A Dreamer Walking

Charlie Chaplin- An Observation- Devotion to Perfection

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 2, 2011

How could  a man with a fourth grade education, who was raised in the slums, with a father who deserted him, and a mother who went mad, become one of the greatest stars in the history of cinema? Might those hardships be why he became such a great star? Charlie Chaplin was one who demanded an audience. His insecurities drove him to perfect his art form. He wanted the audience to feel for him, to love him. Every movement he made in his films was calculated. Chaplin wanted to control everything on screen. He obsessed on small things like the art of lifting a flower and the exact way the Tramp needed to have his hat tilted. He shot scenes hundreds of times- until the actions in his films flowed like water on smooth rock. Perfection is what Chaplin wanted and it is what he got. Movies like The Gold Rush, Modern Times, and City Lights represent film at  it’s height. They got there because the artist behind them would have nothing less.

Chaplin did not go to film school. He needed to learn on the job. You can see Chaplin learning the techniques of filmmaking through his shorts and early full length features. Slowly Chaplin began to understand the value of a long shot verses a close up. The value of camera movement and invisible cuts. Every day he arrived on set he was in search of a way to tell his story better. Chaplin never knew exactly what he was going to do. He wanted his films to have an organic flow. No matter how funny the gag might be it would be cut if it didn’t make sense to Chaplin and contribute to the story. I have said before, Chaplin’s crew all agreed that if he could Chaplin would cast himself for every character in his films. His crew needed to deal with a relentless amount of scrutiny. He acted out exactly what he wanted his actors to do. If you didn’t do it perfectly you would be in for a long day. Back in the 1910’s through the 1930’s Chaplin would consistently do twenty plus takes when the common Hollywood filmmaker would do three to five.

Chaplin’s classic The Circus was originated from an idea Chaplin had of a man on a tightrope running into several unforeseen obstacles in the middle of his act. The whole rest of the movie was developed from this idea. Chaplin spent months training on the tightrope so he could be prepared for the scene. When it came to actually shooting the scene he shot over seven hundred takes trying to perfect the act. The scene now is a classic in cinema. Chaplin keeps topping himself in it. First he loses his safety harness. Then he has a bunch of monkey’s attack him. He holds us in suspense while he weaves back and forth barely managing to stop himself from falling with his balancing stick. Then his pants fall off, yet still he somehow maintains control. All the while Chaplin gives us some extremely dynamic shots- showing the distance he is from the ground and the frightening perspective the audience has watching him at such a great height. Finally Chaplin tops it all with the greatest banana gag in the history of film when he trips on a peel that one of the monkey’s threw on the rope. It took months to perfect but the result was a flawless performance.

Ideas didn’t come easily to Chaplin. When asked how one gets ideas Chaplin said, “By sheer perseverance to the point of madness”. Chaplin’s unbelievable drive is what created classic scenes like the Tramp on the tightrope in The Circus, the Tramp seeing the blind woman for the first time in City Lights, and Chaplin making his great speech at the end of The Great Dictator. All these scenes have lasted and will continue to last through the ages. Why? Because every movement made in the The Circus and City Lights scenes were pure entertainment leading to a perfect climax, and every word said in The Great Dictator speech rang true to the heart of humanity. Chaplin’s perseverance to the point of madness is what allowed him to retake, refine, and rework his films in his quest for perfection.

Chaplin spent close to two years on most of his full length productions. This compared to the average Hollywood production, which was forty to fifty days, seems quite obsessive. Yet, Chaplin has just as many classics as anyone in film History. Three of his films, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Gold Rush, made it to AFI’s (America Film Institute) top 100 American films of all time. Chaplin was a man with many insecurities and many imperfections. His personal life for most of his filmmaking career was a mess. Yet, this imperfect man created several magnificent films. He told most of his stories with no duologue and hardly any sound. It was mainly through the visuals that he needed to communicate to his audience. So he dedicated himself to perfecting the visuals. And in many cases he did. He has brought a tear to my eye more then once. He created a character who started out as just a clown meant to make us laugh and slowly turned into a character who represented the essence of humanity. Chaplin wanted to speak to the yearning of the human heart. He always felt the need to do more. He had a grand vision for the art of storytelling and he would not settle for anything less then perfection.

Charlie Chaplin- An Observation- The Key to Comedy

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 6, 2011

You know if you threw all Charlie Chaplin’s gags into a montage you probably would be rolling on the floor laughing before it finished. However, many great gag artists filled the screens in the silent era. Critics credited Harold Lloyd  with just as much creativity in his gags as Chaplin. And, Buster Keaton in my opinion might have been better. Keaton did things that stuntmen these days wouldn’t do. The gag in and of itself didn’t make Chaplin stick out. Charlie was the best comedian of the silent era and one of the greatest comedians of all time because he was able to generate a huge amount of sympathy and affection for the gags he pulled off. Most of this sympathy and affection was directed toward the legendary character that he often portrayed, the Tramp.  The Tramp was not the everyman character Harold Lloyd tried to portray and he definitely wasn’t known to be a stone face like Buster Keaton. Chaplin’s character almost always was living on the edge just trying to survive. The Tramp drew immediate sympathy because he represented the poorest of the poor in our society. The childlike heart and the ability to wear his emotions on his sleeve is what won over our affection for the Tramp. Even in this generation, almost a hundred years since the Tramp first appeared on screen, few children or adults can avoid being entranced by the amiable smile the Tramp gives when trying to get out of trouble or the poignant image he creates when going through tough times.

