Interview: Fight Club director David Fincher
Critics have tried to pin down Fight Club director David Fincher, but they remain in the dark.
THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION people have about David Fincher is that he's dark. No, scratch that. "That's just the dullest," sighs the director, who served up Gwyneth Paltrow's severed head in a box in Seven and plunged corporate America into financial chaos at the end of Fight Club.
The other misconception, the one journalists tried to tag him with in the wake of last year's critically adored, commercially ignored Zodiac, is that he's obsessive. "I don't agree with that, I think that's too easy."
How about Fight Club producer Art Linson's description of him as "someone whose ambition is to maul and excite?" "Hee hee hee. To maul and excite? Yeah, I like that."
It's a Monday afternoon in September and David Fincher is on the phone from Los Angeles. We're supposed to be discussing the belated British DVD release of his director's cut of Zodiac but we've drifted into a record-straightening discussion about his reputation instead. Partly that's because we've just been talking about his new movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his third collaboration with Brad Pitt (after Seven and Fight Club).
But more on that later. Right now we're discussing his public persona because, well, a lot of myths seem to have grown up about David Fincher in recent years. Put it down to the "cult of the director": because he takes his time picking projects, because he's meticulous about his work, because he's been responsible for some of the most visually striking and provocative pieces of American cinema in the past 15 years, and especially because he considers it fiscally responsible to do a lot of takes rather than risking the possibility of expensive re-shoots at a later date, there's been a tendency to try and paint him as a Kubrick-style control freak.
It's something the 45-year-old director puts down to ignorance of the film-making process. He seems keen to play down any notions of having an exalted status within the industry. His answers seem geared towards puncturing pomposity. He's not one for anecdotes or effusive analysis of his work, preferring sarcastic quips and self-deprecating put-downs. Try getting him to reflect on why he works so well with Brad Pitt, for instance, and without missing a beat he says, "We both like a lot of takes."
Ask if he has a theory about why Zodiac didn't take at the box-office, and he expands on his initial "Nooooo" with the following: "I guess people just don't like irresolution. But, that's what I thought was interesting about it. And I was wrong. Hee hee hee hee."
Ask him about the critical furore over Fight Club, when he was accused of being a sadist, anti-God and, outrageously, of inciting fascism and he just laughs. "As I like to say, you do the best you can do and then try to live it down." Such glibness can be a little frustrating for an interviewer, but it's also funny and is probably healthier for Fincher than getting hung up on the way he's repeatedly been pilloried then vindicated for the work he's done over the years. He's certainly a reluctant axe-grinder, especially considering the well-publicised baptism of fire he received while making his heavily compromised debut, Alien 3. What did that film teach him? "To take responsibility for everything on a film." It's the reason he reckons the studios probably like working with him now; it absolves them of any blame should the film not succeed.
Of course, it helps that audiences tend to come round to his films eventually. Zodiac's star is already rising, with high-profile endorsements from the likes of crime writer James Elroy gradually helping it filter into the mainstream. It may even follow the lead of box-office flop/DVD smash Fight Club.
The afterlife of Fight Club has been astonishing, with Fincher quoted on more than one occasion that he'd like to see it turned into a musical to celebrate the film's tenth anniversary next year.
It would certainly be a shock to the system, maybe even as much as the forthcoming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Loosely based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald about a baby who is born old and ages backwards, Fincher is currently in the final few weeks of post-production, supervising the elaborate frame-by-frame special effects that have been necessary to digitally age Brad Pitt in reverse. "The film takes forever to explain, but it's about life, that's all I know," says Fincher, who has been involved with it for the best part of seven years. "I like to think of it as being about the dents that we make on each other, that's the best description I can think of. I think it's really heartfelt."
Heartfelt. That's the thing that might throw Fincher fans, especially since the story has been adapted by Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth, was once a project for both Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, and is starting to be talked up as a potential Oscar candidate (Fincher insists the favourable Christmas US release has more to do with its family themes than any year-end Oscar baiting). Is it really as radical a departure as it seems. "Yeah, probably," Fincher says. "It doesn't feel as radical to me in terms of some of the movies I've developed but I think for a lot of people it will be very different. Especially those people who associate me with being…"
Dark? "Hee hee hee. Yeah."
• Zodiac: The Director's Cut is released on DVD on 29 September. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will be released in the New Year
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