Josh, I totally get what you’re saying here. Personally, I wouldn’t put Fincher on the same level as Bergman either. Then again, there’s maybe four other filmmakers in the history of film that I would put up with Bergman anyway. But the mistake in my opinion comes in looking at that as failure on Fincher’s part. Only in movies (and theatre) do we do this. You wouldn’t lambaste Rembrandt for not painting like Picasso. Rembrandt did what he wanted to do, while Picasso did what he wanted to do. Each has their own merits relative to what they were trying to accomplish. Same with directors of film.
To me, Bergman was trying to uncover and reveal deep emotional truths about humanity as a whole. He was literally trying to figure out why we behave the way we do. He was trying to decipher our place in the universe and our relation to God, and does God even exist, and who does this God fellow think he is anyway? Big stuff.
Fincher ain’t doing that. It doesn’t make him less successful as an artist at all. It means he’s concerned with other things entirely. No one would disagree with John Ford being called an artist except John Ford himself, who probably would punch you in the face for doing so. Fincher is an auteur, fo’ sho. His films contain a sense of authorship. He’s concerned with identity and conformity, urban decay both physical and psychological. He’s an artist, pure and simple. He’s not Picasso. Heck, he’s not Rembrandt. He’s more like Gainsborough. Still, not bad.
“To me, Bergman was trying to uncover and reveal deep emotional truths about humanity as a whole. He was literally trying to figure out why we behave the way we do. He was trying to decipher our place in the universe and our relation to God, and does God even exist, and who does this God fellow think he is anyway? Big stuff.”
you just described “seven”!
There’s been a lot of slippage of meaning of the term over the years, which I think causes a lot of the confusion. An auteur is simply a director whose work is examined from an auteurist perspective.
You can’t penalize Fincher for being mid-career.
Bergman’s first five films:
Det regnar på vår kärlek
Skepp till India land
Musik i mörker
Fincher’s first five films:
You wouldn’t take Fincher’s first six over Bergman’s?
Jeremy: Here’s the deal, though: I don’t think Fincher is bad, or a failure, but that he doesn’t seem to aspire to the kinds of things I think make ‘great films’ great. Again, for me.
Notice the words ‘seem’ and ‘for me’. This is me repeating my acknowledgement of the subjectivity of all this, and my potential for ignorance—but I still ain’t backin off my premise.
Matt: Great point, and I’m absolutely looking forward to Fincher growing and making truly great films. I would point to Darren Aronofsky’s first few films as being more in line with my idea of great.
I don’t know that I disagree with you about Aronofsky, Josh. That would be kinda a tough call for me, but maybe I’d take Aronofsky too . For the record, excluding shorts, his four films:
Requiem for a Dream
Matt I don’t find that comparison completely fair. I would say it is more fair to use years. Fincher has been making films for 16 years. In Bergman’s first 16 years he made Crisis to Winter Light, so yes I would prefer Bergman.
Yeah, Drew, any criteria for comparison between the two are going to ultimately going to be pretty flimsy at this time . . . which is part of the point I was trying to make originally. In terms of a 16 year span, Fincher’s working in Hollywood with big budgets and all the logistical baggage that comes with it. Bergman was working in Sweden with relatively small budgets and a fairly stable company of actors, so that’s not really apples to apples either.
I would completely pick Bergman. He didn’t just delve into the questions about god and humanity, but in each film he took a very personal part of him and transfered it to the screen. Each of his movies asked a question that the previous one didn’t cover, and I hardly feel that Fincher’s films share this intamacy. Also Bergman had an upper hand because he wrote most of his own scripts.
(Bergman being the apple in this instance)
“an auteur isnt your favorite filmmaker who you think is better than someone else.”
hahaha – I love this, Bobby!
Something that has always bothered me about Fincher is that he has so little involvement in the scripts of his films. There are plenty of directors who don’t write and direct but many have partial script credit or send the writer back to rewrite until they are satisfied. I don’t feel that Fincher does any of that.
What gives you the impression that Fincher isn’t involved with the screenplays of his films. Drew?
I might be wrong but I have never heard of him working a lot with the writer. For example I know Aronofsky put Robert Smigel through hell while writing The Wrestler. Smigel wrote somewhere around 50 drafts. You never hear things like this about Fincher, but maybe they just aren’t publicized.
Also I don’t believe Eric Roth had more than 3 rewrites for Benjamin Button.
