And the Other Way is Wrong
October 5, 2014 6:10 PM   Subscribe

 
Tony Zhou has turned into one of the most interesting video essayists I've ever seen. Unpacking the scene in Se7en with Pitt, Freeman and Ermey was fascinating.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:56 PM on October 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yeah, that's the kind of artistic direction that 1) goes right over my head when I watch movies, but 2) is the kind that, when pointed out, is clearly actually there, not just overthinking and over-reading-in by the critic making the observation.
posted by Bugbread at 7:08 PM on October 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: perverts
posted by michaelh at 7:18 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


This was interesting. Fincher really is a treasure. For my money, Se7en is one of the top ten films of the 90's, and Zodiac is one of the top ten films of the 00's (is there a critical consensus yet around Zodiac? I feel like it was really underrated aside from a few very enthusiastic critics). I don't love every movie, but he's always technically at the top of the game, and I think he's capable of making one fully mind-blowing film per decade.
posted by naju at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'll second it's a very astute analysis of the scenes in Se7en. Every angle and cut had been carefully thought out, and I've probably seen that movie three or four times but never thought about the subtle manipulation going on in how the two characters interact.

I really like David Fincher's style, but have found his recent movies like Zodiac and The Social Network to be frankly rather dull and uninteresting, script-wise. Love House of Cards, though.
posted by zardoz at 7:26 PM on October 5, 2014


Also interesting - David Fincher’s Misdirections: The Movies Inside His Movies (Grantland)
posted by naju at 7:30 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


What % of the population notices any of this I wonder? I suppose I'm more observant in some slow still-camera scenes of direction. Story, dialogue & people are still the hooks for most of us. I'm sure technical virtuosity forms a fabric into which those hooks are better embedded, but I *sometimes* wonder if directors don't do things for other directors and for devout cinephiles to uncover. Nothing wrong with that. I love many of Fincher's films, but I'm not so sure that it's Fincher that is the reason for that; but I'm not certain. Thanks for the post octothorpe. It's certainly very true that post-film exposition is a whole other entertaining dimension to the regular 90-120min viewing event.
posted by peacay at 7:43 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The pacing in Zodiac was too slow to make a top 10.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:44 PM on October 5, 2014


peacay: "What % of the population notices any of this I wonder? I suppose I'm more observant in some slow still-camera scenes of direction. Story, dialogue & people are still the hooks for most of us. "

The art that you see is art enough.
posted by boo_radley at 7:48 PM on October 5, 2014


What % of the population notices any of this I wonder?

I think the better question is what % of the population notices this on a conscious level.

The kind of stuff like what is going on during the 3-person conversation that gets unpacked in the linked video isn't that someone watching the movie looks at the different camera angles and shots and thinks consciously "oh, yes, this reinforces the character dynamics". That kind of stuff works on an unconscious level for the viewer, whether attentive to filmmaking techniques or not, and serves to help tell the story on a way which works on a visceral level and it's all frontal cortex processing.

This is literally film as literature. Give two authors the same scene to write from a novel, one of them will work it out in a way which simply feels masterful, the other will do it in a way which feels clunky or boring or at best serviceable. In this same way, give two directors the same scene to direct from a movie, one of them will do something which works on a deep level, the other will not.

I really like Zhou's little video essays because he breaks down how certain films rise above to become literature and helps explain why so many movies which contain promising actors and scripts and material end up feeling pedestrian.
posted by hippybear at 7:51 PM on October 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


What % of the population notices any of this I wonder?

Like mentioned above, "all of it, 100%," but most don't notice it on a conscious level.

In a way, this "you don't notice it but you feel it," is similar to method acting. The actor isn't just "acting." He/She is pulling in sense memories and feelings and things you don't see, and that all translates into a performance that is more engaging for the audience. In Fincher's case, all of this cutting and camera placement and subtle blocking is hitting the audience's brain in lots of little different, yet meaningful, ways.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:12 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Like mentioned above, "all of it, 100%," but most don't notice it on a conscious level.

