David Fincher Knows the Difference Between “Films” and “Movies”

The Projector
Fincher can pull your heart out with his bare hand. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Fincher can pull your heart out with his bare hand. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

One of the big news items of the day was that W magazine unveiled the cover of its February issue, which features Rooney Mara in full Lisbeth Salander garb from the forthcoming "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" remake. But since we find ourselves extremely unexcited about this new version of the not-that-great original Swedish thriller, we decided to read the accompanying article instead -- and were treated to be a pretty fascinating interview with "Tattoo" remake director David Fincher.

Written by Lynn Hirschberg, the woman whose hit-piece profile of rap artist M.I.A. in The New York Times Magazine became a major media kafuffle, the W piece spends a decent amount of time talking about Fincher's decision to make "Tattoo" and Mara's transformation from demure cute girl to Goth, lesbian computer hacker Salander. It's all mildly interesting if you care about Exclusive! on-set profile pieces, but for us the real meat of the story was hearing Fincher talk about that other movie he recently worked on, "The Social Network." We're so used to hearing directors provide well-honed sound bites, especially during an Oscar campaign, that we loved reading him speak frankly about the Best Picture frontrunner in comparison to another of his films, "Zodiac":

"Fincher divides his work between 'movies' and 'films' -- by his definition, a movie is overtly commercial, engineered for the sole pleasure of the audience. A film is conceived for the public and filmmakers: It is more audacious, more daring."

To Fincher's mind, "Zodiac" is a film. As for "The Social Network"...

"It's a little glib to be a film," Fincher maintained. "Let's hope we strove to get at something interesting, but 'Social Network' is not earth-shattering. 'Zodiac' was about murders that changed America. After the Zodiac killings in California, the Summer of Love was over. Suddenly, there was no more weed or pussy. People were hog-tied and died. No one died during the creation of Facebook. By my estimation, the person who made out the worst in the creation of Facebook still made more than 30 million dollars. And no one was killed."

This is the sort of pull-quote the people at Sony probably won't be using as part of their awards campaign for "The Social Network" -- "See the film its director calls 'A little glib!'" -- but as much as we love both movies, we think Fincher is absolutely correct in his assessment of them.

As we mentioned in our DVD review, "The Social Network" is really just a fun, fast, smart study of how one driven little twerp became a billionaire. All this talk of its zeitgeist-tapping insights is, really, sorta silly -- just ask Fincher. "I didn't really agree with the critics' praise," he told W. "It interested me that 'Social Network' was about friendships that dissolved through this thing that promised friendships, but I didn't think we were ripping the lid off anything. The movie is true to a time and a kind of person, but I was never trying to turn a mirror on a generation."

Exactly. That's why it's a movie. A really entertaining movie, but a movie nonetheless. "Zodiac," on the other hand, is a film: It's a deep, dark, obsessive, demanding, challenging, uncompromising work. It's setting its sights on being called a masterpiece because anything less would be a failure. It may have left you cold, but there was no question that Fincher poured his entire being into its making. By comparison, "The Social Network" feels almost breezy and effortless, Fincher showing what he can do but not necessarily killing himself in the process to make it happen. Put it this way: He already sounds sorta over "The Social Network," but he'll still happily talk about "Zodiac" to whomever asks.

Where does all this leave his "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"? Hard to say, although from the sounds of the W story it's definitely more of a movie than a film in Fincher's mind. There's no disgrace in that: The way Fincher sees it, films are things that haunt their makers and aren't to be taken on lightly. A few movies in between just makes sense -- and every once in a while, one of them is as terrific as "The Social Network."

David Fincher Gets The Girl [W]