Book Review: David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation

Thomas Puhr
April 21, 2022
Bright Lights Film Journal

David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, edited by Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. 259 pp. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2022.

2007 was a good year for American film, with the likes of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood earning heaps of critical and popular adoration. Coupled with their success at the Academy Awards (the former won four, including for Best Picture; the latter two), the films’ positions as “instant classics” are well cemented.

Somewhat neglected among discussions of this banner year, on the other hand, is David Fincher’s true-crime epic Zodiac; though initially left in its contemporaries’ shadows (as a point of comparison, it received zero nominations), it may very well have aged better than either of them. If Anderson’s and the Coens’ outings were dirges on late capitalism, then Fincher’s was something of a prophecy – one that anticipated the post-truth morass of our digital age. Given this unexpected prescience, Zodiac is ripe for critical reassessment.

Enter David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, courtesy of editors Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. What makes this particular film so alluring is its unique position as a literary adaptation, a piece of narrative nonfiction (one based on a still-unsolved case, no less), a self-reflective critique of news and multimedia, and a relatively early exemplar of what digital cameras can do in the right hands. The book mines these and many other critical avenues – from game theory, to death metal – with somewhat inconsistent, but never dull, results. While reading it, I was reminded more than once of Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) climactic, fevered conversation with investigator David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) in the diner: “This is a case that’s covered both Northern and Southern California, with victims and suspects spread over hundreds of miles,” he tells Toschi as he struggles to connect the case’s overwhelming number of dots. Like the film itself, this collection has its fingers in many pots, is borderline obsessive, and makes some ambitious connections that may or may not actually be there. But, of course, that’s part of the fun.

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The Enneagram in a Movie: David Fincher and Enneagram Type 5

Mario Sikora and TJ Dawe
March 21, 2022
Awareness to Action

The Enneagram in a Movie Podcast is a fun and informative way to take a deep dive into understanding the Enneagram.

Join your Season 2 hosts, Mario Sikora and TJ Dawe, as well as their special guest hosts throughout the season, as they discuss how the themes of the Enneagram are reflected in the work of great film directors such as Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, Michael Mann, and others.

Mario and TJ analyze the films of David Fincher in two episodes to explore Enneagram Type 5, “Striving to Feel Detached.” They discuss “Seven”, “Fight Club”, The Social Network” and “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.”

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Listen to the Part 2 podcast:

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SBIFF 2016. Cinema Vanguard – Rooney Mara Talks David Fincher

… and the Enneagram.

Zodiac Screenwriter on His Overlong Spec Script and Convos with David Fincher on the ‘Passage of Time’

Author Robert Graysmith, director David Fincher, producer Brad Fischer, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Photo: Margot Graysmith)

Caleb Hammond
March 2, 2022
MovieMaker

James Vanderbilt wrote the screenplay for 2007’s Zodiac on spec — meaning he wasn’t commissioned to write it. So he began cutting it down before he sent it out to studios.

“I was just like, ‘This script is too fucking long. No one is going to read it.’ And I think the original script they sent out was 150 pages. It’s the thing you shouldn’t do, is write a 150-page script,” Vanderbilt tells MovieMaker about the film, released 15 years ago today.

Even when David Fincher agreed to direct the project, Vanderbilt was still concerned about its length. But much to his surprise, scenes were often added in development, not removed.

“In the spec, I had written the whole sequence with Brian Cox, and the morning show where Zodiac calls in, and then I cut it before sending the script out,” Vanderbilt says.

“And then one day Fincher was like, ‘You know, Zodiac might have called this morning show?’

“I was like, ‘Oh, I wrote it.’”

Fincher, who had spent months doing his own research on Zodiac, was impressed.

“You did?” he replied.

So Vanderbilt sent him the previously-cut 15 minute sequence.

“And he goes, ‘Well, this has got to go back in,’” Vanderbilt says. “And so it just kind of kept growing.”

Eventually Fincher sat Vanderbilt down and told him to “stop worrying about the length. I’m going to just make everyone talk very fast,” Vanderbilt says.

True to his word, “if you watch the movie, it is very bip, bip, bip, bip — everyone is talking very fast,” he adds.

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‘Zodiac’ Turns 15: Behind-the-Scenes Facts You Didn’t Know About the David Fincher Movie

David Fincher’s legendary attention to detail on the serial killer film inspired plenty of on-set drama.

