Obviously, the title is a bit sensationalistic, but I am referring to certain tendencies in both which allow them to make very good (if not great) films if the factors outside of their own direction allow it, but mediocre (or poor) films otherwise.
Both directors are or can be very precise visual stylists, and this, to me, seems like the defining element throughout their careers. With Alien and Blade Runner, the films most commonly cited as examples of Scott’s talent, the visuals enhance, and in certain places, overwhelm the story and ideas, but the movies as a whole work relatively well because of the substance that surround his visual stylings. Legend, his film after Blade Runner, however, was still visually stunning, and it followed the surreal logic of fairy tales well, but it lacked characters or characteristics worth examining.
Fincher’s films are similar in that they vary in quality, but he maintains very specific control over the image. Movies like Seven and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are not good (in my opinion), but the way that Fincher brings about the realization through his visuals makes them watchable, while his good films (Fight Club and, especially, Zodiac) share the visual acuity but have more appealing or interesting foundations upon which to build his aesthetic.
I do think that Fincher is a better overall director, taking into consideration more than just the images to a greater degree than Scott (at least according to the results), but I do wonder whether, as time goes on, Fincher will slide and—because he does not show universally good taste—though he may continue to produce good looking and occasionally interesting films, his movies will become increasingly forgettable in the same way that many of Ridley Scott’s are.
Does David Fincher have enough taste to avoid becoming irrelevant? Do his more easily identifiable common themes mean that even if he does no longer produce occasionally good/great films, he will never become a generic film maker to the same extent as Scott has arguably become?
Alien and Blade Runner are more ‘visionary’ than anything Fincher has done, including Seven, but Fincher is definitely more consistent.
Fincher is also much better with actors. I rarely, if ever, walk away from a Fincher film thinking i’ve watched a whole bunch of bad or mediocre performances, but i’ve felt that plenty of times with Scott.
Not sure how to answer your questions as Fincher is hardly my favourite director, but i think he is showing signs towards becoming more generic with Social Network and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s difficult to say though, as Fincher is the kind of director that tailors the ‘look’ of his films to the material, so perhaps it’s just the material that warranted that kind of approach?
having said that, does Fincher really have a visual signature? I understand that for years people attributed a kind of vague ‘dark’ look to his films, but i’m not convinced there is anything too specific about the way they look. but i know others have argued to the contrary on here so……
Dragon Tattoo is pretty good, but for the director of Seven and Zodiac, it was a much more standard serial killer film. I hope he’s not committed to the sequels because Fincher is an immense talent, who needs to challenge himself. With three great films (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac), one stinker (Benjamin Button) and the rest falling somewhere in between (most of which are very good); I think he’s already outdone Scott whose legacy rests on two great films (you know the two) and some solid turns like Thelma and Louise. It’s a pretty good comparison, but I’m optimistic that in 10 years, Fincher will have such a strong filmography that this question will no longer apply.
Yeah, Fincher>Scott, by far for me. Also Fincher isn’t the contemporary Scott imo, I think they’re pretty different.
Maybe something can be gleaned from Fincher’s list of favorite films? Maybe not, but here they are:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
All The Jazz
Lawrence of Arabia
All the Presidents Men
Days of Heaven
Year of Living Dangerously
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
So yeah, Alien’s on there – so there’s some Scott-influence goin’ on. But comparing the directors’ respective filmographies, I don’t see too many correlations.
I love them both, and I do agree that Blade Runner surpasses anything Fincher has made, but I think Fincher is one of the best filmmakers working today. Of his films, I’ve seen Fight Club (his only dud, IMO), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which was very good), Zodiac and The Social Network (which are both great). So I definitely think he’s getting better as his career progresses, and I can definitely see him making many great films in the future. And he certainly has a very distinct visual style, that much seems pretty inarguable at this point.
Ridley Scott is the contemporary Ridley Scott.
The only visual signature, so to speak, I can really make between Fincher’s films is a sort of posed grunginess. There is always a dirtiness in his films, including in the medium itself (I think of the car tracking shot at the start of Zodiac which looks cheap, in its way, like there’s something wrong with the recording medium, but it also looks deliberate, partially because of the constant pace of movement and specific placement of background and foreground). I agree that Fincher is much better with actors (in his consistency; possibly due to putting greater consideration into who he chooses than Scott, who, I suspect, at this point uses actors which can help the project get funding as opposed to who would be best) , and that is one of the aspects of Seven which, in my opinion, saves that movie from being unwatchable.