Chaplin’s makeup and costume perfectly expresses the sympathetic character he wants to be to his audience. His face is perfectly framed with the dark eye shadow, centered mustache, and tilted hat. His costume is abstract, he wears over sized pants and shoes, and a too small hat and shirt. Even though he represents the poorest of the poor in our society, the Tramp tries to make himself look like an established gentlemen with the cane he carries, the ripped up gentlemens gloves he wears, and his black felt bowler hat. The Tramp creates for himself along with the unwavering optimism for life he has, attracts us to his character. We invest in the Tramp because he is both visually and emotionally appealing. When we are invested in the Tramp as a character we become all the more interested in the scenarios he gets himself into and the gags he is able to pull off.

Chaplin’s gags stand out because they often give us a greater understanding of who his Tramp character is. Gags like, the Tramp trying not to starve through eating his own shoe in the The Gold Rush or the Tramp trying to save the depressed rich man from suicide in City Lights, separate Chaplin from his peers. Even at the point of starvation the Tramp is still optimistic he will survive. He treats the shoe like an upper class dinner, taking it apart piece by piece until the man next to him becomes envious of how much Tramp enjoys himself. The irony that comes with a completely broke man- the Tramp, trying to convince a extremely rich man not commit suicide is funny in and of itself.

Chaplin found humor in more then how he could pull off a fall or sell a punch. Chaplin figured out you don’t need to be in danger to pull off a gag. Sometimes Chaplin found humor through completely changing our emotions in the middle of a scene. One of the Tramp’s greatest gags is in City Lights when he meets the blind flower girl for the first time. Chaplin first wins over our heart through creating sentiment with the revelation that the flower girl is blind. Then Chaplin goes a step further when his Tramp character, even though dirt poor, is willing to let the girl keep the extra money for the flower he just purchased. Not knowing the Tramp is still there the girl washes out her flower bowl while the Tramp simply gazes at her beauty. At the most romantic point of the scene Chaplin completely changes the scenario as the blind girl unknowingly throws a bunch of water into the Tramp’s face. Plenty of gags involve people getting splashed with water. The reason why this gag rises above is because of the way Chaplin sets it up. He created a sympathy and affection for the scene in general. We were completely involved with what was happening on screen, completly in love with both characters, before Chaplin went to the punchline.

Chaplin’s humor succeeds because it goes beyond just a good laugh. His humor gives us joy that warms our hearts. He created in the Tramp a character that represented a part of us all. We can relate to the low parts in the Tramp’s life and are encouraged and find joy in the Tramp’s optimism. In real life Charlie Chaplin was a multimillionaire. He owned his own studio, a huge mansion, and was one of the most famous men in the world. Yet, the real Charlie Chaplin was always struggling with insecurities. He was always deathly afraid of not being adored and he went through many marriages and even more affairs. I think Chaplin would even admit he was never as happy as the Tramp. The Tramp’s gags encouraged us and allowed us to realize that happiness does not come from money or fame. Rather, happiness comes from finding the light in the darkest of times and most stressful of situations. Chaplin’s key to great comedy was through not making the gag more important then the character or story he was telling. Gags can be repeated but there will never be a character like Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp again.

Pete Docter- An Observation- The Relationship

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 22, 2011

The relationship is what really counts for Pete Docter. The movies he makes are all about exploring different aspects of what it means to have a relationship with someone. He goes from exploring what it means to become friends in the original Toy Story, to what it means to be committed in a relationship in the movie Monsters Inc, to what it means to move on from a relationship after it ends in the movie UP.

Docter knows relationship is a key longing for all of us. We all want to have friends and most of us want to fall in love some day. Docter knows how relationships can strengthen us and give us fulfillment. However, Docter also knows relationship can be a hard, frustrating, and painful thing at times. His films ask the question to whether or not relationship is worth the struggles. Docter’s movies all have relationships we see unfold in everyday life and he brilliantly uses the fantasy part of his films to dig farther into the very real and relevant question of, “what does it mean to be in a relationship?”.

