Richard Kelly is the writer/director of Donnie Darko, Southland Tales and The Box. He also wrote the screenplay for Tony Scott’s Domino and is a partner in the independent financing and production company Darko Entertainment.
Over the holiday break, Talkhouse Film is running some favorite pieces from 2014, as chosen by its contributors. Check back in the new year for the Talkhouse Film’s Top Films of 2014 and the full results of the site’s end-of-year poll. — N.D.
It all started with an Aerosmith video.
It was Midlothian, Virginia — sometime in October 1990. I remember sitting on the couch after soccer practice. This had become a routine. MTV was constantly playing in our living room and this was when music videos had begun to achieve substantial budgets and truly lush visuals. A new medium had been born in the preceding decade and it was now hitting some aggressive stage of puberty.
Janet Jackson had blown the doors off the network with her silky black-and-white Rhythm Nation 1814 epic narrative compilation. It was an event: My first sort-of girlfriend Ashley and the other ninth grade “cool girls” were mimicking Janet’s military-industrial-female-empowerment-complex choreography with an obsessive degree of worship.
I loved the Janet stuff, but it was the Aerosmith video for “Janie’s Got a Gun” that I just couldn’t stop watching. I kept waiting for MTV to replay it because our VCR didn’t yet have a record function.
The chiaroscuro, rain-drenched images felt like clips from some kind of detective noir movie that I had somehow missed. I thought that Aerosmith had done the theme song. I desperately wanted to see this movie in its entirety. It appeared to star Lesley Ann Warren as the mother of a sad teenage girl who had shot and killed her abusive father and gone on the run.
And then it happened: MTV finally started to caption the director’s name in the lower left corner of the screen along with the artist, song title, album and label.
That’s when I learned who David Fincher was.
I soon put the whole puzzle together: Fincher had done all of the amazing Madonna videos and the George Michael “Freedom! ’90” video with all of the gorgeous supermodels and exploding guitars.
To some degree, the videos were all about sexual politics, empowerment and liberation. They had a cohesive vision and they focused almost entirely on women. They were visionary standouts from the pack with the imprint of an auteur — a word that I didn’t even know existed.
Soon afterwards I bought a copy of the now defunct Premiere magazine at Sam Goody records and read an in-depth article about Fincher directing the troubled third chapter in the Alien franchise — the sequel to two science-fiction films that had absolutely floored me.
It all started to make sense.
It was Cancún, Mexico — some cheesy resort hotel in March 1999. I was sitting by the pool with some USC friends. College had officially ended the year before and yet here I was, still clinging to some spring break fantasy.
Maybe not so much clinging… but hiding. I had written the script for Donnie Darko the previous summer and by December I had somehow hit the jackpot: Creative Artists Agency was representing me… and I was still a fetus.
I had been meeting all sorts of fancy industry people. They were reading my script, mostly telling me they thought it was a terrific and very ambitious writing sample — but most likely unproducible. They certainly didn’t believe that I was capable of directing it. The consensus was that it would never get made unless someone more experienced was behind the camera.
Feeling defeated, I was brainstorming some new, more “producible” script ideas — something about a genetically engineered talking cow and this big, sprawling Los Angeles crime satire. It was there by the pool in Cancún that I started reading Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, a novel that would heavily influence my script for Southland Tales.
Feeling hungover and exhausted by the omnipresent techno music at the pool, I grabbed my Dick novel and beach towel and went back up to the room to get some rest before another obligatory night of crusty Jell-O shots at Señor Frog’s.
It was then that I first stumbled upon a USA Today that had been left outside the hotel room door — and the headline made things devastatingly clear:
Stanley Kubrick had died in his sleep at his estate near London.
One of the world’s greatest living artists was gone and I was still lingering in some spring break episode of MTV’s The Grind, a dance show that had long since been cancelled.
I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to go home and get back to work.
Eyes Wide Shut was released on July 16, 1999, with much fanfare, mixed praise and an overall sense of confused dismissal from audiences. Digitally composed figures had been unceremoniously added to the orgy sequence (after Kubrick’s death) to obscure pelvic thrusting, at the request of the MPAA.
Those sick nerds had just shot up Columbine and those pelvic thrusts might have been especially dangerous. This sad act of censorship seemed to mirror the response to the film itself: truth had been obscured.
Perhaps it was there all along, but a blindfold had been placed over our eyes, exactly what happened to the film’s hapless piano player, Nick Nightingale. And the wizard behind that mysterious orgy was no longer alive to enlighten us.
It is now Los Feliz, California — October 4, 2014, and I am sitting in a crowded coffee shop surrounded by hipsters. MTV is no longer playing music videos, with the art form dying somewhere out in the sprawling YouTube wasteland. Janet Jackson and Aerosmith have essentially retired from making new music and Nicki Minaj has the zeitgeist clenched squarely between her considerable butt-cheeks with a hit song called “Anaconda.”
I hear Nicki and her Sir Mix-A-Lot samples throbbing from a passing Escalade on Hillhurst Avenue. The young blonde behind the wheel looks like a USC sorority “cool girl.” She is texting on her phone. Not one of the jaded hipsters in the coffee shop seems to care.
Things could be better in the overall cultural conversation — but goddammit, there is a cause for celebration! David Fincher (famed director of Se7en, Zodiac and The Social Network) has just released a new film — and that film is called Gone Girl.
There are very few true wizards of cinema and Fincher clearly belongs on that list along with Stanley Kubrick. The release of Gone Girl feels like a welcome relief. An event long overdue — worthy of an epic, spoiler-filled essay for Talkhouse Film. (God bless you if you’re still reading this.)
Fincher’s tenth feature film is riveting, exquisitely crafted and spectacularly entertaining. It walks a tightrope above the trappings of various genres, rising above them all to become the most unique of cinematic experiences. It is the movie we have been waiting for — and the movie we sorely deserve.
Having read Gillian Flynn’s novel before seeing the film, it became clear to me that the filmed version of Gone Girl would become — in Fincher’s deft hands — some kind of kindred spirit to that misunderstood Kubrick sexual odyssey released 15 years ago. The blindfold is now off and the ugliness is there in plain sight.
Both Gone Girl and Eyes Wide Shut are deeply twisted, satirical and borderline maniacal erotic thrillers that each seem to be made by a snickering auteur — well aware that the institution of marriage itself is being bathed in a hot dose of Tyler Durden’s corrosive lye soap from Fight Club.
Both films show broken marriages that can only be repaired by ritualistic, meticulously calculated blood sacrifices.
Both films deconstruct the patriarchal, heteronormative surface world with the introduction of a dangerous psychopath intent on preserving it.
Psychopaths — and the lesser sociopaths that fit within these diagnostic criteria — are everywhere in this world. If you don’t believe in silly things like Satan and the Occult, read up on the behavioral science of psychopathology and you will be presented with a very troubling biological manifestation of evil.
If Satan doesn’t exist — well, it really doesn’t matter because the earth has essentially been filled with his foot soldiers for thousands of years and they are now more prevalent than ever. Especially in Los Angeles. These people lack empathy, as familiar media personality Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) reminds us in a pointed scene from Gone Girl.
They want a piece of the action, at any cost. They desperately want to be part of the 1% and they will lie, cheat, manipulate and steal their way into that exclusive mansion to which so few people have the password for admittance.
Pssst… the password is: Fidelio Rainbow. Come inside if you dare to explore two of the most thought-provoking films about marriage ever made.
The above is the first part of an essay by Richard Kelly entitled “Gone Girl and Eyes Wide Shut: A Study of Psychopathy in the Heteronormative Patriarchal Occult.” Click here to read the entire essay.