I, too, think Fincher is superior to Scott in general, though I do believe that Scott is talented—I just doubt that Scott has the taste in projects to ensure that his talents (which are primarily visually compositional, to my thinking) help to produce more worthwhile films. Certainly Blade Runner, specifically, is more “visionary” than what Fincher has done (I’m not sure I agree about Alien being so, except, perhaps, in what it provided relative to its time of release), but Fincher has not really tried to make anything as audacious as that (Fight Club, in a way, probably comes closest).
It is the matter of taste which, to me, brings to mind the potential comparison. Though Fincher has been more consistent—and his talents do extend outside of the realm of visuals enough to produce watchable films even though the material is not great, I still believe that Fincher is primarily concerned with how he places his images (though, maybe this is just me being superficial)—several of his projects have been questionable materially, saved only through his strengths (in a similar way that Legend and Gladiator, though they may be weak in many ways, are made watchable by the talent that Scott does possess), and this has happened enough throughout his career that I am given to ask whether it is the norm rather than a series of exceptions.
Now, I do recognize that Ridley Scott is still working (and I considered adding that as a caveat in the original post) and that the directors are not directly analogous, thus my “sensationalist” concession, but, especially because I very much appreciate some of Fincher’s films, I wonder whether the lack of taste I sometimes sense in his projects (if it actually exists; that is, if I am not confusing a use of low/middle brow ideas to explore personal themes with an inability to distinguish quality) and a possible loosening of the reins as he ages will result in a gradual but unavoidable decline in quality in a similar fashion as happened with Scott. I see some do not believe so; I am unsure.
Those are Fincher’s favorites? That’s the most jejune list of films I’ve ever seen. It looks like the list of a 15 year old who just discovered film.
There isn’t a damn thing in his films to suggest that he is a well rounded cinephile, regardless of what clowns like Assayas think.
Must admit that I feel a smug sense of satisfaction after seeing that list because it simply
Here are some of my thoughts on the topic. I think that Fincher’s great strength, among other things like his use of visuals and sound, is his sort of dark view of the world which we see in films like Fight Club (one of my favorite films), Seven, Zodiac and Panic Room. When he tries to make a film like Benjamin Button, it just doesn’t seem to work well and comes off as pretentious and not sincere. Or, maybe I should say, that a film like Benjamin Button doesn’t really deliver a light hearted type of film. As far as The Social Network goes, that film seems to just be a regular movie that maybe decent, but compared with what has come before, except for Alien 3, does not have that cynical view of the world. I think he sort of came back to that with Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I usually do not like remakes and prefer the foreign versions myself, but he made that film even better than the original. That’s just my opinion. He was consistent with things like having the whole film or at least maybe it was most of the film take place in winter, having the girl fight back when someone tries to steal her bag, rather than leave it with the thief who stole it and also is well done when she fakes her identity when she is traveling around Europe. As far as comparing the film to what had come before, it sort of works with the love story and the dark themes of murder, but still does not quite match up to what has come before. As far as Ridley Scott goes, Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I agree that he is not always consistent with the quality of his work, but he takes a lot of risks and is willing to try out different genres of film. Take Hannibal. It may not match up to Silence of the Lambs, but I think it’s going for a different kind of experience. Mainly, sort of a horror film mixed in with a bit of romance, relating to the story between Hannibal and Clarice on a certain level. I’ve also thought that Black Hawk Down was pretty good too. It happens to be the first film that Roger Ebert actually gave a thumbs up to for the first time for a Ridley Scott film. It has a very clear objective: Men down, got to go in and rescue fellow soldiers and it had a nice economy of story, telling it in a tight iron clad narrative. And yes, sometimes he can make some failures such as Legend, but one thing you can say about Scott is that a lot of his films are wonderful to look at. Alien is certainly, I would say one of the best sci-fi horror films you could see and it has very good tight editing. Sometimes, he can be a little sprawling with his films, but to some degree I don’t mind it. Such as the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It does go on a bit long, but technically and historically, it’s a pretty good record of the Crusades. Gladiator is a bit long and sags in some places like the failed rebellion of the slaves close to the end of the film, but it does have those entertaining fights between the gladiators. I know I’m missing some of the other films that Ridley Scott has made, but those came to my mind as I was typing this. Last, as far as comparing the two, both are known for heavily storyboarding their films. They are also directors who are perfectionists and will do as many takes as possible to get what they want on film. It maybe true that Fincher usually chooses some good actors, but Ridley Scott I think, for the most part, is not bad with that as well. I guess it just depends on the film.
