I watched Zodiac today. If you haven't seen it, this post may contain spoilers. I've been a fan of David Fincher since Alien 3. Now just hear me out on this, because there's a method to my madness. It's amazing that such a steaming pile of crap of a script like Alien 3 could be given to a first time director, who could make it look so good, given the limitations of material and budget. That's some fancy directing skill. And of course, Se7en was his redemption. Sam and I went to see that in the theater, and were totally blown away - from the juxtaposition of Morgan Freeman's and Brad Pitt's characters to the hyperkinetic opening credits, to the incredibly intense morality play. And Fight Club... genius.
So, David Fincher gooood. Fire baaaad.
Zodiac really hit me, and here's why. First of all, it's based on the case files of an infamous serial killer who stalked the entire state of California in from the mid '60s to the mid '70s (mostly known for a very active period in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1969 and 1972). Although a prime suspect was finally identified in 1993, he died before arrest and the case remains open in several California counties. So it's viscerally real. It's also really well designed, with very impressive historical detail.
I was a wee lad when we moved back to the States from my dad's Army posting in Germany, and we lived in San Mateo, which actually had a curfew in effect due to the Zodiac killer. In fact, my first memories of TV news were (in order): Vietnam coverage, Zodiac, Watergate and the Patty Hearst kidnapping. Fincher's team does an excellent job recreating the Bay Area of that time period, right down to the construction of the Transamerica Pyramid, aside from the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower, probably the most recognizable San Francisco landmark. It's all there - the hairstyles, the clothing, the cars. The air of depression, the ever-present layer of cigarette smoke wherever you went... you can almost smell the laundromats and urine. My only beef with the art direction is that the main characters don't change a whole lot over the 20 years covered. My parents were not exactly fashion plates, but they changed their hair and clothing styles radically (several times) throughout the '70s. But since I don't know what the real people being portrayed looked like during those years, I can't really say it's a huge issue.
Yes, there are scenes of brutal killings, as you'd probably guess, given the film's subject matter. But the way they are captured totally take any potential Hollywood gloss and throw it away. The camera is usually at the victim's level, and there is an eerie lack of musical score during those intense moments, which means that Fincher is really putting us there in the moment. He knows what buttons to push, and it's really effective.
The cast is great: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Adam Goldberg, Charles Fleischer (who knew the guy who played Roger Rabbit could be so damn creepy??) and Brian Cox as famous California attorney Mevin Belli (they even mention his episode of Star Trek). Ione Skye makes a short and uncredited but memorable appearance as Kathleen Johns, a potential Zodiac victim who lives to tell the tale.
Anyway, it just really made that time in my childhood come back to me, as bittersweet as that is. A similar thing happened with The Pursuit of Happyness, with Will Smith - another really powerful film also set in San Fancisco.
So that gets me thinking, if my earliest TV memories were the aforementioned tragedies, what were we watching to escape? Mod Squad. Ironside. Bridget Loves Birney. Bewitched. I Dream of Jeannie. The Courtship of Eddie's Father. That Girl. Nanny & the Professor (loved me some Juliet Mills). The Flying Nun. The Brady Bunch. The Partridge Family. The Monkees. And Star Trek in syndication.
Watch this film. Funniest most perversely beautiful documentary I've seen in a long time.