David Fincher‘s Fight Club wowed audiences with his typical technical brilliance and sharp use of CGI, but it remains an amazing piece of work fifteen years later for its narrative, social commentary and fantastic black humor.
Misunderstood and under-appreciated by many upon its release, the film has gone on to earn legions of fans over the years, and listening to the commentary track featuring Fincher, Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter (one of four commentaries on the disc) opens up an even more detailed appreciation of the film. It’s actually one of the very first commentary tracks (or “auxiliary tracks” as Fincher calls them) I ever listened to many years ago, and the discovery that we had yet to cover it here made it well worth a second listen.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Fight Club.
Fight Club (1999)
Commentators: David Fincher (director), Edward Norton & Brad Pitt & Helena Bonham Carter (actors)
1. The opening credits were budgeted separate from the film itself. The studio told Fincher he could have the credits he wanted if he was “good.”
2. Carter based her performance of Marla on Fincher. “He certainly got the tone of her or understood the tone of her…” she says.
3. Meatloaf gave Norton a framed photo of Norton’s face pressed against Meatloaf’s chest with a note saying “With Hugs, Love Meat.”
4. Pitt laughs recalling how Meatloaf had just spent a decade losing all that weight only to be cast in a film requiring he wear a fat suit. He shares that they had two suits — one with nipples and one without — knowing that the studio might not be all that thrilled with the former. Fincher says those nipples were the focus of the only studio note he received during the first week of shooting.
5. Norton originally planned to make all of his fake names (used at the various support groups) ones based on Robert De Niro characters from ’70s films. It somehow shifted to include characters from Planet of the Apes.
6. Carter’s character is a heavy smoker — as is Carter — and Norton says he “actually thought the amount of smoking she would have to do in this movie might cure Helena, but she actually went from two packs a day to three by the end of this film.” Carter says it was an enjoyable being “paid to smoke.”
7. The “Meryl Streep’s skeleton” line originally referenced Joni Mitchell. The actress, Rachel Singer, became the subject of producer notes as Art Linson and others suggested she be replaced with someone who could deliver the lines with more humor.
8. The scene where Marla walks into traffic had to be re-shot a few times, at least once because she didn’t know which way to look, to which Norton suggests “because she’s British.” Fincher says she was fearless among the stunt drivers. “You could hear the clack of the buttons on her coat as it hit these cars as they zip by,” he says.
9. Norton recalls Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel’s biography of Marlon Brando where he notes that the film’s rebellious nature was rebuffed at the time by critics and parents for its subversive nature. “If you read his review of Fight Club it’s a guy completely incapable of recognizing another wave of zeitgeist. He’s incapable of seeing the same potential because he’s on the other side of the generational spectrum.”
10. Fincher asks the guys what they think of Rosie O’Donnell as reference to her strong dislike for the film. “It’s okay she hated it… it struck some nerve for her whether she wanted to look at that or not,” he says, “but the deal was she gave away the ending on national television. It’s just unforgivable.”
11. “I do remember that we were semi-trashed here,” says Pitt regarding the scene where he and Norton are hitting golf balls. They kept hitting the production’s catering truck by accident.
12. The shot of Norton grinning at the board meeting as blood filled his mouth was actually filmed between takes. Fincher had asked to see how much blood was there. The cameras were rolling, and after seeing the footage he decided to add it into the movie.
13. Norton makes a fine and valid comparison between Fight Club and The Graduate. “It’s the story of youthful dislocation and of the feeling of entering the adult world and feeling out of sync with the value system that you’re expected to engage in,” he says, “and trying to figure out the answer to the question of how to be happy.”
14. Pitt discusses how worked up they would all get while watching the fight scenes play out before them. “I see the exact same energy and rush as we had… I grew up in the bible belt, and it’s the exact same thing at a revival, that energy that takes over, and people say that’s God but it’s the energy of the mob.”
15. The scene where Norton’s character talks to Marla on the phone as Tyler plays with nunchucks in the background was originally meant to feature Pitt doing sit-ups. “I don’t know how the martial arts started getting worked in,” says Pitt, “but I asked if anyone had any nunchucks moves. Doing absolutely nothing there that makes any sense, but from a distance it looks like I somewhat know what I’m doing.”
16. The CGI sex swirl of Tyler and Marla required Pitt and Carter “taking sort of positions from the Kama Sutra for about twelve hours and having still cameras take pictures of us. We were covered in dots… that the computer could recognize.”
17. Carter says she didn’t quite get the “I haven’t been fucked like that since grade school” line because the cultural difference in understanding what “grade school” meant. She hadn’t realized it meant primary school. She also acknowledges that the original line — “I want to get pregnant, I want to have your abortion” — was deemed as “too abominable.”
