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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Series: Fight Club (1999)

•A-Ron’s Film Rewind Series takes you back to 1999 for the 20th Anniversary of director David Fincher’s “Fight Club”.

Let’s ignore the first two rules of “Fight Club” and let’s talk about it and how this October marks the 20th anniversary of director David Fincher’s brilliant film. I was at the age of 14 when “Fight Club” was released in 1999. As much as I wanted to see the film and already being an established Brad Pitt fan. I was denied any chance to watch it as I was deemed “too young”. My first encounter with “Fight Club” came two years later at age 16, when I got my hands on the now defunct two disc special edition DVD (they don’t make DVD’s or Blu Rays like that anymore). Watching the film for the first time was truly a movie going experience that left me speechless and becoming an official David Fincher fanboy. 

Never being able to fully immerse myself in the world of “Fight Club” on the big screen, with it’s piercing production design and it’s big screen stylized visuals. That experience has been accomplished tonight. Exclusively at Kaahumanu’s Consolidated Theaters, they kicked off their Cult Favorites Festival with “Fight Club”. They will be showcasing one cult favorite film every month until the end of the year. I’ll tell you seeing “Fight Club” on the big screen in a digital format with superior sound was incredible. After 20 years the film still holds up and is still a brilliant piece of movie-making. 

Based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. Visionary filmmaker David Fincher was the perfect fit to helm the ambitious project like “Fight Club”. Fincher started his career off directing music videos. His first studio directorial debut was “Alien 3”, which wasn’t the greatest experience to start with as it had a very troubled history. In 1995 he would make his trademark as a filmmaker with the best film of his career, directing the serial killer thriller “Se7en” with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. His next film “The Game” with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn solidified his visual style as a filmmaker but unfortunately it failed to find an audience while in theaters, but has gone on to receive a cult following. 

This brings us to his second best film “Fight Club”. Like his previous outing it failed to find an audience. It has since found new life since being released on DVD and is considered one of the best and most revered cult classics. Author Chuck Palahniuk first came up with the idea for the novel (which the film is based on) after being beaten up on a camping trip when he complained to some nearby campers about the noise of their radio. When he returned to work, he was fascinated to find that nobody would mention or acknowledge his injuries, instead saying such commonplace things as “How was your weekend?” Palahniuk concluded that the reason people reacted this way was because if they asked him what had happened, a degree of personal interaction would be necessary, and his workmates simply didn’t care enough to connect with him on a personal level. It was his fascination with this societal ‘blocking’ which became the foundation for the novel. Chuck Palahniuk has since the film’s release that he found the film to be an improvement on his novel.

The striking opening title sequence of “Fight Club” puts us literally inside Jack/The Narrator’s (Edward Norton) brain. Driven by turbocharged music from the Dust Brothers, the camera swoops and dives around a vast network of nerve cells, moving down the barrel of a 9mm pistol that has the camera emerging only to catch the narrator sucking on a gun barrel down his throat by Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden. 

The main story remains as strong as ever – a young liabilities analyst (Norton) for a major auto manufacturer has trouble sleeping. Seeking solace from local self-help groups, he realizes that getting lost in other people’s problems helps him cope better with his own. Then another treatment “tourist” named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up, and throws our hero off his game. He tries to negotiate with her, but she’s more desperate than he is. During a lengthy business trip, our lead meets up with designer soap maker Tyler Durden (Pitt). They strike up an awkward friendship that finds the duo eventually living together in a run down house on the edge of town. From there, they begin something called “Fight Club”, a weekly meeting where men can get together and blow off their frustrations and fears in a flurry of fists to the faces and solar plexus.

Before long, Tyler decides to take the recreational release to new levels. He recruits an army of sorts, and soon, the newly named “Project Mayhem” is tackling corporate greed, franchised phoniness, and the continued dehumanization of the entire race via less than legal means. When our unnamed player complains, Tyler grows more distant. After a particular tense exchange, they part company. But Project Mayhem is now going international. It is up to our guide to discover Tyler’s motives, his true identity, and how an aggressive type of non-erotic male bonding turned into a terrorist organization.

