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February 27, 2007

Fincher Envy

Paramount sent out a pretty neat promotional item last week: an exact replica of one of the greeting cards the Zodiac Killer mailed to journalist Paul Avery in 1970.

zodiac.jpg

Avery is played by Robert Downey, Jr. in David Fincher's Zodiac, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm a pretty big David Fincher fan (although the fact that I think Panic Room is his best film probably puts me at odds with his other devotees). He's a brilliant crafstman, and while he's not a writer-director, he seems to take the time to find scripts that will not only be well served by his mathematical precision, but are worth what he's capable of bringing to them. He's a stylist, yes, but unlike other stylists such as, say, DePalma, whose films proceed on a shot-by-dynamic-shot basis, Fincher's aesthetic is one of narrative kinesis; his work is full of invisible set pieces, invisible because they've been manufactured to flow perfectly to and from whatever precedes and proceeds them. He combines the pefectly articulated structure of Hitchcock with the painstaking finesse of Kubrick, planning his films down to the very last frame, and they represent (among other things) an element of filmmaking that I'm pretty terrible at: preparation. I'm a sort of accidental perfectionist; I never know exactly what I'm looking for, but I keep going until I get it. Fincher keeps going, too, but towards a different end; he's looking for a shot that's already been conceived, storyboarded, pre-visualized and designed to a hilt.

But what's interesting about Zodiac is that he seems to be a little tired of that method. From a great New York Times story last week:

On Panic Room he grew frustrated with his process — detailed storyboarding and previsualization to diagram a movie shot-by-shot — because it left little room for discovery, Mr. Fincher said. “It just felt wrong, like I didn’t get the most out of the actors, because I was so rigid in my thinking,” he said. “I was kind of impatiently waiting for everybody to get where I’d already been a year and a half ago."

I'm really interested in seeing how he marries that perfectionist streak with a less structured process. I'm seeing the film in a few hours, and I'll amend this post a little later with my thoughts.

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In short, for now, the film is pretty amazing; a procedural game of hop-scotch across hours, weeks, years, decades. Fincher uses exactly two transitional tricks (one of which is a stunning time lapse sequence showing the constructino of the Transamerica Pyramid) to bridge a few gaps in time, but by and large, the most overt example of his newfound restraint is in his use of the most traditional tool at a filmmaker's disposal: he cuts.

Posted by David Lowery at February 27, 2007 1:32 PM