The first feature length film for Pete Docter was Toy Story. He was a co-writer and one of the lead animators for the movie. Toy Story deals with mainly two characters, Woody and Buzz. These guys are exact opposites of each other.  The main point of the film was to bring two opposites together. Visually the toys are shown to be opposites through Woody being a old cowboy doll and Buzz being a state of the art space toy. At first the characters hate each other. Woody lets his selfish relationship with his owner Andy get in the way of being open to anyone else. Only when Woody is willing to let go of his jealousy for Andy is he able to start to understand Buzz and build a relationship with him. Docter was in the middle of making this relationship work on screen. He actually helped animate the pivotal scene where Woody lets go of his ego and expresses how good Buzz actually is for someone like Andy. Through talking to Buzz, Woody realizes his greed and and is able to let go of it allowing him and Buzz to open up to each other. If this scene did not express Woody’s change well enough the whole story would have been ruined. Yet Docter allowed us into Woody’s soul and found a way to redeem him so not only Buzz but the whole audience could relate to him.

In Monster Inc, a movie Pete Docter helped write and made his debut directing, Docter goes even farther into what it means to have a relationship with someone. In this movie we are introduced to the characters Sully and Mike. Both are monsters whose profession is scaring little kids. They are best buddies at the beginning of the film, seemingly in a relationship that can’t be broken. So what does Docter do? He throws in something that begins to tear the relationship apart. A human child Sully calls  Boo somehow gets into the monster world. Children are considered by most monsters to be extremely dangerous but Sully begins to warm up to Boo. Mike can’t understand it, for most of the film he wants to do anything in order to get rid of the child. The tension between Mike and Sully rises to the point of them fighting and seemingly breaking up.

Pete Docter deals with a lot of issues that come with relationship in Monsters Inc. We can easily feel jealous when a good friend of ours begins to hang out with someone we are not friends with. What if my best friend is a conservative Christian and he sees me begin to hang out with a Muslim, someone he has been taught his whole life was dangerous? The same kind of idea applies to Monsters Inc. Sully choose to care for someone who everyone, including Mike, has been taught is dangerous. Mike could have let the relationship Sully had with Boo break up his relationship with Sully. Instead however Docter gives us another lesson to what being in a true relationship means. Relationship requires trust and Mike expresses this trust by going back to Sully. Mike explains the reasons he got angry at him, yet tells Sully that he is more important then his frustrations and fears. After trusting Sully and letting go of his fears Mike begins to understand Sully’ change of heart on who children really are. Eventually Mike begins to embrace Boo. This creates a even stronger relationship between the two monsters. We as the audience are also able to see more value in Sully’ and Mike’s relationship because we have seen it get tested and still hold strong.

In Docter’s latest film UP, we go deeper into the joys and pains of relationship. We are shown a beautiful relationship between the main protagonist Carl and his wife Ellie. The two grow old together in a wonderful montage at the beginning of the film. And then Ellie dies. The relationship we all began to care about is broken. Ellie becomes only a memory, a memory that at the beginning of the film brings Carl Down. After Ellie’s death Carl becomes a hermit who is stuck in the past. We see a old cranky man who is open to no one. Then Pete Docter throws in another element that will change Carl’s life forever. A boy named Russell knocks Carl’s door. He is a boy scout who needs to help the elderly in order to earn his last wilderness badge.

Pete Docter shows us the pain that can come with a relationship. The hurt we see Carl go through after his wife dies is hard to bear. However, through the fantastical elements of the story Docter slowly brings “relationship” back into Carl’s life. Carl wants to leave society and go on the adventure to Paradise Falls he always promised his wife they would go on. So Carl ties a few thousand balloons to his house and flies away. The only problem is Russell accidentally comes along with him.  Carl rebukes any relationship with Russell because he is still holding onto his past relationship with Ellie. Carl’s remembrance of Ellie is expressed visually through the house and all it’s possessions. Through half of the film Carl needs to pull the house with a hose line through out the South American jungle. Visually the house (Carl’s past) becomes this burden that Carl can’t let go of. His only goal is to bring himself and his house to Paradise Falls. However Russell along with a few friends they meet on their adventure begin to slowly connect with Carl. In very subtle ways Carl begins to let go of his burden and concentrate on the characters around him.

At the end Carl is faced with two choices, keep the items that connect him to the relationship he had with Ellie or go save Russell from the villain of the movie Charles F. Muntz. Charles chooses to let go of his past and save Russell. One of the brilliant things about UP is Docter forces Carl to get rid of his past in a visual way. Carl needs the house to fly again so he gets rid of all the houses possesions to make the house lighter and free it up. The scene represents exactly what is happening inside Carl. He is no longer letting his past stop him from being open to the present. Carl ends up watching his whole house fly away through the clouds. At the end he relizes Ellie will always be with him and she does not need to stop him from connecting to Russell or any other relationship. Both Russell and Carl represent broken relationships that come together to create a fulfilling one.

In a Spline Cast interview Pete Docter talked about relationship being the thing that really matters for the Pixar movies. This especially is true about Docter’s films. He is dedicated to searching out all aspects of what makes a relationship work. Docter truly believes in the power of relationship and because of the strength of his conviction his characters can convincingly break through any obstacle that get in their way. For Pete Docter filmmaking is not about creating a complex story line, it is about simple stories where we are able to see the relationship unfold. Docter keeps finding new ways to explore relationship on screen. He uses the magic of animation to further his exploration. The fantasy parts of his films are used as tools to further his points. I do not even think Docter cares too much about narrative. His films are not the most polished movies. Everything does not make complete sense in his films. However he connects us to his stories because he connects us to his characters. We like Pete Docter’s movies because we believe and relate to the relationships we see unfold on screen.

Tom Hooper- An Observation- No Glamour

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 28, 2011

Ever sense watching the movie The King’s Speech I have been fascinated with the director Tom Hooper. I felt his direction for The King’s Speech was marvelous. I thought he did a great job with building the relationship between the main characters King George VI (Colin Firth) and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Hooper also greatly fascinated me with the use of the camera. I loved how he was able to express the inner emotions of the characters through framing and camera movement. A good example would be a shot Hooper often had for King George. Most of the time when George sat down he only occupied the very bottom corner of the screen and we saw him usually through wider lens making George look even smaller in frame. These shots expressed perfectly how isolated and belittled King George felt because of his speech impediment. In the movie Hooper didn’t seem to be afraid of the close up, distorted shot, extreme upper or lower angles, or a crooked shot if it served his purpose.

Due to my admiration of The King’s Speech I chose to look up a few more of Hooper’s films. I was surprised to see Hooper, who I knew to be British, directed the John Adams series for HBO, since the series concentrated on the second president of the United States John Adams and the breaking away of America from British control. However after beginning to watch the series I thought to myself that Tom Hooper was a perfect choice for the director of the John Adams series. Hooper did not glamorize any of the early American history because he did not grow up idolizing it. The breaking away from Britain, the creation of the constitution, and the presidency of John Adams were all portrayed with a grit few movies show in the film business these days.

Tom Hooper brought an authenticity to the John Adams series. He did not feel the need to make the time period too romantic, glamorous, or idolized. The John Adams series was full of hurt, betrayal, and wrong turns. Hooper did little things for the series that I think made all the difference. For example, Hooper made it clear he wanted to see the teeth of every adult character be full of cavity and decay and the skin of the characters more scabby and rough, in order to stay more authentic to the time period. I must admit it was distracting at first. I looked at this legend, John Adams, and could not help but stare at his mouth full of black decay and at the scabs all around his face. I was use to Hollywood always trying to clean those small things up. In most movies about revolutionary events the good guys always look like a million bucks and the bad guys were the only ones with rotten teeth and scabs and warts all around their face.  Tom Hooper fought hard against those tendencies. He said in the making of John Adams he needed to constantly remind the prop and costume people to dirty everything up and resist making things look perfect.

Hooper explained his constant effort to distress things by saying, “Getting away from that romanticized vision of the American revolution allows you to experience the suspense more vitally.” After hearing this I realized one of the things I most liked about the John Adams series was the suspense. Not the “a bomb about to go off!”,  kind of suspense but rather the, “who is in the right and who is in the wrong?”, kind of suspense. I liked the fact I did not always know who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Later on Hooper explained the only reason why you romanticize or glamorize is because you know the outcome. He wanted to be in a world where he didn’t know who the great men were.

I personally do not think Hooper believes in the good guy vs. bad guy mentality we so often see in Hollywood film these days. I think Hooper realizes in order for the audience to understand the characters in his films he needs to stop glamorizing them and instead bring the characters down to reality, where we see them as human beings just like us. In the series John Adams Tom Hooper showed us a a more authentic John Adams, who made some wrong choices, held grudges, and threw temper tantrums. Hooper knew we as the audience could relate to those things. The flaws of the protagonist usually makes the good qualities shine all the greater.

Hooper brought the mindset he had on the John Adams series to The King’s Speech. He said one of the greatest problems he had with the first draft of the screenplay for the film was the writer portrayed King George VI as completely cured of his stammer at the end of the film. Hooper felt this was not true to the real King George VI. He indicated, in reality most people are not cured of disabilities but rather they find ways to cope with their disability. It is usually only in the movies we see situations where people are completely cured of a disability like a stammer. Because we know the stammer is still an issue for the King when he gives the speech at the end of the film there is more suspense, we do not know whether he will make it through the speech or not. We also have more admiration for the King when he ends up fighting through his disability to give the speech. We were able to relate to the King in a way we wouldn’t have if he did not struggle. He has flaws just like us and the end of the movie he does not find an absolute cure for those flaws but rather he gives us hope that we can be successful in spite of our flaws, just like the King.

Taking the glamour away from a situation might be thought of as a bad thing at first. Will people still come to our movie if we show them the real dirt and grime of this world? As filmmakers we have the tendency to want to make things look better then they really are, just like we do in real life. When we are out with our friends we do not want to show them our flaws. We usually clean up and make ourselves look like we have no problems going on in our lives. However, film is all about the drama and drama does not come out of perfection. If the main character has no flaws and always knows what to do, we will never fear for his safety. If the main character makes no mistakes we won’t be able to relate to him.

Hooper seems to know filmmaking is all about the imperfections. He really wants to take away the glamour of a time period and give the audience authenticity. It is in the flaws of a character, dirt on a costume, or wear of a set piece, that we are able to see the authenticity. Hooper knows we relate to sweat, dirt, and sores. He wants to put his actors into the environment of the time period they are portraying. He knows the elements, such as mud, rain, and heat, help do the acting for the actors. Hooper’s goal is not to express a bunch of characters who are above reproach. Rather his goal is to show us great people from our history, like John Adams and King George VI, are humans just like us. Hooper is not interested in expressing glamour he is interested in expressing truth.

David Fincher- An Observation- The “B” Movies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 25, 2011

The movies which I would consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room. Ironically both of these films have happy endings. There is nothing wrong with happy endings. However, in Fincher’s case there seemed to be no conviction behind the “happy ending”. The movies also happen to be the least critically successful movies Fincher has made up to this point. Both were basically considered entertaining “B” movies by critics.

Many critics probably would point to the unbelievability of The Game as the reason why it wasn’t a huge success. However, there are many movies that don’t make sense logically but still work. As I touched on in my last David Fincher post, the crucial part is to see the conviction behind the theme of the film. For a movie like It’s a Wonderful life, it does not make sense logically for the main character George Baily to run into an angel and go through life as though he was never born. However, because there was conviction behind the concept, we saw how the experience completely changed George Baily as a person and we were able to buy into the illogical concept. For The Game there seemed to be no conviction. There was just a bunch of illogical twists and turns without seeing any inner change in the main character.

Fincher seemed to be more interested in the suspense and twists of the film than he was in the arc of the main character, Nicholas (Micheal Douglas). He no doubt had fun working with the twists and suspense but in the end it was a movie he made to satisfy the audience, and there laid his greatest mistake. Fincher did not believe in the change of Nicholas, he just knew the audience wanted the character to change and have a “happy ending”. When you begin to stop relying on your own convictions and instead look to satisfy others, no matter who those others might be, you will fall flat and start to make a formulaic movie.

Both The Game and Panic Room were more like experimental films for Fincher. For The Game he wanted to see how far he could take the audience. How many twists can you make before something starts to not be believable? Some people totally bought into the many twists Fincher took the audience on. Some people, like myself, did not see the point and thus just did not care. But, I can guarantee you The Game helped prepare Fincher for his next movie Fight Club, where everything relied on Fincher getting the audience to buy into the big twist at the end of the movie.

Panic Room was more interesting to Fincher because of it’s barriers than it’s storyline. Fincher wanted to see if he could make an entire film in one location. Minus the very beginning of the film and very end, everything is shot in the house of the main character’s Meg and Sarah Altman (Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart). We see a tremendous display of set design, camera movements, and visual effects to make this one location keep us entertained all the way through the film. However, the goal for Panic Room just like The Game, went no farther than entertaining the audience with scenes full of suspense and action.

With Fincher there was no formal film school. He needed to learn through professional experience. He started out at Industrial Light and Magic as a teen and went on to do commercials and music video’s for people like Madonna and The Rolling Stones in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Fincher’s film school was the commercials and music video’s he worked on. It is no surprise he would continue the constant testing and learning process he used in his commercials and music videos and  also use it on some of his full length films. The Game and Panic Room are more accurately called experimental learning experiences than ambitious works of art. However, is a learning experience a good enough excuse for movies like The Game and Panic Room to be sub par or easily forgettable?

I have no problem with Fincher creating some average “B” movies because I can see how they have informed his other films. As I already pointed out, the sort of unbelievable twists we saw in The Game helped Fincher get ready for Fight Club. Working with limitations in Panic Room helped Fincher appreciate the great amount of locations he had at his disposal in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. However, at the end of the day the movies which will stick out and are appreciated from generation to generation are not the ones with tons of twists and special effects. There will always be movies with those kind of things. What makes a movie unique is the individuality of the artists behind the film. When we make a film to satisfy someone else we begin to lose individuality. When we make a film to satisfy our own convictions, we make something which can not be copied and is truly unique.

(Here are the links to the other three Fincher Observation Posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 3. A Cynical Man)

David Fincher- An Observation- A Cynical Man

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 17, 2011

Maybe Fincher’s cynicism started after his first full length film experience, where he basically got screwed by executive producers on  Alien 3 and reportedly “swore he would rather have colon cancer then direct another picture”. Actually, the only David Fincher movie I have not seen is Alien 3 but it is no secret the directing experience was not a good one for Fincher. Honestly I am not interested in how David became so cynical. Although Alien 3 did not help, I am sure it is not the only reason why David is cynical about this world. It is obvious when studying David Fincher what stands out probably more then anything else about him is his cynicism and how it is expressed through his movies.