I agree with many points in the OP, including comparing the two filmmakers. I liked this comment by A. Smith: I do think that Fincher is a better overall director, taking into consideration more than just the images to a greater degree than Scott (at least according to the results)…This explains much of the difference between the two, imo. Fincher can deal with ideas, themes and stories a lot better than R. Scott can, imo. People love Blade Runner, but it’s not that great of a film, imo, except for the set-design and visuals. Alien is the only film that comes to mind that had a good narrative that develops nicely. (I haven’t seen all of his films, especially his earlier ones, though.)
I’m so glad to hear others being underwhelmed by Blade Runner. I’ve always wondered why I didn’t get all the hoopla. I saw it years ago and found it utterly mediocre……and today I can’t remember a single frame of it.
i don’t even know u people anymore
I agree that both Ridley Scott and David Fincher’s defining talents are in their visual sensibilities and both seem to be perfectionists when it comes to mise-en-scene. I also agree that Fincher has established himself as a much better director. Whereas Ridley Scott started off strong and has since petered out, Fincher seems to be growing and evolving as a filmmaker. And that’s really what I see as what separates the two directors. Fincher started off as a strong genre filmmaker and has matured with more serious works over the past decade. I give Ridley Scott a lot of credit for trying to break out of the mold of a genre filmmaker by trying his hand with a variety of material. But he’s never made the leap with his more serious films; he doesn’t have a A Social Network or Zodiac in his filmmography and instead, his best films are ones that stay within a confined genre. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that but I just don’t think he’s been as successful at handling substance the way Fincher has.
As far as Fincher losing his touch, I think it’s inevitable to a certain extent but I’m not convinced he will devolve into being irrelevant. I mean, Se7en came out over 15 years ago and studios are still asking him to make dark thrillers like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And while I don’t think the film was all that special, it was certainly effective treatment of the material (which was severely lacking in the first place). And seeing his varying interests over the past couple years, I don’t think Fincher has allowed himself to be pigeon-holed. Indeed, his attachment to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Disney seemed a bit odd but gives credence to the argument that he’s looking to challenge himself as an artist.
Going back to Ridley Scott, I will agree with Joks though that Alien is a more visionary film than anything Fincher has ever done. And it’s certainly a film I would choose over any of Fincher’s films. However Zodiac is a much more mature, accomplished work than anything Ridley has ever done.
“Having said that, does Fincher really have a visual signature?”
It’s funny, I was just watching Alien 3 the other day and thought this exact thing. Even though it was his first film, the look is pure Fincher. Watch that movie again, particularly the compositions and camera angles – it’s so reminiscent of mid-to-late 90s vibe. Compare it even to his music videos of that time, like Madonna’s Express Yourself and Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun. The camera is always low, looking up at it’s subjects, towering over us, dark and foreboding. What’s also fun is to see how he’s developed that aesthetic over the years – Alien 3, Se7en, The Game are grossly different from his more recent films in terms of lighting and color scheme (they’re a lot more nuanced and less “music-video-y”) yet they still contain that essential Fincher feel.
Going back to Ridley Scott, I will agree with Joks though that Alien is a more visionary film than anything Fincher has ever done. And it’s certainly a film I would choose over any of Fincher’s films.
Alien was really original—perhaps visionary. But I’m not sure I would choose it over some of Fincher’s best films.
However Zodiac is a much more mature, accomplished work than anything Ridley has ever done.
More than Alien?
“Alien was really original—perhaps visionary. But I’m not sure I would choose it over some of Fincher’s best films.”
It’s a tough call, for sure. I love Zodiac. I really do. And that’s why I think it’s a smarter film; a more thought-provoking film that takes the serial killer genre and flips it on it’s head. I can watch that movie over and over again and just be transfixed to the screen. But Alien is just soooo good! It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, it just tries to be the best in it’s genre – to the point that you could say it transcends it’s genre.