18. Norton recounts how exciting 1999 was for cinema listing off films like this one, Being John Malkovich, Election, and Three Kings. “By any standard I thought it was a dynamite year,” he says before going on about people like “Kenneth Turan and even William Goldman” who wrote pieces about “how there’s just not anything good anymore. It’s so cynical and counter-productive to me.”
19. The scene where they discuss how to make TNT was trimmed to remove a few steps in the instructions at the suggestion of the L.A. Bomb Squad.
20. Norton, Pitt and Fincher have a fantastic three-minute conversation about the perception among some people that the film is overly violent and most decidedly not a comedy. They touch on the violence in other films released that year that was far more gratuitous and consequence-free, and they decide that the ideas in Fight Club, the attack on the status quo, is what made it more of a target for supposed anti-violence crusaders.
21. Norton says this is one of the only movies he’s in that he enjoys watching. “There’s so much in it, you just forget all the little things that were in it, and it’s so visually interesting.”
22. The scene where the lead duo are smashing elitist cars didn’t originally end on the revamped Volkswagen Beetle, but Norton’s and Pitt’s shared dislike of the car led to them suggesting it be included. Pitt follows it up with “I reverse my stance on the VW Bug. It’s a great re-working of a classic design.” Norton replies that it’s more the principle of the thing. It’s the baby-boomers selling us their youth culture.”
23. Pitt notices that whenever there’s product placement there’s also “violence or someone crying.” Fincher thanks Pepsi for their donation of vending machines.
24. Norton comments on his love of the new lighting balloons they used to illuminate the night scenes around the house, and Fincher shares that the San Pedro police actually received a handful of calls reporting that there were UFOs in the area.
25. Fincher says the phone call charge list that the hotel desk clerk show to Norton’s character features the CAA office telephone number. “I wouldn’t know,” says Norton, “I’m not a slave to those punks.” That said, they’re all 555 numbers so I’m not sure what’s up there.
26. The waiter in the restaurant scene between Norton and Carter is played by Ed Kowalczyk, the original lead singer of the band Live.
27. The three cops who interrogate Norton’s character are named Detective Andrews, Det. Kevin and Det. Walker in reference to Andrew Kevin Walker, the screenwriter of Seven, who did an uncredited re-write of this film. Fincher says the Writer’s Guild has rules that uncredited writers can’t even receive a “special thanks” in the credits — essentially uncredited means uncredited — so the only way to acknowledge him was with this bit of fun.
28. The stunt man (for Norton) who tosses himself down the stairs earned applause after the tumble from the cast and crew. At which point Fincher said “again!” He ended up doing several takes — down hard stairs and without leg padding of any kind (as Norton’s character is in his boxers) — and of course Fincher ended up using the very first one.
29. Norton hardly thinks a two hour and nineteen minute Fight Club is a long movie.
30. Pitt modeled his death scene after Gary Oldman. “No one dies better than Gary.”
Best in Commentary
- Fincher: “I have a philosophy in most movies you can see too much of the actors’ eyes, so we tried to really get rid of that in this movie.
- Norton: “Someone said ‘Norton resembles a young Baryshnikov.'”
- Pitt: “Helena walks a fine line. She is tasty.”
- Norton: “I knew I wanted to be in this movie the minute I heard that we were going to get to say ‘Fuck Martha Stewart’ in it.” [Pitt adds that he was hesitant “until he saw the K-Mart commercials.”]
- Norton: “Fincher appears in all his films.” [Said at the moment where the image of a penis is spliced in to a film in the projectionist booth.]
- Pitt: “That’s [the CGI sex swirl] Fincher’s version of a sex scene. He kept saying ‘I want to fly between your stomach and around her breast and under her arms and through these beads of sweat frozen like Luke Skywalker.'”
- Pitt: “I love throwing Helena around.”
- Carter: “I spent so many days just coming in and basically doing voice-off orgasm sounds on this film. It was one major thing I learned on this film, faking orgasms, repeatedly.”
- Norton: “If you’re gonna get realistic, do khaki pants come off over wing-tips? I mean, no right?”
The biggest takeaway from this commentary track is that Norton is an incredibly interesting and well-read guy. He’s fascinating in his stored knowledge of literature and film theory, and he’s not shy about knocking critic Kenneth Turan (which is fun). All four of them offer a steady stream of anecdotes and engaging commentary — so many that this could have easily been a list of 60 things — and while Fincher speaks the least it’s only fair as the disc also includes his own solitary commentary track. The group also makes sure to credit 20th Century Fox with having the balls to make a film like this with a budget like this. It’s a definite rarity.