There are so many places I can point to in order to express Fincher’s cynical view of this world. Like any good director Fincher creates his best work when he follows his convictions, no matter how cynical they might be. Se7en is a good place to start. Se7en was Fincher’s second full length film and in it we see a world consumed with filth and sin. The main characters, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt), both work in a profession where their job is to find the people who have committed the worst kind of crimes imaginable. They live in a world full of lies, violence, and murder. Fincher creates in Se7en a dark world where the screams of the city are never silenced and we are bore down by rain and darkness. At the end of Se7en it is not good that prevails but evil. The people who end up being right at the end are the old cop, who has all but given up on hoping the world will ever become better, and the serial killer, who does not think the world has any good left in it.

I consider Se7en to be one of David’s greatest films because I can see the conviction he had in the story he was telling. Every frame seemed to be supporting the theme of the film. I can understand why the old cop Somerset has given up on the world. I understand the serial killer John Doe’s explanation on how perverted it is to call anything in this world “innocent”. After about an hour of being immersed in the world of Se7en, the character who still believes in justice, Mr. Mills, starts to seem like the most naive person in the movie. Ironically at the end he is the one to express his naivety for what it really is.

Fincher’s career is full of cynical movies where we see some of the worst qualities of this world and humanity, prevail. His movie Fight Club, seems to give the finger to the concept of “The American Dream”. His movie Zodiac is full of frustrations and failures where we begin to think at the end nothing can be completely solved or brought to full resolution. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher gives us a love story that concentrates more on the loss love creates then its benefits. Even when the main characters finally get together the music is not relishing in the moment but rather leading the audience to think the moment will soon end, as it does. Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network, might be his most cynical film to date. The film is full of deception and betrayal. We are given three different points of view which all try to twist and change what everyone else is saying to make themselves look spotless. It is the ultimate tale of narcissism where each character is consumed with themselves, all in their own unique ways.

In the commentary on Se7en Fincher said, “I am so not interested in what people say. As far as I’m concerned language was invented so people could lie to one another”. This is a very important concept to understand about Fincher if you want to understand most of his movies. A movie like The Social Network, which is full of heavy dialogue, is all about the ways people say what they say and how they react to what is being said. Dialogue should never be taken at face value in a Fincher film. We are always seeing hidden motives and double standards. In Se7en we see detective Mills claim he believes in justice but betray himself at the end of the film. In Fight Club we see the main character express his need for fulfillment through possessions but get more depressed the more things he tries to hold onto. In The Social Network everyone has an agenda for why they say what they say. During the testimonies Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) says he was Mark’s (Jesse Eisenberg) only friend because he knew it would give him sympathy in the case. Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake) tries to convince Mark it is in his best interest to get rid of Eduardo because he knows he would become more important to Mark that way. Mark goes through the film making fun of final clubs because he wants to be in them. Mark tries to demean the other people’s contributions to Facebook because he wants to see himself as the site’s sole creator.

Thankfully there are only two movies of Fincher’s I would call formulaic. When he begins to go down the road of trying to satisfy the audience rather then himself, he runs into problems. The two movies I consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room, both of which ironically have a happy ending. The fact is Fincher relishes in the deceptiveness of humanity. He is at his best when concentrating on the cruelties of this world. “Happy Endings” at the moment just do not seem to be something Fincher really believes in.

In some ways I find Fincher’s situation to be a very sad place to be. I personally can not imagine finding much happiness in a view that hardly believed in the goodness of human nature. However, Fincher’s view I believe is more realistic of the times we live in. I also believe his point of view needs to be expressed. I am glad there is a David Fincher who is able to concentrate on how many of us are consumed with the evils of this world, so I do not have to.

Although movies like Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network are cynical at heart, I see glimpses of light. The creativity of Mark in The Social Network is inspiring. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an absolutely beautiful movie. The movie has characters that express to us some of the simple beauties of life. The freedom we see come to the members of Fight Club is also exciting and in some ways even hopeful.

Fincher’s movies make statements about society which are quite legitimate and worth conversation and debate. It is easy for me to learn from his films. He gives me motivation even through his darkest of movies, to be creative and push for what I want to show no matter what the world might think.

Fincher has had many battles with Hollywood studios and executives because of his cynical points of view. Typical Hollywood is just fine with the formulaic “happy ending”. Fincher has enough skill, he can create cliche’ stories that people will go in droves to see. I have yet to run across a movie of Fincher’s where I was bored. Fincher is an absolutely gifted filmmaker. He knows how to use the camera and the rest of the elements of cinema to create a stimulating picture. However, the movies which will last the longest are the ones which were the most risky for him to make. These days Fincher’s goal seems to be less and less about making the audiences and studios happy and more about following the convictions for what he thinks his films should be. For this I applaud him. His goal is not to make us feel safe. His goal is to have us realize the reality of evil in this world. He does not believe in a right side and wrong side. Fincher’s films are more about the grays of life. 

