How Did David Fincher Become the Kubrick of Our Time? A New Series of Video Essays Explains

Most film-lovers must long for the next Stanley Kubrick, a new thematically adventurous, aesthetically rigorous, big budget-commanding, and take-after-take perfectionistic cinematic visionary for our time. But some film-lovers believe our time already has its own Stanley Kubrick in David Fincher, director of such highly acclaimed pictures as Fight ClubZodiacThe Social NetworkThe Game, and Seven — excuse me, Se7en. And just like Kubrick, Fincher didn’t start off at that level of the game. No, his career first gathered momentum with commercials, a bunch of music videos for the likes of The Motels, Paula Abdul, and Rick Springfield, and of course, Alien 3 — excuse me, Alien3.

So what exactly went wrong with that critically savaged yet (we now realize) auteur-directed chapter of the Alien franchise? That question gets addressed in detail early on in the latest multi-part video essay from Cameron Beyl’s Directors Series. You may remember that we featured the Directors Series‘ previous essay in April, but if you don’t, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that it examined the Kubrick oeuvre. Beyl ended it with a declaration of his own membership in the aforementioned Fincher-Is-Our-Kubrick club, and cinephiles all over the internet thrilled to his announcement of Fincher as his next object of analysis.

To date, four episodes of The Directors Series: David Fincher have come out, which deal with Fincher’s career as follows:

  1. “Baptism By Fire” (Rick Springfield’s music videos and The Beat of the Life Drum, assorted music videos and commercials, Alien 3)
  2. “Redemption & Triumph” (assorted commercials, Se7en)
  3. “Capturing the Zeitgeist” (The GameFight ClubPanic Room)
  4. “Into the Digital Realm” (various commercials and music videos, ZodiacThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Even though the series hasn’t yet reached The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl, you won’t come away from the case Beyl has assembled so far unconvinced of Fincher’s influences, preferences, and obsessions: crime, decay, punk, obsolete technology, architecture, surveillance, corporate and personal wealth, unusual illustrative visual effects, colors like blue and orange in high contrast, nihilism, predecessors like Ridley and Tony Scott — the list goes on, and will go on as long as Fincher’s career does. It says a great deal about his filmmaking skill and style that his work has become so widely known for both its overwhelmingly “gritty, grimy” and overwhelmingly “cold, clinical” look and feel. But if any director can ever arrive at this sort of towering, contradictory reputation, Fincher can, and if any video essays can explain how he did, the Directors Series can.

Related Content:

The Filmmaking Craft of David Fincher Demystified in Two Video Essays

Discover the Life & Work of Stanley Kubrick in a Sweeping Three-Hour Video Essay

Every Frame a Painting Explains the Filmmaking Techniques of Martin Scorsese, Jackie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  • Sanchie Boots says:

    David Fincher is a hack, His films are too long, and are usually pretty dull. Visually uninteresting. Sad that you think he and Kubrick can even be mentioned in the same sentence.

  • Henrik says:

    Strongly disagree on this.

  • Fred says:

    I watched Dr Strangelove again last night. Even with commercials it’s great.

  • Johann says:

    Fun fact: You just mentioned both in one sentence, Sanchie Boots. No worries, it did not make me sad.

    Aside from that, I know people who would say similar things about Kubrick’s films: too long, pretty dull — reminds me of Space Odyssey or Barry Lyndon. Don’t take me wrong, I love Space Odyssey (and Barry Lyndon too), but it still took me several tries to watch it in one sitting (mostly because I usually started out tired at 3am). But that is what some say.

    Still, I can understand the feeling one has, when a highly admired director is mentioned with someone whose films one doesn’t esteem to be even a quarter as good. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was quite disappointing, so much that I didn’t watch it till the end, I must admit — but after seeing the Swedish film, it was just unbearable. “Fight Club”, “Se7en”, and “The Game” were appealing mostly because of the story, though I liked the directing of “Se7en”, too.

    “Panic Room”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, and “The Social Network” did not impress me much, I did not see much originality, uniqueness, or innovation about the directing there, although that might have suffered because of the other aspects of the films that were not as good as one might have hoped. “Alien3”, I watched to long ago to have a reasonable opinion about the directing, “Gone Girl”, and “Zodiac” I haven’t seen.

    Overall, my opinion is not very qualified, since I did not watch Fincher’s films paying attention specifically to the directing, just to the main aspects quite equally, these are just my thoughts now that I think of the directing in those films. Maybe I miss something great here. Time will tell.

    Finally, it is not like Kubrick is the greatest director of all time — that would be just underestimating all the great films in the history of cinema. Therefore, it should not make one sad to see Kubrick and Fincher mentioned in one sentence. Rather, it should make one think and reassess one’s opinions, maybe (re-)watch some of Fincher’s films (and of course, and always, Kubrick’s, and if you’re at it, Kurosawa’s (thinking of long films), Eisenstein’s, Goddard’s … — and now I can’t finish this list without missing some genius film maker, so I leave it at that.)

    Maybe, that is what I am going to do now (at least, some of it)…

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