I think it’s impossible to quantify or exactly know what involvement Fincher, or any director for that matter, has with the script. Every director tinkers with the script unless it’s Mamet or Shakespeare and most of the time, this work goes unnoticed or uncredited. WGA rules are pretty strict regarding screenplay credit even though the idea of only one person being completely involved in the script of a theatrically released film is almost ludicrious. Many directors work as script doctors to fine tune a script to their liking and knowing Fincher’s controling personality, I would expect he would be involved in some respect.
Ya, Fredo, I guess you’re right. Maybe I came to this conclusion because most directors who don’t write, at least wrote their first film, and Fincher has never written anything.
I don’t know the whole story obviously, but Roth was not the first writer to work on the Benjamin Button screenplay. Robin Swicord wrote a draft prior to Roth getting involved (that’s way Swicord got the “story” credit), which was basically discarded and Roth started from scratch.
Regarding the actual screenplay Roth wrote, According to Roth, Fincher “pretty much stuck with what was the architecture of it, yeah. I mean, what the blueprint was. Things changed in kind, I guess. In other words we would emphasize some things I didn’t emphasize the same way. I can’t remember what any more to be honest with you. We talked about, you know, you go page to page like any good director will do with a writer and say what did you intend here, why did you do it this way? And sometimes you know, sometimes it’s just instinct and you try to explain it so they can understand it. He’ll say is there a way to look at it this way? And we’d argue that out in a good creative conversation and that went on for a long time. You know, in other words that’s what you do.”
Not sure if this is the kind of thing you had in mind. Fincher was also definately involved in the decision to relocate the story from Baltimore to New Orleans.
The Aronofsky thin may be a little different. It’s was Siegal’s first major screenplay, so he probably needed more revision than did Roth, a very well established screenwriter.
Matt, Thanks for the information. My guess was also based off an interview with Roth where he said he didn’t do rewrites. Maybe he was just kidding. haha
Drew, I honestly don’t know how involved Fincher is with the screenplay from film to film. Clearly he has some input, but he comes from a primarily visual background (visual effects, tv commercials, music videos), so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he focuses more on the visuals of his films,
Bobby Wise, you should be careful before you make a sweeping statement like “none of you know what auteur means.” Umm… dude, I know exactly what it means, which is why David Fincher isn’t an auteur. You are right about one thing, “auteur” doesn’t necessarily denote a certain level or quality. So what does “auteur” mean exactly? It means more than just an “author” by the way. An auteur is someone who not only has a distinct, unique, and personal artistic vision but who also exercises nearly complete creative control and is involved in every aspect of the process. Ed Wood, who some say is the worst filmmaker ever to have lived, is an auteur by this definition. David Fincher is not. Sorry. Auteurship is not about quality, but about the filmmaking process, and the way something like “Benjamin Button” was made doesn’t qualify its nominal author (I say nominal for obvious reasons) to be an auteur. His movie’s marketing and CGI teams have budgets and staff members that dwarf those of other true “auteurs.” You guys actually think that David Fincher had anything resembling complete creative control over “Benjamin Button?” Movies like that are the very antithesis of what auteurship is about.
And again, Bobby Wise, it’s hardly about extolling the virtues of Fellini, Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Godard over and over again. Do you know that one of the very first films theauteurs.com started promoting was “The Housemaid” by Kim Ki-young. Well, I’ve watched 5 other films by this incredible South Korean filmmaker with a singular imaginative oeuvre and the man is mentioned almost nowhere on the internet. That’s what theauteurs.com should really be about. I mean, sure discuss Fincher all you want, no one can stop you. But what is really the point when there are gazillions of other forums to do that. I mean, why not extricate yourself from what is essentially slightly-better-than-standard-mainstream-fare and explore the works of true auteur like Kim Ki-young or Angelopoulos or Bela Tarr?
“His movie’s marketing and CGI teams have budgets and staff members that dwarf those of other true “auteurs.” You guys actually think that David Fincher had anything resembling complete creative control over “Benjamin Button?” Movies like that are the very antithesis of what auteurship is about.”
By that logic, Hitchcock isn’t an auteur based on the films he made for Selznick.
Blue Kim—How is it you know that Fincher doesn’t know the people on his production team? It seems to me that he is involved with every level of the filmmaking process and does have final cut on his films. Where are you getting your info?
I agree that this site should champion the works of lesser known directors, like Tarr (who I’ve only recently discovered myself and love) but I don’t believe in ignoring an artist just because he works in the “mainstream.” Talent is talent regardless of one’s position within the the system.