The most important thing for a filmmaker to have is conviction. The director needs to follow his heart. Fincher said several years ago in a Esquire interview conducted by Brian Mockenhaupt, “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s okay. I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not okay.”  This I believe shows exactly where Fincher’s heart is at the moment.  He said in the interview that he did not consider himself a cynic; just a realistic. His goal is to express to the world that even in Hollywood everything is not okay. “Entertainment has to come hand in hand with a little bit of medicine“, he says.

Fincher’s heart goes to some dark places. I can’t say I like all those dark places but at least they encourages me to think. At least his passion for what he does is something to look up to. I am far from being a cynical man, however that does not stop me from being inspired by David Fincher’s films. My greatest hope is for Fincher to keep on following his heart. And, maybe someday his heart might break from the depressing view of mankind and see something worth making a film about that gives us hope for the future… At least that is this optimist’s point of view of this brilliant cynic 😉

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 4. The “B” Movie)

David Fincher- An Observation- Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 24, 2011

One thing you have to admire about David Fincher’s directing style is his constant dedication to finding the meaning behind everything that is seen or heard on screen. It is why, as I talked about in my last Fincher Observation post, he so thoroughly explores his scenes. Fincher wants to talk about every little detail of his films with all the key crew he works with. Everything needs to have a reason behind it. The acting,  props, visual effects, composition, lighting, sound, and cutting all are in efforts for something greater.

For the movie The Social Network Fincher held a three week rehearsal session with some of his key actors and his screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. You would think there would be a lot of staging and going over lines in a rehearsal, not the case with Fincher. Andrew Garfield (key actor in The Social Network) said they only read over each scene once, the rest of the time was spent going into depth on what they thought of the story. Fincher debated with Aaron and the actors about every key movement and every key piece of dialogue.  Because the movie was so heavy in dialogue, the actors needed to know why they were saying what they were saying. Fincher said The Social Network was just as much about the reactions as it was about what was verbally being said. Fincher wanted to have a clear idea of what the characters thought of each other and how the dialogue and movement would enforce the meaning behind those things.

Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Social Network, talked about his first meeting with David Fincher. He said he was extremely nervous about meeting Fincher so he memorized about half the script in just a few days. He arrived to his meeting only to find out Fincher didn’t want to hear anything he had memorized. What Fincher wanted to talk about was what Jesse thought of his character and the overall story. They spent four hours just talking about the arc and qualities they saw in Jesse’ character and how they could best express those things visually on screen.

One key documentary to watch in order to observe David Fincher’s directing process would be the one and a half hour documentary on the making of The Social Network (here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). There are many people who do not understand why Fincher’s production time is so much longer then normal directors and why he makes his actors go about even the smallest of scenes several dozens times before moving on. One thing to realize is Fincher has a very precise idea of what he wants and thus he will work his actors and the rest of his crew until he gets it. Everything has a purpose for Fincher thus everything is scrutinized by him.

David once compared directing to painting. However, rather then being able to hold the brush and paint on the canvas himself he needs to rely on his crew to do the actual painting. He said to imagine the canvas as the size of a football field. Then he said to imagine the crew holding the brush while he stood several dozen yards away shouting out extremely specific directions. It is a long tedious process, but if done correctly he and the crew will create something that will last much longer then any one of them.

It is important for us all to know why we want to see what we want to see on screen. There are directors out there who are very talented in many areas of film. They know how to create excitement through camera moves and cutting. They know how to use special effects in order to give the audience an immediate thrill. However the excitement and thrill goes away quickly and the audience usually goes away unsatisfied because the directors had no meaning behind what they were showing on screen.

Fincher’s goal is not to make us feel happy all the way through the film. He doesn’t even like giving us happy endings in his films. In Fincher’s films there seems to be something that goes beyond the immediate  feeling of happy or sad. His films often have characters that provoke thought. His camera movements and special effects are often subtle but have a purpose. The relentless conversation and debate he has with his film crew is in order for him to figure out what the overall meaning of his film will be. As a director Fincher needs to know exactly what he wants so he can clearly express to his crew how they should handle the brush. His goal is to create something with meaning, which makes us think, and encourages us to come back again.

(Here is a link to my other Fincher Observation posts. 1.Exploring the Scene 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movies)

David Fincher- An Observation- Exploring the Scene

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 6, 2011

One of the directors I have chosen to study for this month is David Fincher. Fincher has made many extremely successful movies both critically and publicly in his career. He is a man who has come from some interesting origins. He did not go to film school like most Hollywood filmmakers. Instead he got a job in the 1980’s at Industrial Light and Magic where he worked on movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. There he learned many of the film techniques he applies so well to the films he directs today. After Industrial Light and Magic Fincher worked at Propaganda Films and directed many music videos for the company. I believe a lot of the energy and rhythm you see in Fincher’s films today came from his experience at coordinating image with music at Propaganda Films.