Eye tracking a scene from There Will Be Blood gives us a chance to see this kind of planning in action. The literal physiology of how we watch things determines whether a directorial choice helps or hurts the storytelling.
posted by odinsdream at 8:24 PM on October 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


The literal physiology of how we watch things determines whether a directorial choice helps or hurts the storytelling.

Zhou's analysis of Michael Bay's style has interesting things to say about this, actually.
posted by hippybear at 8:32 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Social Network is one that I always hold up as a perfect example of good direction. I had zero interest in the story and find Jesse Eisenberg pretty annoying, but the movie held my attention all the way through (and it was pretty long from what I remember).

Is this the same guy who did the analysis of one scene from The Dark Knight, deconstructing all the camera angles to show how bad/confusing it was?
posted by mannequito at 8:38 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The pacing in Zodiac was too slow to make a top 10.

I'm not sure if slow is the right word for it, but it does unfold in a very deliberate way. The direction and writing are intentionally audience-frustrating and anticlimactic. Zhou noted that FIncher is concerned with information - I think it's his grand movie about information. It's a police procedural where the case itself is a character, not the killer. I would've agreed with you after my first viewing, but on second viewing the movie was something else entirely for me.
posted by naju at 8:40 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


One of the upsides of ubiquitous access to all media and tools to dis and re-assemble it is this new interest in formalism. More and more people now have tried to edit a IMovie project and that does bring out hella respect for how hard and important the craft of visual (or audio) storytelling is.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:55 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


My point being: yay formalism!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:55 PM on October 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The comments for Zhou's video correctly point out that none of the techniques that Fincher uses are new or unique, it's just that he uses them so well. You get the feeling that he's seen a lot of movies himself and remembered every single shot but somehow he never comes off as overly referential like Tarentino or DePalma do.
posted by octothorpe at 9:14 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


ZODIAC is uniformly recognized as a classic among people who make movies. Very nearly every director and writer I know puts ZODIAC at or near the top of movies in the last 14 years.

And yeah, these movie-making techniques are all entirely about visual emotion, subconsciously bringing out and reinforcing aspects of the story and characters. There's flashy direction, which is fun but mostly a wank, and then there's this stuff which is the meat-and-potatoes (and the true brilliance) of directing.
posted by incessant at 9:18 PM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


-The pacing in Zodiac was too slow to make a top 10.-
----I'm not sure if slow is the right word for it, but it does unfold in a very deliberate way.----
I'd say it's measured. The flow of information is all analogue which is slow by digital standards, and the pacing was meant to emphasise that.
"The Social Network" can profitably be viewed as the digital mirror-image of Fincher's analog "Zodiac"
posted by peacay at 9:26 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The last few times a new Tony Zhou post has appeared here my first thought has been "Jeez, do we really need to post every video he makes?"

Then I watch the video.

Then I think "Yes, we really do." His analysis is great.
posted by barnacles at 10:27 PM on October 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


ZODIAC is uniformly recognized as a classic among people who make movies. Very nearly every director and writer I know puts ZODIAC at or near the top of movies in the last 14 years.

Ok, reading this makes me want to watch a second time, because I thought Zodiac was very well directed, but the script was didn't really go anywhere. But maybe that was just a clash with my expectations, of what I thought a police procedural should be. Maybe I just got sleepy as well.
posted by zardoz at 11:27 PM on October 5, 2014


I thought Zodiac was very well directed, but the script was didn't really go anywhere.

Welcome to how hollywood movie scripts reflect real life.

AFAIK, the Zodiac case has never been solved despite all manner of professionals and amateur enthusiasts committing their time to the case.

The laconic, measured progress of the movie coupled with the lack of resolution reflect real life, containing the real drama of the case while wrapping it within the reality of the case having no resolution.

