Murmur: Chuck Palahniuk. “Fight Club” @20

Robert Milazzo
November 2, 2019
Murmur (The Modern School of Film)

Where craft meets culture. Hosted by The Modern School of Film’s Robert Milazzo, Murmur is a prescient tour through our sight and sound culture; featuring scenes, songs, and an array of guest tour-guides from all sides of the brain:

Oh, F’it, let’s actually talk about the film Fight Club @ Twenty – still the smartest delinquent in the room – with the man whose book-as-rolling-ball-of-art-and-confusion began a movie birthed by an apropos society of full-throated artists: Chuck Palahniuk. The film still can’t drink, but it’s no less a danger to society. Its meta and mythos are more than meets the eye, and its fever-pitch lives in Chuck’s own agnostic baptisms. Write what you know, perhaps; film what’s to remain, please. Live from Cologne, Germany Live from Cologne, Germany, with an assist from Black Francis of The Pixies. Gleiten [Slide].

June 25, 2019
CCXP, Cologne (Germany)

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“Only Two Guys to a Fight”

Fight Club At Twenty.

Ray Pride
October 31, 2019
Newcity Film, Newcity

Fight Club” is twenty years old. In the decades since its release, box-office disappointment and reinvention through myriad DVD and Blu-ray releases (thirteen million DVDs by 2014), Brad Pitt established himself as a productive, adventurous film producer, with his Plan B productions involved with this summer’s “Ad Astra,” but also award-winning work like “Moonlight,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Tree of Life,” “Twelve Years A Slave,” “Okja” and “The Last Black Man In San Francisco.” Edward Norton, who has moved away from acting, directed and stars in his own adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn” in November.

The world had not yet seen, or reacted, to David Fincher’s film at the time of this bantering interview with Pitt and Norton. (A review that includes my contemporaneous interview with Palahniuk is here.)

August 1999:

“Fight Club” is a ride, a sneaky mindfuck of a movie, and a thunderous journey into the darkest parts of one man’s mind. Within a few dozen seconds, we rush through someone’s brain and out onto a rooftop where another character holds a gun in his mouth. The ride begins.

Brad Pitt plays Tyler Durden, a trickster character who insurance agency flunky Edward Norton meets at a time when he’s been wishing for someone who could push him over the edge. By night, Norton’s unnamed narrator trolls support groups for the grievously ill, pretending to have illnesses in order to sob. That’s where he meets fellow grief-ghoul Helena Bonham Carter. But that’s set-up.   The impression is out there that “Fight Club” is about yuppies gathering in alleys to beat each other up. Uh-uh. There’s more to it.

Everyone’s stuck—in their jobs, their bodies or their heads. Except for Tyler, everyone’s a flunky, a waiter, a cop, solid blue-collar stock. “Fight Club” is one of the funniest, most piercing movies you’d hope for, a ferocious satire that builds on the madness of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, and in its many richly detailed scenes, exceeds even what David Fincher accomplished in “Seven.”

When we talked, no one knew yet if “Fight Club” could be the first epic audience movie of the new millennium, or whether it would tank. Pitt, thirty-five, has a reputation as a reluctant interview, but after talking with him, it seems it may be more out of modesty than ego or fear. Norton, thirty, was his customary talkative self.

Does the actor Brad Pitt exist in the universe of “Fight Club”?

Pitt: [shaking his head] What does that mean, what does that mean, what does that mean?

There are in-jokes throughout the movie, marquees showing “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Wings of the Dove” and “Larry Flynt.” And Tyler tells the narrator at one point, “I’m what you want to be like.” If you ask guys what they want to be like, a typical guy would be happy to be you.

Norton: I thought that was a great perversion of Bradley’s baggage.

Pitt: Yeah. Perverting the baggage. That was dealing more with the projection and the image, y’know, that’s out there. Good and bad. Myself, I’ve certainly never felt a part of that.

You talk about good-looking guys in the movies, a few names come up: Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt…

Norton: Edward Norton.

Pitt: Edward Norton. You sexy fool!

Norton: He never hurts my feelings.

There’s a lot of yelling in the movie, it seems cathartic, especially in the bedroom scenes with Helena.

Pitt. [whispers] Sex. You look through the crack and you just see all these crazy gymnastics going. Doing gymnastics. Yeah, we’re just jumping on the bed.

You’ve worked with David Fincher before…

Pitt: He’s one of the guys leading the pack. There are a lot of interesting guys out there, who are pushing the medium, but I’ve said this before, I think Finch is picking up where Kubrick left off.

Norton: If anyone can do it, he can.

Pitt: This thing he created here is extraordinary. It’s beyond all our hopes and he always set out with an image of what this thing could be. This thing just roars.

Norton: I don’t feel like I’ve seen a film—

Pitt: It’s a monster.