This post is about one of the great qualities I have found in David Fincher. Fincher has gotten a lot of flack for his directing style when it comes to working with actors. There are many who consider him to be too controlling. He often gives actors  very specific directions for his movies and expects them to be fallowed. He is also known to exhaust many of his actors by doing several dozen takes for almost all of his scenes. In his most recent film The Social Network, there were times where the takes for a scene went above eighty. This kind of directing would not work very well with actors  such as Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall. In fact in one of the Actors Roundtables I posted a while back Robert Duvall almost freaked out after hearing Jesse Eisenberg explain how many takes he had to do for for some scenes in The Social Network. Duvall explained that the director who does a lot of takes is the actors worst enemy. Duvall sighted Stanley Kubrick as a director who did many takes and got bad acting as a result of it. This is a clip of the interview right after Duvall explained his frustration about Stanley Kubrick.

This video poses both arguments quite well. I think Duvall has a point when he talks about not messing with something that works already. However that simply is not the way Fincher seems to work. For better or for worse Fincher goes into a scene wanting to explore as many possibilities as possible. I just listened to a very insightful commentary Fincher did on his movie Se7en. In this commentary he talks specifically about what he feels his job is as the director in regards to directing the acting. Fincher explained one of his jobs is to know how each scene fits into the whole of the story. However Fincher does not want to have scenes solely to move the plot along. What Fincher wants is to find is the life in the performance. He is concentrated, as Mark Ruffalo pointed out, on everything that is happening on screen. Fincher wants to makes sure the background characters are just as believable as the main characters.

Contrary to what some might think Fincher is not trying to hurt the actors by making them to do a scene again and again. He actually explained on the Se7en commentary that he wants the actors to be selfish about their characters. Fincher has a good idea of many of the things he wants to see visually however he realizes the actors are the experts on who their characters are. Fincher explained that if you try to control it too much the acting gets stale and you are just going to be miserable. He explained how the director needs to realize the performance is going to be imperfect and Imperfection is ultimately what is going to make the performances personal.

David Fincher explained directing as a juggling act. There is the job of keeping the narrative going however there is also the job of exploring the life of the scene. As Mark Ruffalo explained, you get to the point that you just want him to fire you. However, there is also the point where you get over that hump and start getting good again. This is what I think Fincher wants. He wants the actor to lose their preconceived idea of what the scenes should be about and start to explore what the scene could be. Sometimes, as Duvall said, you can never get better then what you had in the first few takes. However, sometimes you might find out there is much more to the scene then what you originally assumed and you will be happy that you kept going and explored all the possibilities.

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movment 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movie)

Martin Scorsese- An Observation- Tragedy

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 16, 2011

Martin Scorsese seems to addicted to tragedy. In both the films Scorsese highlights as his favorite and in the films he has made himself tragedy plays a key role. We can see it all the way back in Mean Streets, where Robert De Niro plays the self destructive thug Johnny Boy. From the very beginning of the movie Johnny owes several people money. Through out the film Johnny digs a deeper and deeper hole for himself by avoiding to pay anyone off. Johnny digs such a big hole that he and his closest friends pay dearly for it at the end.

The movie Raging Bull has another great example of one of Scorsese’s tragic figures. The boxer Jake La Motta goes from being the champion of the world to a cheap bar performer barely making a living through retelling his story to a bunch of drunks every night. Look at Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Aviator, and The Departed and you will see a resounding tragic end.

I have been trying to figure out what makes the “tragedy” so interesting to Martin Scorsese. I think it partially has to do with Scorsese believing tragedy is more in tune with reality. Scorsese was one of the first filmmakers to bring Hollywood the “antihero”. We are not supposed to love most of Scorsese’s characters. In fact, most of Scorsese’s characters are full of problems and unlikable qualities. Most of his characters have a quite tragic existence. In Raging Bull we go on a personal journey with a fighter who doesn’t know how to connect with people in a personal way. In Goodfellas we see a con man who has money but nobody to really love and nobody to really be loved by. And, in Aviator we see a great innovator who is trapped by his own demons. All these main characters go against the typical Hollywood tradition.

So why do we keep on going back? If the movies are full of tragedy and the characters aren’t too likable, what is there to keep us stimulated? I think it has to do with an essence of truth in all Scorsese’s tragic characters. We are in a way attracted to the characters he displays because his characters explore freely the things we as society try to keep secret. If we really evaluated ourselves personally we would all find we have some of the same flaws the characters in Scorsese’s movies have. We have demons we fight with, we have a hard time connecting with others, and we have a hard time finding or feeling love.

Movies are not about the happy ending. Movies are about opening our eyes to new things. Tragedy is often something we have a hard time looking at. Scorsese is able to bring us tragedy in a interesting and insightful way. This is one of the reasons Scorsese is a great filmmaker. I personally think Scorsese is trapped by the tragic figure at times. He does not quite know how to express anyone else in a clear light. It might very well be he does not believe there is a such thing as a character who does not eventually end in tragedy. However, no matter whether Scorsese concentrates on tragedy because he feels like he can’t do anything else or he does it because he wants to bring us a new perspective on the tragic figure, we can learn from his movies. Often having a story not end where we expect or even where we want it to end makes us think more then when we as the audience get our way.