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.

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

Adam Nayman on David Fincher’s Complicated Auteurism

David Fincher by Jack Davison

Nick Newman
November 23, 2021
The Film Stage

Few film books in recent memory made waves like Adam Nayman’s Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, a too-rare melange of authorial talent, topical interest, and opulent presentation. Last year Nayman and I spoke at length about the tome that no doubt you’ve seen in bookstores (big and small alike) since.

Nayman has returned with David Fincher: Mind Games, another Abrams-published doorstop on another double-capital-A American Auteur, lined again with essays that surprise in their capacity to find new perspectives and provocative readings on films for which there seemed no more room. Finally able to talk in person—thus, you’ll (please) read, at greater length—we sat down for a talk on writing thousands of words on someone for whom a consistent critical standing is tougher than meets the eye.

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

Adam Nayman Talks David Fincher’s Adman Past (And Present)

A conversation with the author about his new book, “David Fincher: Mind Games”

Sydney Urbanek
November 17, 2021
Mononym Mythology

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.

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

How Trish Summerville Went from Designing Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty’ Chaps to Receiving an Oscar Nod for the ‘Mank’ Costumes

David Fincher and Summerville at the 2012 Costume Designers Guild Awards (Alberto E. Rodriguez)

The costume designer shares her biggest challenge on set of the award-season juggernaut and the backstory behind Xtina’s iconic “leg coverings.”

Fawnia Soo Hoo
March 29, 2021
Fashionista

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.

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David Fincher, the Unhappiest Auteur

The director makes beautiful bummers in an industry that prefers happy endings. Perhaps that’s why his movies seem like an endangered species.

Manohla Dargis
January 1, 2021
The New York Times

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.

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La Septième Obsession 31: David Fincher

La Septième Obsession

OBSESSION: David Fincher

1. Mank de David Fincher

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 3Se7enThe GameFight ClubPanic Room + les plans de Panic RoomZodiacL’Étrange histoire de Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network Millénium + la musique hantée de MilléniumGone Girl Mindhunter

3. Analyses

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

Sommaire complet

Commander

David Fincher’s Impossible Eye

David Fincher by Jack Davison

With ‘Mank,’ America’s most famously exacting director tackles the movie he’s been waiting his entire career to make.

Jonah Weiner
November 19, 2020
The New York Times

Six years ago, after I contacted David Fincher and told him I wanted to write an article about how he makes movies, he invited me to his office to present my case in person and, while I was there, watch him get some work done. On an April afternoon, I arrived at the Hollywood Art Deco building that has long served as Fincher’s base of operations, where he was about to look at footage from his 10th feature film, Gone Girl,” then in postproduction. We headed upstairs and found the editor Kirk Baxter assembling a scene. Fincher watched it once through, then asked Baxter to replay a five-second stretch. It was a seemingly simple tracking shot, the camera traveling alongside Ben Affleck as he entered a living room in violent disarray: overturned ottoman, shattered glass. The camera moved at the same speed as Affleck, gliding with unvarying smoothness, which is exactly how Fincher likes his shots to behave. Except that three seconds in, something was off. “There’s a bump,” he said.

Jack Fincher photographed by David Fincher in 1976, when he was 14.
“That’s why it’s out of focus”.

No living director surpasses Fincher’s reputation for exactitude. Any account of his methods invariably mentions how many takes he likes to shoot, which can annoy him, not because this is inaccurate but because it abets a vision of him as a dictatorially fussy artiste. Fincher, who is 58, argues that this caricature misses the point: If you want to build worlds as engrossing as those he seeks to construct, then you need actors to push their performances into zones of fecund uncertainty, to shed all traces of what he calls “presentation.” And then you need them to give you options, all while hitting the exact same marks (which goes for the camera operators too) to ensure there will be no continuity errors when you cut the scene together. Getting all these stars to align before, say, Take No. 9 is possible but unlikely. “I get, He’s a perfectionist,” Fincher volunteered. “No. There’s just a difference between mediocre and acceptable.”

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From Madonna to Mank: Why David Fincher’s Greatest Film is an Erotic Pop Music Video

The Gone Girl director is known for the psychological depth, visual symbolism and pulpy thrills of his films but all roads lead back to his tempestuous – and mysterious – collaborations with Madge.

Adam White
November 6, 2020
Independent

It was in the winter of 1993 that David Fincher murdered Madonna. The crime scene: a music video for one of the latter’s greatest singles, “Bad Girl”, and what would be the last of the pair’s four collaborations. In its wake, Fincher would become one of cinema’s most revered directors, the prickly genius behind Se7en (1995), The Social Network (2010), Gone Girl (2014) and the forthcoming Mank. But it’s “Bad Girl” that remains Fincher’s most important venture. It is a short, stylish erotic thriller that begins and ends with Madonna’s lifeless corpse; a video that nods toward the filmmaker Fincher would become, and a final act of artistic symbiosis between two titans of pop culture.

Back in the Nineties, Fincher was coming to the end of a luminous eight years as a music video visionary. The likes of Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and George Michael’s supermodel-filled “Freedom ‘90” were gorgeous exercises in style and short-form storytelling. Little was more thrilling, though, than his work with Madonna – from the grandiose myth-making of “Vogue” and “Express Yourself” to the richly personal “Oh Father”. They both recognised the cinematic potential of the form, even if it came at a cost – all of their collaborations rank among the most expensive videos ever made.

That trilogy of music videos – which came before “Bad Girl” and were shot over the course of 10 months between 1989 and 1990 – would reflect a fruitful creative tussle between the pair. Despite Fincher’s relative lack of clout in the industry at the time, and especially compared to Madonna’s cultural ubiquity, they would approach their work as somewhat begrudging – and almost flirtatious – equals.

In interviews, Fincher recalled expressing mock outrage when Madonna asked him if he had heard of Metropolis, the landmark sci-fi film she wanted to replicate for “Express Yourself”. Madonna sneered at his idea to have her crawl across the floor, lick milk from a bowl, and then pour it over herself in the same video, assuming it might look like a student film. It turned out to be one of the video’s most memorable set pieces. The visual for “Oh Father”, meanwhile, a psychological wormhole into Madonna’s childhood and the emotional toll of her mother’s death, only came about at Fincher’s insistence. Madonna had been unsure it would even work as a single. Fincher, though, saw it as ripe for visual accompaniment, and captured her vulnerability like no other.

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George Michael – Freedom! ’90 (Official 4K Video)

Director: David Fincher
Director of Photography: Mike Southon, BSC
Editors: James Haygood and George Michael
Art Director: John Beard
Stylist: Camilla Nickerson
Hair Stylist: Guido Palau
Makeup Artist: Carol Brown
Production Company: Propaganda Films

Models: Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington.

Male Models: Scott Benoit, Peter Formby, John Pearson, Todo Segalla, Mario Sorrenti.

Outtakes:

The Making of the Video:

The Story Behind Freedom ’90:

MTV Rewind: The Women of George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90” Music Video (1990)

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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