Hey guys – this is a column I ran a few times last year and have wanted to kick back up for a while. A great excuse presented itself when I guest-hosted the Director’s Club Podcast with CHUD-pal Patrick Ripoll and Jim Laczkowsi to speak about director David Fincher. And while Fight Club and Zodiac are the topics of the episdoe, no examination of Fincher’s film work is complete without a look into his early filmmaking as a commercial and video director.

Other, more qualified folks have run down his stellar work in the advertising world, but here I’m going to pull a (roughly chronological) set of 10 highlights from his career making videos for the music industry- a resume that runs deep through the 80s and 90s and comprises over 50 videos (which I’ve pretty exhaustively collected here in a YouTube playlist). Many of these were made while Fincher worked with Propaganda films, a hugely prolific firm that employed some other video-turned-feature directors you may have heard of, such as Michael Bay, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Antoine Fuqua, Alex Proyas, Mark Romanek, and Simon West.

The music video is an interesting and rewarding artform to explore, but one that doesn’t get enough attention from those who love film. While music videos as we traditionally think of them are unarguably mired in the world of the commercial, this doesn’t prevent them from often serving as an amazing bridge between music, art, and cinema. A perfect format for short-storytelling, aesthetic exploration, tone poems, and (most importantly) experimentation, it is the playground of filmmakers and artists who are often pulling off the most fun and inventive accomplishments of anyone working with motion-pictures. Each week Renn Loves Music Videos will take a look at a batch of music videos –new, old, weird, radical, classic, experimental, and everything in between– to try and figure out what makes each one special.

Keep in mind that many older videos aren’t available in magnificent quality.

Graphic photo: Nathan Jones

Rick Springfield – “Bop ‘Til You Drop”

While I’m not sure which of Fincher’s 1984 music videos for Rick Springfield can be definitively called “David Fincher’s First Music Video,”  (and that’s assuming something more obscure didn’t precede even those) they’re both pretty interesting. “Bop ‘Til You Drop” though, is remarkable in that it feels more like a David Fincher film (which is to say, Alien 3) than most of the videos that will come after after until the 90s, and in fact, seems like an audition to direct an Alien movie! The big silly creature, cavernous sets, special effects- legit proto-Fincher, at least in terms of his early blockbuster technique. A little skimpy on the low-angles though…

Patty Smyth – “Downtown Train”

This seems as good of choice as any to represent about half of Fincher’s early early work, which was typically shot in black and white with glowy highlights. It would be foolish to try and pull too much filmmaking DNA from these videos and try to hold it up against his feature work, but you do see a fixation on inserts and some relatively complicated dolly track and camera moves. It’s all definitely built from the kind of filmmaking Fincher would ultimately refine the hell out of and apply to his movies. I like this video for all of its architectural wide shots, practical light gags, and some clever camera placement. It’s also very much a precursor to Fincher’s work with Madonna (specifically “Vogue” and “Oh Father”) for which he’s best known in the music video world.

Johnny Hates Jazz – “Heart Of Gold”

No embedding this video for an unknown dumb reason.

While essentially a refined version of a video he made years earlier with Bourgeois Tagg, this video is representative of Fincher’s more special effects-focused videos, of which there are many. To me this looks like somebody getting a motion-recording camera system (a set-up that allows you to record and replicate exact camera moves via a servo-operated system and recorder that keeps track of all changes on each axis), and coming up with a video to exploit the shit out of it. Record a few takes with different things happening on a set and BOOM, you can chop it all up in post and create this layered frenzy. This kind of system would be key in implementing the stop-motion Xenomorph in Alien 3.


Jody Watley – “Real Love”


Here we go- what feels to me like the first real Fincher “Diva” video, which is a style he’ll push through Madonna and Paula Abdul video from here on out. The contrasty B&W, glowy close-ups, and general high-fashion influence on the set-ups are the indicators, and you’ll see those things develop over some of these other videos. There’s also some fun motion graphics/typography stuf going on here.


