
Alex Thomson, BSC — one of Britain’s premier cinematographers — creates images of dazzling perfection, richness and clarity, images which have graced some of the most exquisite-looking films in recent memory: Legend, Ridley Scott‘s epic fairytale; Eureka, Nicholas Roeg‘s influential retelling of Citizen Kane; and Excalibur, John Boorman‘s visually magnificent approach to the King Arthur legend.
Though Alien3 is ideal subject matter for Thomson’s rich photographic style, he might never have lent his expertise to the project had it not been for one of the greatest triumphs and tragedies of his career. Late in 1990, Thomson had been chosen by one of the world’s undisputed filmic masters to photograph what promised to be his final masterpiece: the director was David Lean; the project was Joseph Conrad‘s Nostromo.
Unfortunately, Lean took ill and died, Nostromo shut down and a saddened Alex Thomson returned to London, wondering what he would do next. “I came back from France on a weekend and they called me on Monday to see if I could take over on Alien3,” Thomson recollects. “I started work on Tuesday, which was about a week and a half into production. I was happy to do it; it kept my mind off what might have been.” (There is a certain karmic irony to Thomson’s twist of fate. As fans of the first Alien film will recall, the spaceship in that picture was dubbed the Nostromo.)
Behind the camera, Alex Thomson, BSC watches intently as operator David Worley lines up a shot on Charles Dance as Sigorney Weaver stands by.
The production history of Alien3 is a troubled one. Before Thomson joined the film, its first director, New Zealander Vincent Ward — one of a slew of directors who had been attached to the project during its lengthy pre-production phase — had been replaced by rock video director David Fincher. Thomson was hired when the film’s original cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth, ASC (Blade Runner) left the production.
Many cinematographers might feel stifled by a production where the original look had already been determined, but not Thomson. “I had no problem with following in Jordan’s footsteps because his approach was so right,” he enthuses. “It was marvelous to be pointed in the right direction by a man of his caliber.”
First-time feature director Fincher, for his part, is an award-winning rock video director with a background in visual effects storyboarding at ILM. “To take something over like this at 28 must’ve been quite awe-inspiring, but he handled it as if he’d done 20 pictures,” Thomson relates.