I have no problems with that, really.
posted by hippybear at 11:41 PM on October 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually, my main issue with Zodiac is that the ending is more suggestive than the facts allow it to be. I guess because it's based on Robert Graysmith's book. But all in all it's a great film.
posted by maskd at 1:19 AM on October 6, 2014


My problem with Zodiac was that the script didn't know what kind of movie it wanted to be. The main through-line story was set up as a police procedural, so it felt like it needed a climax. And it kinda had four half-hearted ones that didn't pay off, because reality.

It should've stayed as a character study of obsession and the passage of time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:31 AM on October 6, 2014


Whatever Zodiac was trying to be, I don't think Fincher's style was a good fit for it. It's a little too clean to be real, but the story doesn't produce the drama to match. Panic Room suffers the same way, but not as much. It makes you ask, "Is that it?" Whereas Zodiac sits there on the screen like a lump.
posted by fleacircus at 6:14 AM on October 6, 2014


The brilliance of Fincher for me, as seen in Zodiac and during the best parts of Dragon Tattoo, is that the man makes the boring act or research exciting. Normally the archival research part of a film has the usual zoom in on newspaper clipping headlines and serves as a clunky way of dumping information on the viewer. Fincher, on the other hand, makes an entire movie in which the main character does nothing but research and it is amazing. As naju points out above, Fincher treats information as it's own character or force. Going to the library in a Fincher film is always a thrill.
posted by boubelium at 6:51 AM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


Fincher is one of the very best directors working today. I'll come off as a scold when I also say that he too often chooses projects with good-but-not-great scripts. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a good movie, but if it weren't for the fact that the source material was a runaway best seller, I wouldn't understand why he chose that story to tell.

The Game is utterly underrated. A tight, pure thriller.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:01 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Give two authors the same scene to write from a novel, one of them will work it out in a way which simply feels masterful, the other will do it in a way which feels clunky or boring or at best serviceable.
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
- Gary Provost
posted by AceRock at 8:01 AM on October 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


The Game is utterly underrated. A tight, pure thriller.

If only it had a different title, I would've liked it a lot more. Because the entire time I was thinking, "Oh, it's just a game. It's right there in the name. There will be some kind of final deception at the end that results in Michael Douglas performing an act of self-sacrifice so his character can learn an Important Lesson About Life, hug your loved ones, folks, the end."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Todd VanDerWerff at Vox has an essay today on Fincher's adaptation of Gone Girl, especially his use of shot composition. Gone Girl is the most feminist mainstream movie in years
posted by Snerd at 10:54 AM on October 6, 2014


There will be some kind of final deception at the end that results in Michael Douglas performing an act of self-sacrifice so his character can learn an Important Lesson About Life, hug your loved ones, folks, the end."

Oh, man, The Game. I was loving that movie until the end--and while I didn't hate it, the ending fits in a weird way--when you think about it, it's the story of a group of people who think their friend/brother/boss should lighten up, so they drive him to suicide. After he is saved from said suicide, everyone together congratulates him on a job well done. And this is a happy, cathartic ending.

Good thing the movie ended right there, or there would've been some real awkward conversations afterward. "Hey, Michael Douglas, it was all a joke! Uh, great suicide, though. You really wanted to die, I bet! You're feeling better now, though...right? Clam dip?"
posted by zardoz at 12:51 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I liked the ending of The Game, if only because it appears to be a nastily cheerful ad for Werner Erhard-style experiences. See also: Fight Club.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:57 PM on October 6, 2014


What does David Fincher not do?
Turn on the fucking fill light!

(I really like Fincher's directing, and Zhou is a national treasure, but I just couldn't resist)
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:21 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


it's the story of a group of people who think their friend/brother/boss should lighten up, so they drive him to suicide. After he is saved from said suicide, everyone together congratulates him on a job well done. And this is a happy, cathartic ending.

My understanding is that Sean Penn has also been through The Game, and he lures in his brother because he understands exactly how cathartic and life-changing the experience is, and he is hoping that his brother will come out the other side a better person because he values the lessons he learned during the experience, and he can't imagine any other way to get his brother broken out of his life path into something different other than doing something this extreme.

So yeah, I have some problems with The Game as a movie, but when I was watching it for the first time, I found it nicely cathartic as an audience member, and while I found it at the time to be pretty manipulative, repeat viewings have shown me it isn't manipulative beyond the "we aren't telling you the one part of the secret" level, and it continues to work well even if you know the big reveal.
posted by hippybear at 12:07 AM on October 7, 2014


With The Game, I think the point was that Michael Douglas was already dead inside anyway, he was just too wrapped up in his soulless, money-grubbing life to notice it. It wasn't until he lost everything: the money, the reputation, his belief that his actions weren't really harming anyone (anyone harmed by his actions were responsible for their own actions) that he gave up, and by giving up, he was reborn.
posted by nushustu at 5:18 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]




Playboy: Interview with David Fincher
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:31 PM on October 7, 2014


hippybear and nushutsu--

Yeah, I get the why of breaking down Douglas' character, that he needs to be reborn, but does that mean all the folks who have played The Game also committed suicide at the end? So if that's the goal, isn't it The Suicide Game? When he gets out of that tomb in Mexico, maybe, that's when he's hit the bottom and they can all do the big reveal. But suicide? It just took me right out of the movie, right at the end. A good example of movie people doing things that no one would actually do in real life. It works as an ending because Fincher is an excellent director and is able to gloss over these nagging questions, but I wonder it could've been resolved differently.
posted by zardoz at 6:39 PM on October 7, 2014


zardoz, I'm now curious if you wouldn't like Ong-Bak 3 a bit more. No joke. It's a fun, interesting movie, with an interesting take on the concept of rebirth. Kinda sorta. Director and star Tony Jaa became a Buddhist monk after making it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:53 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


This was an interesting post, thank you for making it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:43 PM on October 7, 2014


does that mean all the folks who have played The Game also committed suicide at the end?

No. It's stated explicitly during the interview/testing for the game that "everyone's game is different". I don't think it's fair to assume that the game is going to drive everyone to the same end point. So it's not The Suicide Game.

When he gets out of that tomb in Mexico, maybe, that's when he's hit the bottom and they can all do the big reveal.

Oh, but there is so much more. He has to return to his house, discover that his property has been destroyed (his status, what he cares about most), then decide he wants to embark on a revenge mission against that fucking company that did this to him, only to have that mission end with the apparent death of his brother by his own hand, and at that point have him realize that his focus on status and his fury at the loss of his status had driven him to that exact point.

Simply stripping him of his dignity and kidnapping him for a while and making his life inconvenient for a bit would not have affected any real change in him if he had not had to confront the demons hiding within him.

A good example of movie people doing things that no one would actually do in real life.


One of the little touches I love about the end of the movie is how the invitations to the party state the time to within a very specific window and how everyone at the party is fully prepared for him to drop in through the glass ceiling (which they've replaced with sugar glass in full anticipation and foreknowledge of how this is going to end).

Yes, it's entirely implausible that a day of psychological testing (and I assume interviewing basically everyone else he knows, all of whom seem complicit in the deception) could ever predict the endgame of this kind of scheme like that. But in the movie, they are able to, and they do, and they are ready for him when he does do what he has been engineered to do, and everyone is ready to welcome him at his birthday party.

I thought those tiny touches were great because they introduced the idea that, yes, everyone's game is going to be entirely different, and they know exactly what that will be and exactly how it will all play out, and so it is entirely a game, with nothing left to chance. It's a concept that works. As far as being willing to suspend my disbelief even beyond that point where you were unable to, I'm happy to have ridden the ride to the end. It was emotionally satisfying and even a bit cathartic for me.
posted by hippybear at 9:06 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


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