Paula Abdul – “Cold Hearted”

Most of Fincher’s Paula Abdul videos are pretty great, including “The Way That You Love Me” (the song so nice, they made a video twice) and “Straight Up” (which is essentially a video version of the famous Scarface poster). I like this video because it’s Fincher making a hardcore dance video without losing his sensibility. The blocking, editing, setting and fashion stylings are also indicative of the time. The music exec component is fun, and a nice way of pushing the risque boundaries of the video without seeming completely obvious and degenerate about it.

Madonna – “Oh Father”

Here we have the pay-off on that Patty Smyth video from earlier, with Fincher’s second video with Madonna. “Express Yourself” (and its sinewy male-objectification imagery) was obviously a HUGE video, but since I also have to hit “Vogue” and I like this video more, here we are. Black and white, glowy highlights, lighting gags, in-camera and digital special effects, loaded object close-ups, complicated tracking dolly shots… yep, it’s Fincher, and all in service of some of Madonna’s most potent sexual, religious, and patriarchal themes. The work with the shadows is stupendous, and the narrative of the video overall is perfect music video storytelling. A great video and, surprisingly, one of Finchers few to be nominated for a Grammy (he’s got tons of MTV nods and wins).

Madonna – “Vogue”

At this point Fincher is making some seriously huge shit (Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got A Gun” is another big one around this time) and then “Vogue” hits, making a huge splash. Winner of three MTV VMA awards (nominated for six more), and nominated for a Grammy, the video also became hugely influential and sealed Madonna’s image as an arbiter of high-fashion and the transition from 80s to 90s style. Fincher was an obvious choice for constructing the Diva’s tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Era with her own hyper-sexualized twist. Damn, that lace shirt is still something…
This is a fantastic video full of style, great tableaus, and excellent editing. It’s generally agreed to be one of the greatest videos of all time- a train of thought I’m totally behind.

George Michael – “Freedom!”

The Fincher video style is pretty well established by this point, but I think you’ll start to see some distinguishable characteristics that morph over to the director’s post-Alien3 feature work in this one. Almost a mash-up of Fight Club and Dragon Tattoo, you’ve got the glassy blues contrasting the burnt umber lighting (teal and orange you guys! OMG!), burning leather, steel, porcelain, the works… and my god some sexy dames.


Rolling Stones – “Love Is Strong”

I included this just because I think it might be my favorite of Fincher’s FX videos. The compositing has aged fabulously — all things considered — and I love some of the clever ideas for inserting giant motherfuckers in New York landmarks. Keith Richards prancing through the streets like a fey, drugged-up Godzilla is incredible all by itself. Not to mention, more smokey black and white!


Nine Inch Nails – “Only”

And here we have the most recent music video from Mr. Fincher, an early collaboration with one Mr. Trent Reznor, a duo that would go on to produce some stellar, complementary (Oscar Winning) feature-related work. This particular video isn’t Fincher’s most dynamic, but it’s a nice implementation of effects and definitely characteristic of his modern, sharp style. I’ll toss in a bonus pick so we can go out with a bang…

BONUS: Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross – “Immigrant Song”

Perhaps inspired by his own groundbreaking opening titles for Seven — which were set to a remixed NIN track — Fincher made the call that Reznor would again provide a song for the opening of his latest film (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in this case) and that they would provide the bedrock for a watershed set of titles. In both cases Fincher essentially outsourced the pieces to trusted outside artists, which for this set of credits was Blur Studios, tasked with visualizing the elaborate imagery and specific aesthetic Fincher demanded. An excellent WIRED piece details the making of the propulsive, frenetic, symbology-laden nightmare of black oil and fire, and how the idea was set in motion after a grumpy, declarative call from Fincher to the extremely talented Tim Miller late one night.

I’ve embedded the official “music video” version of the piece, which is actually a CRT-distorted detail view of the full opening credits from the film, which you can see here, if you’re so inclined.

Again, if you enjoyed all these and would like to dive into more of Fincher’s work in this field, my playlist of most every one of his videos can be found here. Then check out the Director’s Club Podcast episode on which CHUD invades to talk about the director.

That’s it for this week!

I appreciate you taking the time to read through this column, and I hope you’re looking forward to more.

I’m very much open to suggestions so if there’s a video you’d like to see appear, shoot me the name and a link to a place where it can be watched. I’ll make sure to let everybody know who submitted it. General feedback is also very welcome, via email, or on twitter… @RennBrown.

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