Yeah, I’m with Jason and Matt – if you know anything about Fincher the man, he’s very much a controling perfectionist in the vain of Michael Mann and Stanley Kubrick. Especially after what happened to him on Alien 3, he’s made sure he has a lot of control on his films. I’m not saying he is an “auteur” (I think the whole idea of the term is pedestrian and has nothing do with actual filmmaking) but he certainly is the guy in charge. If you don’t believe me, just as Darius Khondji. And I don’t know if he has final cut on his films (as this is rare for anyone) but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.
Umm, Hitchcock had a fraction of the number of people who worked on “Benjamin Button.” Please. Yes, he had a huge production staff by the standards of the day, but it’s tiny compared to the staffs of these mutil-gazillion dollar blockbusters like today. And sure, I don’t know with 100% certainty that Fincher doesn’t know everyone who works on “his” movie. It’s just a reasonable guess since an innumerable number of people gets involved on such movies. Anyway, go ahead, have your discussions about one of the most talked about directors in the world, lol. The poor guy doesn’t get enough attention. Boohoo.
Genre directors are usually given the shorter end of the stick than someone like Bergman who just creates dramas without genre trappings. This is just as true of a real genius like Sam Fuller; many people still can’t see the existential seriousness of his themes because they come wrapped in genre.
Fincher is for me not in the same league as Fuller. I think maybe Button has gotten so much attention because it seems like Fincher is trying to move away from genre. The reason why the “big questions” about God and good and evil and man’s place in the universe seem muted or less intelligent in a film like Seven is because, again, serial killer movies have their own “formula” which automatically takes over the way you watch the film.
It’s kind of like the banana in a banana split — the intellectual component of Fincher and other genre directors. You know it’s in there and you know it’s nutritionally the “best part” of the meal, but it’s hard to pay close attention to it with all that chocolate sauce and ice cream and whipped cream.
I’m not sure I’d label Fincher as a genre director per se but I think that even if he were that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a director. I love genre pictures – Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon are two of my favorite films and they’re genre flicks. Does that mean Wilder and Huston can’t be put on the same pedestal as Bergman? God I hope not. I mean, I know how people like to classify people like Bergman and Godard as almost messianic figures but let’s try to control ourselves. We are after all, just talking about movies.
Hitchcock made Rebecca nearly 70 years ago and obviously didn’t have to contend with CGI effects, etc. Do you really think that this alone means Hitchcock had more control over his films than does Fincher? The point of the comparison was that Hitchcock was, at least early in his career in Hollywood, constantly struggling with Selznick and others for control of his films. He wasn’t handed the laurels of absolute authority fresh off the boat from England.
Matt – you are exactly right. Anyone who thinks Hitch had absolute control over all his films should read about what happened on Suspicion.
And if the measure is of whether a director knows everybody on the crew’s name, I can assure you Hitchcock did not.
Yeah, even Hitchcock had an Alien 3 (or two).
Found this in an NY Times piece about Zodiac:
Mr. Fincher said he wanted Mr. Vanderbilt to overhaul the script, but wanted first to dig into the original police sources. So director, writer and producer spent months interviewing witnesses, investigators and the case’s only two surviving victims, and poring over reams of documents.
“I said I won’t use anything in this book that we don’t have a police report for,” Mr. Fincher said. “There’s an enormous amount of hearsay in any circumstantial case, and I wanted to look some of these people in the eye and see if I believed them. It was an extremely difficult thing to make a movie that posthumously convicts somebody.”
Mr. Graysmith said Mr. Fincher’s team found evidence that investigators had missed. “He outdid the police,” Mr. Graysmith said. “My hat’s off to them.”
Well, I’m only so-so on Bergman, but if you compare Seven and Hour of the Wolf, the relatively formulaic genre constructions of Fincher become more evident. In both films there are violent murders — in Seven, you don’t see the murders so much as you get the reactions of the detectives. That’s a kind of filter — the detectives’ conscience-stricken pain substitutes for ours and prods our human empathy. In Hour of the Wolf Bergman shows you the killings in gruesome detail, making you think about what it really takes to commit such acts. And there is no adequate response to the acts within the film itself. Liv Ulmann, the survivor, can’t even bring herself to explain how she feels, she’s so numb and traumatized, too frightened to even say the world is wrong. And that somehow becomes much more frightening for us, because we feel her devastation.
Genre — as practiced in Seven — offers points of reassurance, usually, all along the way, even when the subject matter is very disturbing. There’s usually a focal point of sanity or goodness, and the characters get to purge their negative emotions (again, allowing us to do the same through them). Not like Hour of the Wolf or Salo or even Inland Empire, where the style of the films is as alienated as the subject matter.