Norton: —That’s that far out there in terms of its technique, its use of style to enhance the emotional themes of a narrative. When you work with Fincher, you slowly absorb that he is the complete filmmaker. He is the most comprehensive modern filmmaker. He has a complete command of all the tools that are available to a filmmaker now. He’s as good a DP as his DP, he’s as good at sound—

Pitt: —all his tweaking—

Norton: —his technical tweaking as the guys who work for him. He’s an excellent script doctor—

Pitt:—A storyteller.

Norton: He’ll even come in and give you a good line reading at times. And yet he’s dealing in f/stops. He knows more about CGI as anyone.

Pitt: And not only that, ideas. He takes whatever groundbreaking technology is available, like the Rolling Stones video in Central Park where they’re giants. There was this technique meant for something else, and Fincher goes, “Can’t I take this and actually make them people?” He’s inventive that way. But on a directorial level, this thing is one to be studied. There are so many things that are fine-tuned, from sound on. All the way from opening up coming out of a brain to the product placement. Any product placement you see, like Pepsi machines, it’s always put in a somewhat violent scene. It’s just these little, little comments that are more subliminal than anything.

Read the full interview

Fight Club Turns 20: Interview with the Film’s Screenwriter Jim Uhls

The fight cannot be a lie.

October 7, 2019
Storius Magazine

This month, Fight Club turns twenty. David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, written for the screen by Jim Uhls and starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, became a movie classic that has generated every form of cultural reference, from memes to research papers. Ranking #10 on IMDb’s Top 250 best-movie list and lending “The first rule of Fight Club” catchphrase to teen chats and corporate meetings alike, the film has come to occupy a unique niche in modern culture.

On the anniversary of the movie’s release, Fight Club’s screenwriter Jim Uhls spoke with Storius, reflecting on the film’s journey and lasting influence, adaptation challenges, fan theories, and his screenwriting techniques.

STORIUS: Today, twenty years after its release, Fight Club seems surprisingly contemporary, especially considering how many changes our society has gone through since 1999. It has entered the cultural lexicon, is often referenced even by people who haven’t seen it, and doesn’t seem to age much. What do you attribute the movie’s endurance to?

It hits a nerve with each generation that discovers it, seemingly because the basic life circumstances of the viewer, whether in 1999 or 2019, are the same. Part of that nerve is the idea of how self-worth is defined — both by society and in one’s mind — which are usually the same.

But, in this film, they become different. Men in their twenties, still puzzled about what they should do with their lives, are discovering a different way to define self-worth. A group of them meet to experience something that is outside the parameters of civilization. Each fight is one-on-one violence between two men who have no animosity towards each other, might not even know each other. They’re doing it because it’s a ritual, a primal ritual, in which they take part both by doing it and by watching others do it. It’s physical combat, wordless, and true — i.e., the fights are actually happening, so they are true. Other things all around these men can be lies, with or without words, but the fight cannot be a lie.

Another part of that nerve is Tyler Durden’s contempt for materialism, consumerism, the impossible ideals invented by advertising, and in effect — everything that is fake, or a lie, or a pathway to soullessness — all constantly bombarding us, in our “civilized” world. I’ve been repeatedly surprised by females, from teenage to senior citizens, telling me they love the film. It’s clearly aimed at a form of emancipation for young men, but part of the nerve it hits must resonate for women.

STORIUS: It’s hard to believe now that the movie was considered a failure when it was released, and that it took a few years and a DVD release to turn it into a financial success and a cultural phenomenon. Why do you think the film had such a bumpy road to recognition?

The bumpy road, the period of initial domestic release, was largely due to the vexing challenge of how to make a trailer for the film that promotes what the film is. It wasn’t an easy task. And it wasn’t achieved.

I ran into a friend about two weeks after the initial release, and he said he hadn’t gotten to the film yet, but he would; he just wasn’t a big fan of boxing movies.

“Boxing movies.” That’s a solid example of someone not having any idea of what the film was about during the time when it was vital to get that across to the public.

Read the full interview

How They Wrote Fight Club

Fight Club Author Chuck Palahniuk

N. T. Jordan
May 29, 2019
Behind the Curtain (YouTube)

What is the meaning of Fight Club? Instead of giving you my theory, let’s learn straight from the source! Listen to Chuck Palahniuk (author), Jim Uhls (screenwriter), David Fincher (director), and more talk about how they created this film and book!

Fight Club is a 1999 film based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk. It was directed by David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter. Norton plays the unnamed narrator, who is discontent with his white-collar job. He forms a “fight club” with soap salesman Tyler Durden, and becomes embroiled in a relationship with him and a destitute woman, Marla Singer.