Christian Zilko
March 03, 2022
IndieWire

This week marks 15 years since “Zodiac” was released in theaters, and save for the actors looking 15 years younger than they do now, the film still feels like it could be released today. If anything, “Zodiac” feels more like a product of 2022 than 2007. The country is more obsessed with serial killers than ever before, with true crime podcasts and documentaries continuing to draw massive ratings, Zodiac killer memes being used in presidential primaries, and the latest Batman movie taking the form of a serial killer drama.

That makes it a great time to revisit “Zodiac,” as well as a good opportunity to take a deep dive into the making of the film. “Zodiac” attracted as much attention for its painstaking production process as it did for the finished product, as the always detail-oriented David Fincher went above and beyond to make sure everything in his film was historically accurate. Sometimes his methodical process hurt his relationships with the cast, but one thing is for certain: They made a great movie.

Read the 15 facts about the making of “Zodiac” that you may not have known.

85 Queen: Adam Nayman on David Fincher

Mallory Andrews
January 31, 2022
Kitchener Public Library (YouTube)

Author and Film Critic Adam Nayman returns to Kitchener Public Library to discuss his latest book David Fincher: Mind Games.

David Fincher: Mind Games is the definitive critical and visual survey of the Academy Award– and Golden Globe–nominated works of director David Fincher. From feature films Alien 3, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Mank through his MTV clips for Madonna and the Rolling Stones and the Netflix series House of Cards and Mindhunter, each chapter weaves production history with original critical analysis, as well as with behind the scenes photography, still-frames, and original illustrations from Little White Lies‘ international team of artists and graphic designers. Mind Games also features interviews with Fincher’s frequent collaborators, including Jeff Cronenweth, Angus Wall, Laray Mayfield, Holt McCallany, Howard Shore and Erik Messerschmidt.

Grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige and relationship dynamics, Mind Games is styled as an investigation into a filmmaker obsessed with investigation, and the design will shift to echo case files within a larger psychological profile.

David Fincher and the Cinema of Doomscrolling

A conversation with Adam Nayman about the filmmaker’s style and obsessions.

Alex Shephard
January 18, 2022
Critical Mass (The New Republic)

David Fincher’s films are full of doubles, puzzles, and tantalizing glimpses of the director himself. As Adam Nayman writes in his new book about Fincher’s films, Mind Games, “Fincher imposes his presence through the actions and psychologies of thinly veiled proxies: Clockmakers and safecrackers; hackers and terrorists; detectives and serial killers.” These are films that are, like their director, obsessed with procedure and appearance—and intent on puncturing both.

These films are, perhaps because of their complexity or their (at least outward) coldness—or perhaps because of Fincher’s own past as a director of music videos and advertisements—misunderstood or even dismissed. In the past decade alone, Fincher’s The Social Network and, especially, Gone Girl have received radical reappraisals, while Zodiac has been seen by many as one of the best films of the twenty-first century. Mind Games is particularly valuable in its willingness to critically engage with much of Fincher’s less-appreciated output—from his work in advertising to films like Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But Nayman, the author of similar studies of the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson, also deepens the understanding of films by situating them in an oeuvre that has been obsessively looking at many of the same themes for decades.

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Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch: Adam Nayman on “David Fincher: Mind Games”

Tom Knoblauch
January 16, 2022
Riverside Chats with Tom Knoblauch (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Riverside Chats is a series of conversations hosted by Tom Knoblauch exploring culture of all kinds, broadcast from the Heartland. Listen on KIOS 91.5 Omaha Public Radio on Mondays and Saturdays or on your favorite podcast app.

Adam Nayman is a critic at The Ringer and Cinema Scope and he is also the author of The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Room Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, which he discussed in an earlier episode of this show.

His latest book, David Fincher: Mind Games is a critical and visual survey of the filmmaker behind incredibly influential works include Seven, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl, and more. Nayman gives context, analysis, links themes, and conducts interviews with various people involved across Fincher’s career, grouping Fincher’s work around themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige, and relationship dynamics. Today he talks about Fincher’s career and shifting place in the cinematic landscape.

Check out David Fincher: Mind Games wherever you get books.

