I finished reading film critic and academic Adam Nayman’s auteurist take on the American filmmaker David Fincher, David Fincher: Mind Games, last week. Since the book isn’t that fresh in my mind, I’ll skip a full review and just post a few thoughts I had on it.
Overall, Nayman has released a very fine, attractive, and intelligent book. He includes many still images from Fincher’s body of work, and in a nod to the growth of fan art there are also several illustrations created by different artists. I appreciate that Nayman decided to utilize multiple illustrators, which alludes to the wide array of film-related fan art out there. These illustrations often take up two pages in this lavish hardcover book, and for each chapter on an individual film being studied there are two illustrated figures from the movie placed in opposition from one another. This is a good place to mention that Nayman places a heavy emphasis on dialectics in Fincher’s body of work and displays some clarity in discussing psychology in film (just as he did in his last book on Paul Thomas Anderson). Nayman also deserves a lot of praise for not simply creating an interview book with Fincher or mainly relying on Fincher’s own interview quotes (as Tom Shone did with mixed results in his recent book on Christopher Nolan). In fact, like with his book on P.T.A., Nayman interviews Fincher’s collaborators, and those interviews reveal that the notoriously perfectionistic Fincher has repeatedly shown loyalty and support to his collaborators. His long-time casting director started off as his music video assistant, and his most recent cinematographer started off as a gaffer on one of his previous films (!).
I wish that Nayman had been more critical or pressing when it comes to Fincher’s repeated obsession with policing and how that impacts viewers’ understanding of policing in the real world. With Fincher’s Se7en, Zodiac, and Gone Girl (I haven’t seen his Mindhunter series), detectives are consistently portrayed as well-meaning even if they don’t end up catching the criminal. I think that this overall positive if not sympathetic depiction of police work needs more thought especially in light of the polarizing zeitgeist when it comes to police in the U.S. in the past two years. I was also surprised that Nayman didn’t refer to more older, esteemed critics and their takes on Fincher. The late Robin Wood (who had also been based in Nayman’s Toronto) is never mentioned nor is his astute observation that Fincher’s early films represented a corporate conspiracy trilogy nor is David Thomson who in his famous Biographical Dictionary of Film has referred to Fincher as someone who likely doesn’t read much and in his recent Murder and the Movies has implied that the public might be better off with someone like him having never been around to repeatedly make violent movies with or without serial killers.
I read several film-related books this year, and Nayman’s was by far the strongest.