Breaking The Rules
Empire Australasia|December 2019
You Do Not Talk About Fight Club? Try Telling David Fincher That. Twenty Years After The Film Smashed S Into Cinemas, The Director Shares Tales And Unseen Photos From His Archives
NEV PIERCE

David Fincher didn’t think Fight Club was violent enough. At least, not until he started showing it to people. “They were alternately horrified and titillated,” he tells Empire. “Depending on which side of the hallway you stopped after the screening, you were either getting, ‘I was really not expecting this and I was taken with it,’ or, ‘Oh my God, what have you done?’”

A lot of critics took the latter view. The gleefully acerbic story of an office drone (Edward Norton’s Narrator) inspired by Arctic-cool anarchist Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) to feel through fighting, it smacked eminent noses out of joint. Legendary US critic Roger Ebert called it “the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since Death Wish”. The Evening Standard’s Alexander Walker labelled it as “anti-capitalist, anti-society, and, indeed, anti-God”. It went down like death at the 1999 Venice Film Festival. Taking their cue from the poor notices, audiences stayed home.

And yet… word spread.

The film became like a secret to be shared — perhaps because it told us not to talk about it, perhaps because it simmered with premillennial tension, perhaps because, beating up others and himself and grinning out sly, nihilistic aphorisms, Brad Pitt just looked really fucking cool. And it still distils the zeitgeist today. “I don’t know why we’re still talking about it,” admits Fincher. “If Chuck [Palahniuk, who wrote the novel] had been angry and not questioning, if he had a thesis that he was ready to expound upon about how unfair shit is, had he truly been the proto-fascist that people misinterpret — the guy who coined the term ‘snowflake’ — I don’t know that we would still be talking about it.” And yet, here we are, in Fincher’s Hollywood office, looking through his archive of Fight Club photographs and artwork, breaking the first two rules once again. A blown-up version of Walker’s damning review hangs on the wall — a reminder of how a consumerist satire and critique of toxic masculinity was taken, by some, as a celebration of it. And, well, a reminder that Fincher quite enjoys provoking people. “I remember fondly going to work to make something we knew people were gonna take issue with,” he says, with smile. “It was a fun act of sedition…”

BLOOD WORK

“I’m not putting make-up on Norton. That’s somebody else’s department. Blood is my department. If you’re going to show somebody in their post-mauling moment you have to commit to how much blood’s on them. And I normally take the paintbrush for that, because a lot of make-up artists are just too timid. They put a little dot and then they look at you and then they put another dot on and you’re like, ‘No. He should be covered in it.’ It’s not that I enjoy doing that, but I feel like it just moves it along if the director takes responsibility and goes, ‘Hey, here’s how much blood he should have on his face!’ Then you can start shooting.”

TALKING BEDS

“Edward asks a lot of questions. And it’s his right to. And you better be able to answer them. I think there were definitely some moments where I probably would’ve liked to have had the trust then that I have from Edward now. It would’ve helped if I’d had it during the 105 days or so we shot the movie. But — you can see in that sequence of him catching air [after punching himself in the face] — he showed up. He showed up. I remember fondly going to work to make something that we knew people were gonna take issue with. It was kind of a fun act of sedition.”

WACKING OFF

“I had thought about casting Steven Soderbergh as the Narrator because of Schizopolis [the self-reflexive, uncomfortable cult comedy that reinvigorated Soderbergh’s career in 1996)]. Weirdly enough, originally, there was a lot of at-work masturbation that the Narrator did. And then, because that was such a moment in Schizopolis [Soderbergh, playing a listless office worker, ignores a depressed colleague in order to go and masturbate in the office toilet], I was like, ‘If I ask Steven to do this, is he gonna be, “Oh great, I’m the chronic masturbator! Is that what you think?”’ So I didn’t go there.”

ANTI-HERO WORSHIP

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