Film critic Bilge Ebiri (Vulture, New York Magazine) joins us to discuss David Fincher‘s often diminished 1997 thriller, ‘The Game‘. It’s a fascinating, intricate follow-up to the hit ‘Se7en‘ that showcases Fincher at his most technically adept and stepping outside of his thematic comfort zone for the first time.
We discuss the star power of Michael Douglas and why he is the perfect match for the movie’s stark vision of trial and catharsis, uncover the film’s prophetic vision of the inescapable and constantly surveilling eye of big tech, and tease out the myriad pleasures of its controversial “happy” ending; a rarity in Fincher’s oeuvre.
The Game had a lot to live up to. It was the film David Fincher chose as his follow-up to the wildly acclaimed Seven, a film that had thrust the young director into the limelight and prevented his career from reaching a premature end after the mixed reaction to his debut, Alien 3. Suddenly, he was no longer the man who’d killed the little girl we’d spent all of Aliens trying to save. Instead, he was a fully realized auteur ready to carve out his place in the annals of cinema, and all eyes were on him to see what he would do next. What he came back with was The Game, a Hitchcockian thriller for the modern age that toned down the controversial subject matter of its predecessor to focus on being a more straightforward genre pic – a decision that raised a few eyebrows.
The film centers on Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a wealthy investment banker who has everything but the one thing money can’t buy – happiness. For his 48th birthday, his estranged brother Conrad (Sean Penn) gives him a voucher for a mysterious game operated by the equally mysterious Consumer Recreation Services. Nicholas initially rejects the gift, but curiosity gets the better of him and he agrees to participate. However, it doesn’t take long before reality and the game become one and the same, and Nicholas finds himself caught in a web of conspiracy that grows tighter the more he tries to escape. It’s classic thriller stuff and would make for perfect late-night viewing for someone looking to escape into the fantastical world of movies. It’s the sort of thing Alfred Hitchcock excelled at, and while it’s an oversimplification to say that that’s all the film has going for it – touches of psychological thriller era Brian De Palma are scattered throughout, alongside the occasional moment of surrealism that feels closer to what Charlie Kaufman would later popularize – it’s undeniably a more crowd-pleasing experience than Fincher’s previous work.
Directors who have worked with Jeff Cronenweth, ASC observe that he is quiet, centered, and possesses a very dry sense of humor. Working in an eclectic mix of genres and styles, he quickly zeroes in on central concepts, often exceeding expectations with the results. His career as a feature cinematographer began auspiciously with David Fincher’s eye-popping Fight Club (AC Nov. ’99), and his filmography since then includes The Social Network (AC Oct. ’10), Gone Girl (AC Nov. ’14), One Hour Photo (AC Aug. ’02) and the Amazon miniseries Tales From the Loop (AC April ’20). Cronenweth has also shot stylistically bold, groundbreaking music videos for David Bowie, Taylor Swift, Janet Jackson, Nine Inch Nails and many other top artists.
Jeff with his father, Jordan Cronenweth, ASC.
It wouldn’t be at all hyperbolic to say Cronenweth was born into filmmaking. His great-grandfather owned and operated a photographic-equipment store in Wilkinsburg, Pa.; his grandfather Edward worked as a portrait photographer for Hollywood studios during the peak of that unique specialty, earning an Academy Award for his work; his grandmother Rosita was a Busby Berkeley dancer; and his father, renowned ASC member Jordan Cronenweth, served as director of photography on Blade Runner (AC July ’82), Peggy Sue Got Married (AC April ’87), Altered States (AC March ’81), Gardens of Stone (AC May ’87), and many classic music videos for leading artists of the 1980s and ’90s.
Taking this lineage a step further, Jeff Cronenweth has also collaborated with his brother Tim, a successful commercial director, on more than 500 spots.
“A storyteller doesn’t want to tell the same story over and over, and I don’t want to, either. I always want to find something new and challenging to work on.” — Jeff Cronenweth, ASC
On History of the 90’s we’ll travel back in time through the stories that defined a decade. The last 10 years of the 20th century was a time like no other, from Columbine to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Seinfeld, Air Jordan, and the Spice Girls… if it happened in the 90’s you’ll hear about it on this podcast. Join Kathy Kenzora as we journey through the History of the 90’s every other Wednesday.
In the 1990’s director David Fincher brought us classic movies like Seven and Fight Club, making his mark on the industry as one the best film makers of his generation. But Fincher’s impact on the decade stretches beyond movies. Through dozens of TV commercials and music videos Fincher helped style the 90s.
