Wednesday, February 26, 2014

30 For 30: Fight Club

I turned 30 on February 18th. I want to celebrate this, and get myself back into writing, by spending a few weeks rambling about the 30 things that have meant the most to me over the years. These will be from music, movies, books, videogames, and maybe even art and other things for good measure. I feel like my life has been much more about the things I've experienced than it has the people I've known or the places I've traveled to, and these 30 things have helped to make my 30 years more than worth all the innumerable bad things. Expect heartfelt over-sharing and overly analytical explanations galore! In part 12, we take a look at one of the greatest love stories of the last 30 years, and I resist the urge to mention Meatloaf or use that still-frame from the end of the movie with the guy's dick.
 Amidst all the controversy that greeted Fight Club upon its release—all that talk of it being a misogynistic or fascist or pro-violence film—there was one significant lack of controversy. And it was that Chuck Palahniuk, the man who wrote the novel upon which the movie was based, thought the movie was better than the book. You see, most authors famously hate the films that are made out of their novels. This includes Stephen King, who is maybe the only person alive who hated Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Yet there's an interview I can't track down that I read years ago wherein Palahniuk basically admits that he now finds the book embarrassing compared to the film because it does a better job with the ideas and themes he was trying to lay down.

Having read the book during my college years, I can say with certainty that he's absolutely right. Understand that I think Palahniuk is one of the best authors of the modern era, even if I haven't felt compelled to keep up with his newer works. Yet Fight Club, and to an extent his 'true' first novel, Invisible Monsters, were undercooked and unfocused compared to his novels that followed. So while I've only ever read Fight Club once, it still means a great deal to me, because I have watched it dozens of times.

However, in the same way that Radiohead's OK Computer continues to mean something to me even though I rarely listen to it, I only watch Fight Club once every couple years. It's still an amazing film, even judged simply from a visual perspective, and you should really go watch it if you only know of it as “that violent movie with the soap or whatever.” I have a well worn copy of the early 2-DVD release of it from my high school days, and to be sure, I watched the fuck out of it when I was younger. I can't say that it made me want to go out and fight someone or blow up a bank, but watching it, especially with the DVD commentaries on, did help me to appreciate it on another level.

 The packaging is just perfect, too.

In fact, I'll go ahead and say that, without seeing Fight Club at that time of my life, I might never have gotten into movies on any kind of serious basis. I never really thought about the things they teach you in film school, such as what makes acting good, or cinematography interesting, or how special effects can help tell a story without distracting from the rest of the movie. But watching the movie over and over, and listening to the various commentary tracks, I began to see and think about Fight Club, and other movies I was watching around that time, in a totally different way. No longer was it just a movie with great quotes and use of music; now I was actually noticing the fact that I didn't see the people in the movie as actors, I saw them as their characters. No longer was I impressed by how cool the explosions looked; now I was actually noticing the subtle use of CGI throughout the film to, say, put prices and items in the narrator's apartment or to add steamy breath to the scene in the cold cave with the penguin.

The nerd in me wants to know what font they used here.

It's fascinating to think how Fight Club may ultimately be regarded as a cult classic yet it features actors and a director who are anything but cult. David Fincher didn't really solidify his reputation until after Panic Room, true, but it's hard to imagine that the lead actors Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter could have given better performances at that point in time, and could have gone on to do the roles they did afterward. I don't doubt they would have had careers without Fight Club but I don't know if they'd have had as good a demo reel, you know what I mean? This isn't to say that everything they're done in the 21st century is pure gold but so much of the work they pursued post-Fight Club feels encoded in the acting they did in this film. Personally, I used to think of Brad Pitt as a pretty boy with no real acting chops or range, and Fight Club changed that. Go watch it again and as you do, think about the roles he'd go on to play in Inglourious Basterds, Snatch, and even something lesser known like The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. And for what it's worth, I have a pet theory that the reason Tim Burton cast Helena Bonham Carter in Planet Of The Apes is that he saw her in Fight Club and fell in love with her portrayal of Marla Singer. 

Ah, romance.

Speaking of love, I'd like to conclude this entry by saying that I think of Fight Club as being one of the best love stories in recent times. This may sound crazy, since upon first viewing it feels like anything but a love story (in fact, you can't really pin a basic genre like drama or comedy to the movie at all, can you?). However, think about the scene where the narrator's apartment is blown up and he briefly calls Marla before not saying anything and trying Tyler instead. Knowing what you know about how the movie ends, don't you think the whole point of the movie is that he should have gone for Marla right away and stopped heading further in the Tyler direction? After all, she only stops seeming so crazy once we realize everything she has gone through with the narrator and Tyler. It's worth noting, too, how much less suicidal she is once she finally gets some action, and how strong she suddenly seems when she walks away from a destructive, confusing relationship—or tries to, anyway, before she's brought right back to the narrator at the end of the movie. On a side note, I love how she reacts throughout the ending scene. There's something sweet and tender about the way she tries to fix the narrator's wound that works in a way 90% of other overtly romantic movies can never hope to achieve.

Anyway, the lesson here is, if you ever meet a girl (or guy!) who loves Fight Club, you should probably marry them. That way you won't develop a split personality, beat the shit out of yourself, and blow up a bunch of banks while 'Where Is My Mind?' by the Pixies plays and a still frame of some guy's dick flashes by.

No comments: