How David Fincher Uses Pop Music
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How David Fincher Uses Pop Music


Watching David Fincher’s Netflix show Mindhunter I was reminded how thoughtful he is when choosing popular music. He’s not the most obvious director that comes to mind in this regard. Though you could argue that Fincher’s background in music video makes him more of an authority on the use of pop music in film. In this sequence set to “Fly Like An Eagle” by The Steve Miller Band he uses the track to comment on one of his recurring themes the passing of time. You wouldn’t necessarily make that connection were it not for the song. And in this instance it highlights these FBI agent’s repetitive daily grind, which is distracting, and delaying them from their true calling. In “Fight Club” Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” is used to introduce the first underground basement venue a place for this new cult to unleash their repressed masculinity. The track mirrors this in terms of lyrics as it’s Waits inhabiting an almost cartoonishly alpha male alter-ego. Contrast this with the more celebrated use of the Pixies “Where Is My Mind?” Lyrically, it’s a fairly obvious choice for a film about a man with a split personality disorder, whose alter-ego even manages to travel without our protagonist’s knowledge. He literally doesn’t know where his mind has gone. Though tonally, the song sets itself apart from the rest of the film’s music. It was done by the The Dust Brothers, and it’s all this mechanical stuff. you know, and hard rhythms And when the poop was hitting the fan the building started collapsing You would think it would be something like but what’s the first thing you hear? Acoustic guitar It’s like what a juxtaposition. I’m getting goosebumps right now. The track plays a similar role in the album it stems from, “Surfer Rosa”. It’s laid back, anthemic tone is a release from the abrasive tracks that precede it. Fincher will often choose a track for the end of his films that comments on what we’ve just seen. Like David Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” at the end of Se7en, a song where Bowie inhabits a detective character who’s reaching out to his partner, in a state depression and hopelessness. When looking at the track’s music video, for me it instantly brings to mind the video for the Nine Inch Nails track “Closer”, which just so happens to be the song that was remixed for Se7en’s opening credits. Closer also has similar lyrics of pleading despair. So there’s a real consistency of tone between the opening and closing tracks. These lyrics feel apt, as by the film’s end, Detective Mills has lost his way. His once youthful, idealistic spirit is now crushed, just like Detective Somerset’s. At the end of “The Social Network” Mark Zuckerburg appears to be suffering from his own spiritual emptiness. The scene is underscored with the The Beatles “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”. The song’s meaning is somewhat tricky to decode. Yet by putting it in this context, Fincher creates his own interpretation. As the title card reads, Zuckerburg is the youngest billionaire. This success was something he was intensely focussed on throughout the film. And he was willing to be ruthless to get there. So how does he feel, the song asks now he’s gotten everything he desires. By the looks of it unhappy, because he’s alone. The track was originally released as a B-side to “All You Need is Love” where The Beatles proclaim that it’s love, not wealth, or fame, that truly provides spiritual fulfillment. Often Fincher will use music that jars with the images on screen. Whether it’s using Enya’s blissful “Orinoco Flow” as a prelude to torture. Or Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” a song about a travelling musician who… to introduce the Zodiac killer, a harbinger of death. Though this contrast fits with the general concept of the film, which is about San Francisco’s hip, cosmopolitan oasis being terrorised by a serial killer. And in the final episode of Mindhunter, he uses the track “In the Light”, from Led Zeppelin’s double album “Physical Graffiti” in a conflicted way. These lyrics echo the first episode of the series. When we first met FBI Agent Holden Ford it’s during a hostage negotiation that resulted in a suicide, and Holden felt despondent that he was unable to talk him out of it. On top of this his boss assigns him to a new teaching position, which only makes him feel more inept. You’re putting me out to pasture. His fortunes do improve though, as he ends up leaving the office and going on trips with his new partner. But still, when confronted with a real life case – he freaks out. I don’t know. You’re kiddin’ me? I don’t understand it. We can’t help you with this. We need more time to go over this. We, are in the dark here. However, by the end of the season he has conquered these fears, and become confident in his new expertise. Holden pulled himself out of the darkness, and found the light at the end of the road. But that light, just so happens to be a murderous psychopath. Thanks everyone for watching this was a fun one to edit as besides I guess Enya I’m a fan of the music Fincher tends to use Recently I’ve been making some supplementary content that goes into additional details about these video essays. You can head over to Patreon if you want to check that out.

24 thoughts on “How David Fincher Uses Pop Music

  1. Hey narrator, are you from Devon / Exeter, England? You sound a ton like Chris Martin of Coldplay and I looked up where he's from and that's it.

    Just a long shot.

  2. Great video!!! You deserve more views!! I would like to know how much Fincher actually chooses the music, I think there's a music supervisor who gives him several choices and he picks the closest to his heart. I also like very much the same music as Fincher, so I guess we're all nice perverts… Thanx!!! You're now on my Fincher list…

  3. Great video, but I don't really consider most of the music Fincher uses as "pop" music… Least of all Tom Waits and Nine Inch Nails… but Bowie, The Pixies… nah.

  4. I thought I had scoured and sifted through and subbed to all of the best film essayist channels YouTube had to offer but somehow I managed to have missed this one. Great work. Subbed.

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