Interview with Fight Club Screenwriter Jim Uhls

Dave Bullis
May 11, 2019
The Dave Bullis Podcast (PodBean)

Jim Uhls is a screenwriter and producer. Jim’s sceenwriting credits include, Fight Club, the feature-film Jumper, the NBC television film Semper Fi, and the SyFy miniseries Spin

Jim’s current online class on screenwriting is available at Creative Live. And you can follow him on Twitter.

Show Notes

0:02:39 – How did Jim get his first (credited) writing gig as Fight Club?
0:04:19 – Chuck Palahniuk
0:10:36 – The Meeting
0:14:03 – The Narrator
0:18:50 – Screenwriting Rules
0:31:14 – Jim’s Screenwriting Advice
0:38:58 – The Scent of Blood
0:50:13 – Jim, if he’ll ever direct
0:52:57 – David Fincher Directing Style
1:05:17 – My Fight Club house story

Listen to the full interview

The First Rule of Making ‘Fight Club’: Talk About ‘Fight Club’

Dan Evans (The Ringer)

In an excerpt from the new book ‘Best. Movie. Year. Ever.,” David Fincher, Edward Norton, and the minds behind ‘Fight Club’ talk about the bare-knuckled, bloody battle to bring Chuck Palahniuk’s book to the big screen

Brian Raftery
March 26, 2019
The Ringer

Sometimes, during their breaks, the men who worked alongside Chuck Palahniuk would gather to talk about where their lives had gone wrong. It was the early nineties, and Palahniuk was employed at a Portland, Oregon, truck-manufacturing company called Freightliner. Many of his colleagues were well-educated, underutilized guys who felt out of sorts in the world—and they put the blame on the men who’d raised them. “Everybody griped about what skills their fathers hadn’t taught them,” says Palahniuk. “And they griped that their fathers were too busy establishing new relationships and new families all the time and had just written off their previous children.”

Palahniuk’s Freightliner duties included researching and writing up repair procedures—tasks that required him to keep a notebook with him at all times. At work, when no one was looking, he’d jot down ideas for a story he was working on. He’d continue writing whenever he could find the time: between loads at the laundromat or reps at the gym or while waiting for his unreliable 1985 Toyota pickup truck to be fixed at the auto shop. The result was a series of “small little snippets” about an unnamed auto company employee who’s so spiritually inert, so unsatisfied, that he finds himself attending various cancer support groups, just to unnumb himself. He soon succumbs to the atomic charisma of Tyler Durden, a mysterious figure whose name had been partly inspired by the 1960 Disney movie Toby Tyler. “I grew up in a town of six hundred people,” says the Washington-born Palahniuk, “and a kid in my second-grade class said he’d been the actor in that movie. Even though he looked nothing like him, I believed him. So ‘Tyler’ became synonymous with a lying trickster.”

After meeting Tyler Durden, Palahniuk’s narrator begins attending Fight Club, a guerrilla late-night gathering in which men voluntarily beat each other bloody. Fight Club comes with a set of fixed rules, the most important of which is that, no matter what, you do not talk about Fight Club. Many of the book’s brawlers are working-class guys with the same dispiriting jobs—mechanics, waiters, bartenders—held by some of Palahniuk’s friends. “My peers were conflict averse,” says Palahniuk. “They shied away from any confrontation or tension, and their lives were being lived in this very tepid way. I thought if there was some way to introduce them to conflict in a very structured, safe way, it would be a form of therapy—a way that they could discover a self beyond this frightened self.”

Palahniuk would bring work-in-progress chapters to writing classes and workshops around Portland, holding one successful early reading at a lesbian bookstore. “They wanted to know ‘Is there a women’s version of this?’ he says. “They just assumed Fight Clubs existed in the world and wanted to participate.” Palahniuk, then in his early thirties, had recently seen his first novel get rejected. “I was thinking ‘I’m never getting published, so I might as well just write something for the fun of it.’ It was that kind of freedom, but also that kind of anger, that went into Fight Club.” He’d wind up selling the book to publisher W. W. Norton for a mere $6,000.

Fight Club’s quiet 1996 release came just a few years after the arrival of the so-called men’s movement, in which dissatisfied dudes looking to reclaim their masculinity would gather for all-male retreats in the woods. They’d bang drums and lock arms in the hope of escaping what had become a “deep national malaise,” noted Newsweek. “What teenagers were to the 1960s, what women were to the 1970s, middle-aged men may well be to the 1990s: American culture’s sanctioned grievance carriers, diligently rolling their ball of pain from talk show to talk show.”