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Connecting the dots between Gone Girl, Zodiac and David Fincher

Illustration by Hsiao-Ron Cheng

Mind Games author Adam Nayman discusses the connective tissue between David Fincher’s films and why we can’t help comparing him to Paul Thomas Anderson

Radheyan Simonpillai
December 22, 2021
NOW Magazine

In the David Fincher film Zodiac, cartoonist Robert Graysmith obsessively pours over legal documents, testimonies, and geographic patterns. He connects the dots that won’t necessarily give him conclusive answers regarding the titular San Francisco serial killer but will nevertheless make for a pretty good book that paved the way for a masterpiece film. I like to picture Toronto film critic and author Adam Nayman doing the same for his book David Fincher: Mind Games.

Nayman scans Fincher’s work, from the music video for Madonna’s Express Yourself to last year’s endearing look back at authorship in Mank, writing chapters on each movie with forensic detail and riveting insight. Mind Games, which comes with a lovely foreword from Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho, is the latest in Nayman’s series of comprehensive books on the greatest white male directors of our generation, sitting nicely alongside The Coen Bros: This Book Really Ties The Films Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks. And there’s an argument to be made that this book is the most fascinating of the three.

More so than the others, Fincher’s movies inspire divisive reactions. Movies like The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Mank rack up the most Oscar nominations while being pilloried by many critics. Se7en and Fight Club earn dorm room notoriety, which in turn is weaponized against the films themselves. Some of his greatest work in Zodiac and Gone Girl doesn’t quite get the love it deserves. But Fincher is the kind of filmmaker whose misses are infinitely more fascinating to me than the best that a Christopher Nolan puts up.

Nayman discussed Fincher’s canon with NOW in a conversation about the imprint he leaves on his films and how he compares to Paul Thomas Anderson. The Licorice Pizza filmmaker has a very different kind of career, but feels oddly linked to Fincher.

Read the full interview

Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

BETA (WPR): The exacting and evolving genius of filmmaker David Fincher

Film critic Adam Nayman’s ‘Mind Games’ explores the successful perfectionism of the ‘Fight Club,’ ‘Se7en,’ ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Zodiac’ director

Doug Gordon, Adam Friedrich
December 18, 2021
BETA (WPR)

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.

Nayman is the author of “David Fincher: Mind Games,” a comprehensive critical companion book to Fincher’s career output thus far. It’s the third installment of Nayman’s deep dives into generational filmmakers that includes the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Read and listen to the full interview

Buy the book David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

David Fincher’s Zodiac. Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation

Edited by Matthew Sorrento, teacher of film studies at Rutgers University-Camden, and David Ryan, academic director and faculty chair of the Master of Arts of Professional Communication program at the University of San Francisco.

Foreword by Christopher Sharrett

Contributions by Jeremy Carr; Daniel R. Fredrick; Deborah L. Jaramillo; Martin Kevorkian; Rod Lott; Theresa Rodewald; Jake Rutkowski; David Ryan; Christopher Sharrett; Matthew Sorrento; George Toles; Christopher Weedman and Andrew M. Winters.

David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), written by producer James Vanderbilt and adapted from the true crime works of Robert Graysmith, remains one of the most respected films of the early twenty-first century. As the second film featuring a serial killer (and the first based on fact) by Fincher, Zodiac remains a standout in a varied but stylistically unified career. While connected to this genre, the film also hybridizes the policier genre and the investigative reporter film. And yet, scholarship has largely ignored the film.

This collection is the first book-length work of criticism dedicated to the film. Section One focuses on early influences, while the second section analyzes the film’s unique treatment of narrative. The book closes with a section focusing on game theory, data and hegemony, the Zodiac’s treatment in music, and the use of sound in cinema. By offering new avenues and continuing a few established ones, this book will interest scholars of cinema and true crime along with fans and enthusiasts in these areas.

University Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Pages: 274 • Trim: 6 x 9
978-1-68393-326-7 • Hardback • December 15, 2021 • $105.00 • (£81.00)
978-1-68393-327-4 • eBook • December 15, 2021 • $45.00 • (£35.00)
Series: The Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Series in Law, Culture, and the Humanities
Subjects: Performing Arts / Film / History & Criticism, Social Science / Criminology, Performing Arts / Film / Genres / Documentary

More details: Rowman & Littlefield

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