In 1985, aspiring director David Fincher was tapped by the American Cancer Society to make a PSA. Riffing off Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001,” Fincher put forth one of the most provocative and memorable commercials ever featuring an in-utero fetus smoking a cigarette to demonstrate the dangers of pregnant smoking.
This PSA was just the beginning of Fincher’s ability to utilize the shared language and visuals of film to express a point. He would move next to directing music videos where he famously invoked Fritz Lang‘s “Metropolis” while directing Madonna’s 1989 video for “Express Yourself.”
Film critic Adam Nayman told WPR‘s “BETA” that Fincher’s cinematic ambition was present in all of this early work before he became a household name directing transcendent films like “Fight Club,” “Se7en,” “Zodiac” and “The Social Network.”
“I think that he was part of a cycle of music video directors who were drawing on movies for the music videos. So, by the time they ended up making feature films, the visual language and the ambition were already there,” Nayman said.
This week’s conversation focuses in on David Fincher—a director whose decade-spanning body of gritty Americana—from the grim moral drama of Se7en to the revisionist Hollywood tale of the recent Mank—has inspired both obsessive fandom and derisive dismissal.
A new book by Adam Nayman, David Fincher: Mind Games (out November 23 from Abrams Books), offers a canny and timely appraisal of the director’s filmography. Adam writes that, “Over the past thirty years, Fincher has cultivated and maintained a reputation that precedes him of formal rigor and technocratic exactitude, of moviemaking as a game of inches.” Film Comment editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute invited Adam and critic, filmmaker, and former NYFF director, Kent Jones—who’s written about Fincher many times over the years in FC—for an illuminating deep-dive into the Fincherverse.
In this edition I’ll look at Jeff Cronenweth, who, to a large extent, is responsible for popularising a style of ‘dark cinematography’, through his work on movies such as Fight Club or The Social Network.
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3 Things That Working With Jeff Cronenweth Taught Me About Cinematography
In our long-running series “How I’m Making It,” we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
As the Academy Award nominations were being announced on March 15, “Mank” costume designer Trish Summerville was all PPE-ed up, shooting the Jason Momoa-starring fantasy film “Slumberland.” She was simultaneously FaceTiming her wife, up early in Los Angeles, and watching a semi-delayed livestream (relatable), when she heard her name.
“I went to the director on the film, Francis Lawrence, and we stepped outside,” Summerville, on a call from Toronto, remembers. “He did give me a hug. He and I are really good friends and have known each other for many, many years. We had masks and face shields on, and all that, and were really, really safe. I have to say, it was great to get a hug.”
Known for her stylized, high-concept and often high-fashion-influenced (or designer label-stacked) costumes, Summerville received multiple nods for her innovative work on the Old Hollywood-set “Mank,” including her first BAFTA and her sixth Costume Designers Guild Award nominations. (This is also her first time being up for an Oscar.) She already won two CDGAs for 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” also directed by Lawrence, and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” helmed by “Mank” director David Fincher; and was nominated for an Emmy for the “Westworld” pilot, among other accolades.
The new David Fincher movie, Mank, released on Netflix on December 4th of this year, was originally scheduled to be produced in 1999 but didn’t happen due to a number of factors. In 2007 Fincher released Zodiac which was one of the first major theatrical features to be shot in a digital environment around a completely new file-based workflow that would revolutionize the industry over the next decade.
Peter Mavromates, the post production supervisor on Zodiac and a number of other Fincher projects over the years, including a co-Producer credit on Mank, joins Critical Conversations to discuss how digital workflows have grown and evolved over the last 15 years. Peter will talk about helping to design the early workflows on Zodiac, continuing to build it with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the ongoing developments created for Mank, and what’s next for the future.
Peter Mavromates has worked in post production for more than 35 years. He saw the future of “film” when he walked into a high-end video facility in New York called Charlex. Working at Charlex while still in “film” school in the NYU Grad Film Program, he saw the beauty of film (read ACETATE) and the power of electronic (read ANALOG VIDEO transitioning to DIGITAL) and watched as those two processes merged and mutated throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Peter produced his first DI on Panic Room in 2002, and his first DI of a digitally acquired movie on Zodiac in 2007. Most of the last 25 years have been spent working on projects with David Fincher, but he has also worked with Quentin Tarantino, Stephen Gaghan, and George Clooney.
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