Director David Fincher barely had any time to notice the modestly-disappointing performance of 2011’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, what with the continuing development of several projects he was attached to make. It would be 3 years before he was back in cinemas with another feature, but the years between 2011-2014 were by no means a fallow period. His sheer love for directing and for being on set couldn’t keep him away for long— and so in 2013 he returned to the arena that first made his name, armed with a new commercial and a new music video.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: “SUIT & TIE” (2013)
You couldn’t go anywhere in the Summer of 2013 without hearing Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” on the airwaves. As Timberlake’s own bid for Michael Jackson’s pop throne, the song’s broad appeal couldn’t be denied. The inevitable music video for the song couldn’t be trusted with just any filmmaker—it was too high-profile to go to anyone but the biggest directors in town. Most likely due to their successful collaboration in 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Timberlake chose Fincher as the director for “SUIT & TIE”—their union begetting one of the better music videos in many, many years.
Fincher’s visual aesthetic proves quite adept at its translation into the world of high fashion and style. He uses black and white digital cinematography and a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to echo the polished, sleek vibe of Timberlake’s song. While a lot of his earlier music videos were shot in black and white to achieve a sense of grit, Fincher’s use of it here echoes the crispness of a black tuxedo against a white shirt. There’s a great interplay between light and dark throughout the piece, both in the broad strokes like the dramatic silhouettes he gets from his high contrast lighting setups, as well as smaller touches like Timberlake’s white socks that peek out from between black pants and shoes (another homage to Michael Jackson).
Despite being primarily a for-hire vehicle for Timberlake and a selling tool for his single, “SUIT & TIE” manages to incorporate a few of Fincher’s long-held thematic fascinations. Fincher’s exploration of our relationship with technology sees a brief occurrence here as Timberlake and Jay-Z utilize state of the art recording equipment in the studio, as well as employing iPads as part of the songwriting process. Fincher features Apple products in his work so much more prominently than other filmmakers that I’m beginning to think he has a secret product placement deal with them. Architecture also plays a subtle role in the video, seen in Timberlake’s slick, modern bachelor pad as well as the Art Deco stylings and graceful arches of the stage he performs on. One strange thing I noticed, though: the size of the stage itself doesn’t match the venue it’s housed in. For example, when the camera looks towards Timberlake, the stage extends pretty deep behind him like it was the Hollywood Bowl. But when we cut to the reverse angle and see the audience, the venue is revealed to be disproportionally shallow and intimate. If you were to draw out the geography onto a blueprint, you’d realize it was a very unbalanced auditorium. Most likely, these two shots were shot in separate locations and stitched together with editing.
As his first music video in several years, “SUIT & TIE” finds Fincher working at the top of his game in familiar territory. It’s easily one of his best music videos and will no doubt serve as a taste-making piece and influencer for many pop videos to come.
CALVIN KLEIN: “DOWNTOWN” (2013)
Later the same year, Fincher collaborated with his THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO star Rooney Mara in a spot for Calvin Klein perfume called “DOWNTOWN”. Also shot in digital black and white, the spot finds Fincher and Mara eschewing the punk-y grunge of their previous collaboration in favor of an edgy, glamorous look. Mara herself is depicted as a modern day Audrey Hepburn—being adored by the press as she attends junkets and does photo shoots—but is also seen engaging in daily urban life and riding the subway (while listening to her iPod, natch). Fincher’s love of architecture is seen in several setups, the most notable being a shot prominently featuring Mara framed against NYC’s George Washington Bridge. The whole piece is scored to a track by Karen O, a kindred spirit of Mara’s and Fincher’s who provided the vocals for Trent Reznor’s re-arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Overall,“DOWNTOWN” is a brilliantly executed and stylish spot that sells its product beautifully.
GAP: “DRESS NORMAL” CAMPAIGN (2014)
2014 marked director David Fincher’s return to cinema screens with his domestic thriller GONE GIRL, following a three year hiatus from feature filmmaking. It also saw the infamous provocateur release a series of four commercial spots for the blandest clothing label in the business: Gap. In a transparent bid to regain some cultural relevancy, Gap released a campaign entitled “DRESS NORMAL”, a move that could be construed as the struggling brand capitalizing on their sudden popularity amongst the emergent “normcore” crowd– arguably one of the more idiotic non-trends in recent memory.
To his credit, Fincher achieves Gap’s goals brilliantly, creating four effortlessly cool and stylish pieces (despite what some of the more-cynical voices in the blogosphere might say). Titled “Golf”, “Stairs”, “Kiss”, and “Drive”, all are presented in stark shades of black and white, rendered crisply onto the digital frame. Fincher eschews a sense of modernity for a jazzy mid-century vibe, with the old-fashioned production design and cinematography coming across as a particularly well-preserved lost film from the French New Wave. Each spot pairs together a couple (or groups) of beautiful urbanites living out the prime of their youth in generic urban environs.
Fincher’s hand is most evident in the sleek, modern camerawork that belies the campaign’s timeless appeal. He employs a variety of ultra-smooth dolly and technocrane movements that effortlessly glide across his vignettes while hiding the true complexity of the moves themselves.
All in all, Fincher’s “DRESS NORMAL” spots are quite effective, injecting some much-needed style and sex appeal into Gap’s tired branding efforts.