David Fincher, Fight Club Provoke Again

Today, let’s discuss a watercooler-worthy quote from director David Fincher, who was talking up his thriller Gone Girl in this interview with Screen Daily*, but took a detour to discuss how his wildly provocative 1999 movie Fight Club—a movie I’ve grown to love and now feel probably has as much cultural cachet as Network—positively stymied the marketers responsible for promoting it. Fincher expressed unhappiness that his movie was thought to be too idiosyncratic to commercialize, and said this:


“People go to the movies to see things they haven’t seen before. Call me a radical.”– David Fincher

Bathing themselves in stereotype-driven cynicism (at least that’s my interpretation), the folks in charge of coming up with the ad campaign to promote Fincher’s smart, funny, and brutal filming of the satirical Chuck Palahniuk novel decided that since “Shirtless Brad Pitt” didn’t appeal to (straight) men, and “Bloody Brad Pitt” wouldn’t appeal to women…the inescapable conclusion was that nobody would want to see the film.

Do you see what’s wrong with that line of thinking? Go back and look at that argument again.

Do you see it yet? Tick, tock. Now? Do you see it now? I’m sure we might be able to deploy some elementary logic equation here, but I have sadly forgotten all that from school except for the intuitive skill set that comes into play whenever the occasion requires the use of some well-cultivated, green-blooded thinking.

OK, for those of you who may not already be there:

Apart from the insultingly reductive estimation of the material, there is a blindingly obvious weakness to that marketing assessment we can illustrate with a simple thought experiment. Using the studio marketers’ terse statements of demographic certainty, let’s switch who’s supposed to enjoy “shirtless” and who’s supposed to enjoy “bloody” Brad Pitt. Now: Can we see how “Shirtless Brad Pitt” would really appeal to women, and “Bloody Brad Pitt” might really appeal to men? And can we now see how, based on that neatly rearranged line of reasoning, we might reach the equally inescapable (and yes, equally invalid) conclusion that everybody would want to see Fight Club?

Not that I want to take this conversation too deeply into the “creatives vs. marketing” rhetorical thicket, because the basic assumptions behind those debates are familiar and tiresome, and given sincere desires for success from either side of that collaboration, it’s more than fair to say creative people have their points, and marketing people have their points.

No, it’s that particular statement by Fincher that got me thinking big-time about whether or not it’s “true” that “people go to the movies to see things they haven’t seen before.”


The other weekend, the lure of the new seduced me enough to make the couple-hours’ drive from Philly to Washington, D.C. to see new movies inside a new theater. I was looking for a place to check out the much-talked-about German movie Wetlands (about a young woman’s highly unconventional sex drive and the incredibly weird/gross/painful situations she gets herself into as a result); one choice would have sent me right to my city’s most prominent arthouse chain, but I had a jones to get out of Dodge, so I chose instead to visit the Angelika Pop-Up Film at Union Market, open since mid-June.

This intimate, three-screen extension of the famous Angelika Film Center is reportedly serving as a temporary setup prior to the eventual establishment of a full-scale Angelika outpost in the nation’s capital. This is a snazzy theater; I liked the place so much I stayed late to watch the political documentary Pay 2 Play.

(For the record: I loved Wetlands, though it’s indeed so much in the tradition of “WTF Movies” I just don’t know very many people I’d be comfortable encouraging to see it; I disliked Pay 2 Play, a lefty doc whose politics were actually in concert with mine; I found it to be as smug, self-congratulatory, and, at times, as hypocritical as any right-wing filmmaking hackery I have despised in the past.)

That arresting eyeball graphic on the Angelika building’s exterior, for whatever reason, brought to mind an observation Werner Herzog made in the amusing and inspiring Les Blank short, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe:


“We lack adequate images, our civilization doesn’t have adequate images. And I think our civilization is doomed, is gonna die out like dinosaurs if it does not develop an adequate language or adequate images.”

Herzog and Fincher seem to be on the same page, to the extent that a healthy cinema culture depends on the search for the previously unseen that is urgently required (Herzog), and—lucky us!—a desire already intrinsic to our basic activity as moviegoers (Fincher).

Once more, before closing:

“People go to the movies to see things they haven’t seen before.”

Is that true? Was it true once, and not now? Is it more or less true for the people going to the movie theater to watch movies vs. the people now mostly sitting at home watching their TVs and building their home video collections? Who has the true thirst for the new, and who clings tightly to the familiar?

And why?

*A Tip of the Hat to Movie City News, an almost-daily destination for me, where I first read the Fincher quote that led me down the path to today’s post.