Palahniuk’s Fight Club characters, though, were younger and angrier than their aggrieved elders. A few primal scream sessions in the woods weren’t going to cut it. “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t,” Tyler says of his peers, adding “Don’t fuck with us.” It was one of many briskly written yet impactful mission statements in Palahniuk’s book, which earned positive reviews from a few major critics—the Washington Post called it “a volatile, brilliantly creepy satire”—as well as the author’s own father. “He loved it,” Palahniuk says. “Just like my boss thought I was writing about his boss, my dad thought I was writing about his dad. It was the first time we really connected. He’d go into these small-town bookstores, make sure it was there, and brag that it was his son’s book.”

Fight Club wasn’t an especially big performer in its original hardcover run, selling just under 5,000 copies. But before it even hit shelves, an early galley copy reached producers Ross Grayson Bell and Joshua Donen, the latter of whom had produced such films as Steven Soderbergh’s noir The Underneath. Bell was put off by some of the book’s violence, but as he read further, he arrived at Fight Club’s big revelation: the insomniac narrator, it turns out, really is Tyler Durden, and at night he’s been unknowingly leading the Fight Club army raiding liposuction clinics for human fat—first to turn into soap, and then to use for explosives. Eventually Tyler’s hordes of followers begin engaging in a series of increasingly violent acts. “You get to the twist, and it makes you reassess everything you’ve just read,” says Bell. “I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep that night.” Looking to make Fight Club his first produced feature, Bell hired a group of unknown actors to read the book aloud, slowly stripping it down and rearranging parts of its structure. He sent a recording of their efforts to Laura Ziskin, who’d produced Pretty Woman and was now heading Fox 2000, a division that focused on (relatively) midbudget films. According to Bell, after listening to his Fight Club reading during a fifty-minute drive to Santa Barbara, Ziskin hired him as one of Fight Club’s producers. “I didn’t know how to make a movie out of it,” said Ziskin, who optioned the book for $10,000. “But I thought someone might.”

Ziskin gave a copy of Palahniuk’s book to David O. Russell, who declined. “I read it, and I didn’t get it,” Russell says. “I obviously didn’t do a good job reading it.” There was one filmmaker, though, who definitely got Fight Club. He was the perfect match—a guy who viewed the world through the same slightly corroded View-Master as Palahniuk; who could attract desirable actors; who could make all of Fight Club’s bodily fluids splatter beautifully across the screen. And he wasn’t afraid of drawing a little blood himself.

Read the full excerpt

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 1

The Ringer: The 50 Best Movies of 1999, Part 2

The Ringer: Make the Case: ‘Being John Malkovich’ Was a Head Trip Masterpiece—and the Best Film of 1999

Order Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster). On sale: April 16, 2019

The Difficult History of David Fincher’s Fight Club

Merrick Morton

David Fincher’s Fight Club is now considered a classic, but it had trouble getting off the ground.

Ryan Lambie
October 15, 2018
Den of Geek! (US)

What the hell is Fight Club anyway? A horror film about a Jekyll-and-Hyde office worker who becomes a terrorist? A drama about late 20th century masculinity in crisis? A warped romance about a man trying to change himself into someone as interesting as the woman he loves? A thriller about a decadent generation goading itself into extremism?

Executives at 20th Century Fox certainly struggled with Fight Club. Unsure how to market a film in which young men beat one another to a pulp and stole bags of fat from the bins of liposuction clinics, the studio placed ads for it during World Wrestling Federation matches. Meanwhile, Fight Club‘s posters, dreamed up by an expensive design firm, featured a pink bar of soap with the title incised into its waxy surface. It certainly looked unlike anything else stuck up outside a movie theater in 1999, even if most people walking past wouldn’t have had a clue as to what it meant – the soap being a wry reference to a key scene in the film.

The bewildering split between TV ads during wrestling matches, which emphasized the film’s bruising bare-knuckle scenes, and the artistic posters with their pink bars of soap, were an indication, perhaps, of Fight Club‘s slippery quality. How do you get people to go and see a film like this, Brad Pitt or no Brad Pitt?

In retrospect, it’s little surprise that some of Fox’s higher-ups didn’t like Fight Club – least of all one Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul whose News Corporation had acquired Fox in 1985. Here, after all, was a film which openly attacked corporations, advertisers and the entire capitalist system.

One of Fight Club‘s producers, Art Linson, recalled the first screening of the film for Fox’s executives; they were, he said, “flopping around like acid-crazed carp wondering how such a thing could even have happened.”

There was one executive who did believe in Fight Club: Fox’s studio head Bill Mechanic. In the mid-90s, Chuck Palahniuk‘s Fight Club novel was doing the rounds at Fox before it had even been published, and was originally envisioned as a low-budget movie to be made through the studio’s Fox 2000 division, which specialized in independent film. Along with production executives Laura Ziskin and Kevin McCormick, Mechanic was an enthusiastic champion of Fight Club‘s spiky humor and unpredictable plot.

Read the full article