There are many levels to the film, which has a lot to say about anarchy, identity and consumerism. It’s about being young, male and powerless against the drug of consumerism. It’s about solitude, despair and bottled-up rage, daring to imagine the disenfranchised reducing the world to rubble and starting over. After director David Fincher was finished editing the film, the studio executives were baffled by the film, and unsure of how to market it. Fincher had wanted a highly unique marketing campaign which would mirror the film’s theme of anti-commercialism, but already worried about the possible backlash against the film, the Fox executives refused to go ahead with Fincher’s idea. Instead, a campaign was launched which was built largely upon the presence of it’s biggest star Brad Pitt, as well as concentrating on the fighting, which in honesty plays a minor role in the actual film itself. The campaign was highly criticized as giving the impression that the film was basically just about men beating each other up, completely ignoring the comic and satiric elements of the narrative, and for marketing the film to the wrong audience. David Fincher was particularly incensed when he saw ads for the film during WWE and UFC programming. Following the film’s release, several fight clubs were reported to have started in the United States. One of them was a “Gentleman’s Fight Club” that started in Menlo Park, California in 2000. 

Brad Pitt wasn’t overly interested in making the film until David Fincher arrived on his doorstep during the making of “Meet Joe Black”. It was over that beer that Fincher pitched “Fight Club” and then Pitt agreed to read the screenplay. Producer Ross Grayson Bell had initially wanted Russell Crowe to play Tyler Durden, but he was overruled by producer Art Linson, who felt Brad Pitt was the better choice. Bell has since said that he is glad Linson stepped in, as he can’t imagine anyone being as good in the role as Brad Pitt had proved to be. Pitt is the epitome of sleazy chic, right down to how he wears his trousers. Pitt, is in his riskiest role to date, uses his sexual swagger to subversive comic effect; he’s freer, funnier and freakier than you’ve ever seen him.

Edward Norton who came off his Oscar worthy performance from “American History X” is in a revelatory performance. Norton is the best actor of his generation. Watching Jack beat himself bloody in front of his boss is a high-wire act that belongs in a time capsule. Ultimately this is Edward Norton’s film. The producers not only wanted different choices for Brad Pitt, they also considered both Matt Damon and Sean Penn for the role of Edward Norton’s The Narrator character, but director David Fincher wanted Norton, having been impressed by his performance in “The People vs. Larry Flynt”. At the same time, Norton had either been offered and was a final contender for three other major leading roles in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “Man on the Moon”, and “Runaway Jury”. Since Brad Pitt was a bigger star, he was paid $17.5 million and Edward Norton was paid $2.5 million.

Author Chuck Palahniuk told the producers from the start that, although he fully supported the adaptation, he wasn’t interested in writing the screenplay. Screenwriter Jim Uhls was ultimately chosen as the writer. Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”), Andrew Kevin Walker (“Se7en”), director David Fincher and actors Brad Pitt and Edward Norton also did uncredited work on the screenplay.

In one of the film’s iconic scenes when the Narrator hits Tyler Durden in the ear, Edward Norton actually did hit Brad Pitt in the ear. He was originally going to fake hit him, but before the scene, director David Fincher pulled Norton aside and told him to hit him in the ear. After Norton hit him in the scene, you can see Pitt is in pain. In an infamous behind the scenes incident, the Friday that the film was released theatrically in the United States, Rosie O’Donnell appeared on her TV show. She revealed that she had seen the film earlier in the week, and had been unable to sleep ever since. She then gave away the plot twist ending of the film and urged all of her viewers to avoid the movie at all costs. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and David Fincher discuss this incident on their DVD and Blu Ray commentary track, with Pitt calling ‘O’Donnell’s actions “unforgivable”.

David Fincher turned down the offer to direct the Nicolas Cage thriller “8MM”, due to his already commitment to directing “Fight Club”. Fincher shot over 1,500 reels of film, more than three times the usual amount for a two hour film.

The hyper-intense look Fincher gave for the film derives from the narrator’s (Norton’s) skewed point of view, and it is a tour de force of art direction: the peeling apart house where Tyler lives, the cityscape in the explosive last scene, the seedy lowlife bar where Tyler and his new buddy hatch “Fight Club” and the inky basements where the face-pummeling bouts occur are all a production designers heaven. “Fight Club” features innovating filmmaking techniques and out of the box thinking to tell the story. “Fight Club” took Fincher’s dark nature he honed with “Se7en” and delivered a film that is truly unique. Revisiting David Fincher’s fascinating post-modern masterwork “Fight Club” on the big screen for its 20th anniversary was one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. It was great to hear the audience I was sitting with give the film an applause when the film was over. To best describe it, it’s an American classic! 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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