So it’s an impossible choice to decide between the two. Maybe ask me in 20 years and see where I stand.
I love Zodiac.
Uh, not the film I was thinking of, but whatever. ;)
As for Alien, I have a hard time judging the film because I knew so much about it before actually watching it. So the film didn’t really have much of an impact on me. But the concept of the alien is terrific—it’s probably one of the most interesting monsters in film. The suspense is also handled well (but, again, going into the film, I knew them well, so they were ruined).
“he camera is always low, looking up at it’s subjects, towering over us, dark and foreboding. What’s also fun is to see how he’s developed that aesthetic over the years – Alien 3, Se7en, The Game are grossly different from his more recent films in terms of lighting and color scheme (they’re a lot more nuanced and less “music-video-y”) yet they still contain that essential Fincher feel.”
Disagree, i think his last few films could have been directed by just about anyone.
Zodiac has that vaguely dark, vaguely distinctive feel of his mid to late 90’s work, but not enough to make it stand out. if it was directed by anyone other than Fincher i wouldn’t have said ‘my gosh, this bears such a striking resemblance to the films of David Fincher!!’
The reason Fincher will probably never be a brilliant film maker imo, and why he will never produce an Alien or Bladerunner, is because he lacks imagination, plain and simple. The guy is a dullard. There is nothing interesting about him(as a person). and that comes through in his films. I don’t share the same enthusiasm for his commentary tracks like you do Santino. He just bores me stiff.
However, by contemporary Hollywood standards he is a very good director.
I must also co-sign the pics that Ruby posted. there is an almost ridiculous amount of detail in that film, particularly in the overhead shots.
“However, by contemporary Hollywood standards he is a very good director.”
Well yes, I guess maybe I should qualify my statements by first saying that it’s all relative and that I’m strictly speaking in terms of contemporary Hollywood cinema. Fincher is far from my favorite filmmaker working today (I don’t think he’d even make my top 20) but in terms of working within the system, I’ve enjoyed many of the films he’s done.
I agree that Zodiac isn’t stylistically distinctive, nor The Social Network—although both are competently made films. (I think Ridley Scott seems to be the same way). But I think films like Fight Club, Se7en and The Game have a more distinctive look and feel—not to mention the interesting combination of existentialism and Hollywood filmmaking.
Anytime you’re interested, I’m willing to make a case for Se7en—and I would choose that one over Alien.
Santino: i’ve enjoyed all of Finchers films so far except for Benjamin Butthole. Even Girl With THe Dragon Tattoo was better than i expected, although it was too long for my taste.
JAZZ: I’m not that interested at the moment jazz. I’ll try and watch Seven again in the next year or so though :-)
That’s interesting because I think Zodiac is not only Fincher’s most impressive film visually but it’s also his most restrained.
Incidentally, to this day Savides’ use of digital photography in this film is unmatched.
I’m not that interested at the moment jazz. I’ll try and watch Seven again in the next year or so though :-)
No problem. I’ll be waiting. :) (Actually, you can see the thread about the ending of the film. Matt and I disagree and you can see our debate there—I basically lay out my reading of the film, which also explains why I think it’s a great film.)
Maybe this is correct, but it doesn’t seem to be stylistically distinctive—as in, you know it’s a Fincher film right a way. I also don’t think it’s as good as many people think (top 10 film of the decade). To this day, despite the long conversation we had about the film, I’m still not sure why people love that film (although, to be fair, I have a slightly better idea).
“, to this day Savides’ use of digital photography in this film is unmatched.”
Big call. Can’t say i agree BUT it is a very well photographed film, i’ll admit that!!
What’s the swipe at Assayas about though? All I could find was the IFC talk where he champions Zodiac as an untypical Fincher film, seemingly perplexed that it was made by the same guy who made Se7en. Has he argued for Fincher’s cinephilia/auteurism somewhere else?
I have not seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so I can’t comment on that, but Zodiac, in particular, I can not completely agree that it might have been directed by just any capable director. This is not necessarily because the individual pieces are distinctly Fincher, but because the film, as a whole, is consistently Fincher. It is consistently dark and dirty, even during the day scenes; the environments are consistently threatening, even when things are supposed to be safe; the film is consistently precise in many of the ways that he tends to frame things.
I can not say, for lack of knowledge, that another film maker with as much control and a similar eye might not make the same movie with the same material, but I think such a person would be difficult to find (and they would likely cite Fincher as one of their inspirations).
About The Social Network, I don’t know. I thought it was very good, but I thought the best things about it were its structure and the acting. It seemed less outwardly showy than Fincher’s other films when I saw it, and I can perhaps see it being filmed by another film maker, except that it does have a certain sterility that, though it is not unique to Fincher, is indicative of him)
I suppose my original question arose because I was speaking to someone about Prometheus, and they were expressing disappointment over it. My confusion over this, going back to the slow build of internet enthusiasm, is how anyone was able to get overly excited over the movie anyway, given Scott’s output (I know some, Santino, for example, did express reservations about the movie, but many people who would normally know better were genuinely excited).
Now, I do think that Scott is still talented, but it seems to me that he is now, a, entrenched in the decades-old way of thinking about blockbusters and, b, just not savvy or persistent enough to use his talent for projects which have a quality beyond what he can provide them. Meanwhile, Fincher has proven better able to handle bad material (even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had some good aspects to it, to my recollection), but he has not shown himself to be above making poor choices in material (his connection to 20,000 Leagues being a potential example, though, obviously, we won’t know how he would have handled that). From the general excitement over Prometheus, and thinking about Scott, my mind made the leap to Fincher for their similar strengths and weaknesses.
At the same time, I suspect Joks claim about Fincher lacking imagination, while I don’t agree with it, bears a great deal of truth in that he seems to be much more rigid than e.g. Scott. And while this may preclude him from ever making something like Blade Runner (which, though I don’t think it is as cohesively strong as Zodiac, on an aesthetic level it is miles ahead, and though I don’t appreciate the actual viewing of the film while I’m viewing it as much as Zodiac, I do appreciate thinking about the movie more in retrospect, and find it sticks with me for longer, though Zodiac is more intensely intriguing and exciting to consider during and immediately after viewing it), it does, I suppose, mean that he will probably continue to be more consistent.
As for Se7en, I will probably read your defense, “Jazzaloha,”http://mubi.com/users/29114 when you present it because, though it was well composed from a directing point of view (visuals, acting, editing), the characters, dialogue and story seemed trite and relatively pointless to me. I have only seen it once, however, but that is all that I care to see it for the time being.
“but Zodiac, in particular, I can not completely agree that it might have been directed by just any capable director. This is not necessarily because the individual pieces are distinctly Fincher, but because the film, as a whole, is consistently Fincher. It is consistently dark and dirty, even during the day scenes; the environments are consistently threatening, even when things are supposed to be safe; the film is consistently precise in many of the ways that he tends to frame things.”
I don’t think any capable director could have made the film as a whole, but i just don’t see what is especially distinctive about the way it looks. I never said it was a badly, or even an ordinarily, made film. It’s very well done.
My point is that Fincher is more of a craftsman than a bonafide auteur. That doesn’t make him ‘less’, but to me it does make him less interesting. I tend to favour auteurs, especially more obvious ones. If you have to work really hard to see what is distinctive about a film maker, then it’s probably not all that great or distinctive to begin with.
All my favourite directors have instantly recognisable styles. or if at least not instant, close to being so!!
REPEAT: it was a cheap throwaway line, i’ll admit that, but i can’t stand Assayas and was looking for an excuse to bash him i guess ;-)
While certain scenes, to me, do have a specific Fincher quality—the basement scene, for example, and the (obvious) Transamerica Pyramid Timelapse, with both, were I to see them disconnected from my knowledge that he directed the movie, I believe I would, at least, suspect that he influenced them—I believe I do see what you are saying.
I’m not sure I agree, but I’m also not sure I’m qualified to disagree.
@joks Ok, that’s what I figured :D BTW there’s an interesting article in the last issue of Cahiers, arguing along your lines – that Fincher is a technician, making films that are neither born from or aim at cinephilia, but on the contrary are born from and aiming at a “geek” audience. The writer even goes as far as to say that the internet crowd has elevated him to “grand cineaste” status because he’s made two films whose protagonists they can relate to (Social Network and Dragon Tattoo). Ouch! (I haven’t seen either film yet so I don’t have a personal opinion on this, but the article is worth a look for those who can read French)
edit: that’s CdC #678 (May ’12) if anyone wants to look it up