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

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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

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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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Behind the Scenes of David Fincher’s Fight Club

Adam Nayman on the Production and Cultural Impact of the Still-Controversial Film

Adam Nayman
November 24, 2021
Literary Hub

The following is an excerpt from the new book David Fincher: Mind Games, by Adam Nayman.

Fight Club was adapted by screenwriter Jim Uhls from Chuck Palahniuk’s cult 1996 novel of the same name, which traced its gestation to a Portland-based author’s workshop specializing in “dangerous writing.” The enclave’s transgressive, minimalist mandate would be allegorized in Fight Club’s eponymous bare-knuckle boxing group, whose members become the acolytes of Tyler Durden Project Mayhem, in effect going from pummeling one another to “punching up” against the forces of late capitalism.

In his foreword to a 2004 reprint of the novel, Palahniuk reflects on the book’s themes of catharsis and self pity and ties them to a literary moment “[full of] novels that presented a social model for women to be together.” He cites bestsellers like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt and notes the lack of corresponding masculinist examples; with the calculated humility of a writer who no longer worries about his advance, he proposes that his breakthrough novel’s popularity was a simple matter of supply and demand.

The question of whether Fight Club, in either literary or cinematic form, fills that void deepens it, or disappears down it—or if, like Tyler Durden, such a void ever really existed in the first place—was open at the time and remains so. Twenty-five years after its publication, Fight Club looks like a signal work anticipating, dramatizing, and perhaps exemplifying a condition recently identified as “toxic masculinity,” loosely defined by New York Times essayist Maya Salam as “a series of cultural lessons . . . linked to aggression and violence.”

Read the full excerpt

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The Film Comment Podcast: The Mind Games of David Fincher

David Fincher by Michael Avedon

Devika Girish and Clinton Krute
November 23, 2021
Film Comment

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 NaymanDavid 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.

Listen to the podcast

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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.

Read the full interview

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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.

Read the full interview

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Multiple Men Play the Zodiac Killer in Zodiac. Adam Nayman’s New Book on David Fincher Explains Why

Illustration by Ana Godis

Adam Nayman
November 15, 2021
MovieMaker

There is a fourth major screen presence in Zodiac: the title character, who is played by a number of different actors in various guises before disappearing as a physical presence around the midpoint of the movie, last seen and heard threatening a female hitchhiker who survives her encounter. This set-piece, based on the recollections of one Kathleen Johns (Ione Skye), pays off the ruthlessness of what has come before, even as it emphasizes Fincher’s restraint. Because we’ve seen in bloody detail what the Zodiac is capable of in the prologue and the borderline unwatchable lakeside filleting of a couple in Berryessa, his warning to Kathleen that “before I kill you, I’m going to throw your baby out the window” is hideously credible. But, amazingly, the historical record intervenes as a deus ex machina; Kathleen’s unlikely escape and roadside salvation constitute this pressurized movie’s only moment of true relief.

Zodiac’s multiple-casting trick is there to account for the possibility — floated in Graysmith’s book, as well as several other studies — of multiple killers, either working in tandem or in a copycat scenario. Broadly speaking, the film follows Graysmith’s hypothesis that the most plausible suspect was one Arthur Leigh Allen (referred to in Zodiac the book pseudonymously as “Bob Starr”), a disgraced elementary school teacher with a history of pedophilia who died in 1992 surrounded by a veritable mountain of persuasive circumstantial evidence, including a series of supposedly self-incriminating comments to friends and relatives. Allen was ultimately exculpated by DNA testing and inconclusive fingerprint matches, events which Zodiac presents without trying to either reinforce or rebut them. “I don’t want this [movie] to be about convicting Arthur Leigh Allen,” Fincher said in 2005. “Certainly [Graysmith] came to his conclusion and it was good enough for him . . . When [Allen] died, he felt like it was put away. That’s not what we want to represent.”

Read the full excerpt

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What’s in the Box?: The Terrifying Truth of ‘Se7en’

David Fincher’s horrifying breakthrough continues to scare us. In an excerpt from a new book about the director’s work, open the box and see what evil lurks in the hearts of man.

Adam Nayman
November 15, 2021
The Ringer

“Wanting people to listen,” says John Doe (Kevin Spacey) to Detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt), “you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer. And then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”

The idea of a movie directed with a sledgehammer conjures up a bludgeoning clumsiness, or maybe accidental expressionism. Observing the Jackson Pollock–like splatter of another senseless murder at the beginning of Se7en, William Somerset sighs, “Look at all that passion all over the wall.” From there unfolds a series of precise strokes—its pace as finely calibrated as the metronome in Somserset’s study, its shocks as carefully curated as a museum retrospective. In this gallery analogy, there is a didactic aspect to an artist using excess as a tool of communication, and a real–world precedent for such pummelling innovations as the ones used by John Doe. In 1971, the American artist Chris Burden, whose oeuvre included shutting himself inside a locker for five days and crucifying himself to a Volkswagen Beetle, arranged for a friend to fire a bullet from a small-caliber rifle into his arm as part of a performance piece titled Shoot. “In this instant,” Burden reflected later, “I was a sculpture.”

Ever the vanguard artiste, John Doe adapts Burden’s gambit while interrogating its mixture of self-aggrandizement and self-endangerment—the frisson that occurs when art is remodeled into a life or death venture. Burden made his mark without resorting to full-on martyrdom; as a self-styled fin-de-siècle aesthete jointly projecting his superiority and self-loathing onto the world around him, John Doe goes further. He has to, because he’s on the margins of a marketplace oversaturated with morbid images and ideas. In order to make an impact, he must swing for the fences.

Read the full excerpt

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David Fincher: Mind Games. By Adam Nayman

DAVID FINCHER: MIND GAMES
By Adam Nayman
Foreword by Bong Joon-ho
Produced by Little White Lies

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.

About The Author

Adam Nayman is the author of Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks (Abrams, 2020) and The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (Abrams, 2018) and is a contributing editor to Cinema Scope.
             
Little White Lies is one of the world’s pre-eminent film magazines, pairing a unique editorial angle with beautiful illustrations and world-class design.

Formats

Imprint: Abrams Books
Publication Date: November 23, 2021
Rights: World/All

HARDCOVER
ISBN-10: 141975341X
ISBN-13: 9781419753411
Page Count: 304
Illustrations: Full-color photographs and illustrations throughout
Dimensions: 9 x 10.88 inches
Weight: 1.74 pounds
Price: $45.00
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EBOOK
ISBN-10: 1647002442
ISBN-13: 9781647002442
Page Count: 304
Price: $31.10
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