Each month, we at The Spool choose a filmmaker to discover in larger depth — their themes, their deeper considerations, how their works chart the historical past of cinema, and the filmmaker’s personal biography. Together with his newest, Mank, now on Netflix, we’re spending December rifling via the chilly, exacting particulars of David Fincher and the methods his music-video-inspired aesthetics modified American filmmaking. Learn the remainder of our protection here.
In line with fantasy and legend, Madonna and David Fincher collided for a creative and passionate interval of private and inventive progress rivaling different nice administrators and their blondes: Hughes and Harlow, Hitchcock and Kelly, Hitchcock and Lee, Hitchcock and Hedren. Madonna herself famously compared the relationship to Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.
Articles are sometimes so enamored with the pairing of pop star sensation and wunderkind director that we not often get to debate what the 4 movies they made collectively: “Specific Your self (1989),” “Oh Father (1989),” “Vogue (1990),” and “Dangerous Woman (1992)” collectively imply and/or obtain. By focusing virtually solely on the method behind the making of those movies, we by no means perceive the consequences that got here afterward.
Once we look again with an extended lens, we see simply how vital these movies are. They gave Fincher the ultimate push of recognition he wanted to make his begin in options. However, extra importantly, in addition they helped full the primary important reinvention of Madonna’s profession.
As bell hooks lamented, “in spite of everything her daring, her brave difficult of sexist constructions of feminine sexuality, Madonna on the peak of her energy has stopped pushing in opposition to the system. Her new picture has no radical edge.”
By tapping into Fincher’s cinematic, masculine, and business eye, Madonna was capable of transfer away from her youthful feminist persona in the direction of a hardened capitalist one.
Madonna’s Music Movies with David Fincher:
I. “Specific Your self”
For “Specific Your self,” the second single off of her wildly profitable post-Sean Penn divorce album, Like a Prayer, Madonna sought out a director who understood her imaginative and prescient for cats amongst Fritz Lang’s Metropolis vibes and located Fincher who had already effectively established himself within the trade as an auteur-istically-inclined drill sergeant.
Essentially the most enduring picture from the video is, in fact, Madonna within the pinstripe swimsuit. Blazer open, and monocled, she’s flexing bicep, pointing finger gun, and grabbing crotch. She is The Boss.
That is the fantasy world of a saved girl who’s actually chained to the mattress of a smarmy industrialist. All through the video, Fincher has overlaid photos of moist, laboring, and muscular our bodies of coloration in a darkish world to repeatedly distinction them with the clear and shiny world above.
In linking these two, Fincher and Madonna draw parallels — the laborer and the saved and chained girl are the identical, slaves in their very own method. But in her fantasy, Madonna doesn’t destroy and even try to flee this hellscape of labor.
She runs the manufacturing facility as an alternative, “a queen on the throne.” Her concept of liberation is with the ability to put her “like to the check,” to high quality examine it, to “make him find it irresistible” and discover the best one, the one that may love her until she can’t “come down.” As soon as we’re in her steamy fantasy world, Fincher at all times has his digital camera beneath her. In doing so, he completely underscores the foremost themes of subjugation and dominance discovered within the lyrics of “Specific Your self.” Similar to the boys in her fantasy, we’re down “on [our] knees.” She seems down at us and should determine if we’re worthy.
Fincher does this expertly exterior of the fantasy world as effectively. He intercuts sexual and violent imagery all through the video. Males grapple with one another, the tempo and stress hightening, as Madonna and The Laborer-Mannequin lastly get to fucking. Even the long-lasting black cat and Madonna lapping up milk from a bowl floor tensions between wild animal nature and domestication. (“Oh Father” would be the solely video of theirs to not characteristic a feline.)
For Fincher and Madonna, intercourse, sexuality, and want are all sure forces in want of radical deregulation in order that not solely unbridled consumption can happen however a consumption of the best high quality. As a result of “you deserve the most effective in life, so if the time isn’t proper then transfer on.” As a substitute of obliterating, questioning, or critiquing the patriarchy, they posit being the patriarchy as freedom as an alternative, a Patriarchy: For Girls.
“Specific Your self” begins the dulling of Madonna’s feminist edge. In utilizing banal symbols of capitalism, masculinity, and slavery, Fincher and Madonna stop pushing again on the system. They embrace a established order patriarchal pursuit of limitless want and pleasure that’s explicitly expressed in phrases and visuals of management and energy in lieu of any true liberation of the physique that may categorical sexuality in metaphors exterior of worth and domination. For them, liberated feminist sexuality can solely be one factor — masculine.
Madonna tries to obfuscate this within the introduction to her ebook, Intercourse. “I wouldn’t desire a penis,” she pens, “I feel I’ve a dick in my mind. I don’t want one between my legs.” Whereas disavowing the assumed genital affiliation with patriarchy, she appears greater than prepared to embrace her “dick,” her religious masculinity.
In its positioning of Madonna as boss and the fetishization of the laboring physique, “Specific Your self” demonstrates a willful disinterest in shattering the patriarchy in favor of girls with the ability to topic others “like a person.”
II. “Oh Father”
For her third launch from the Like A Prayer album, Fincher suggested that Madonna launch a video for “Oh Father,” an autobiographical tune reconciling together with her childhood abuse. It was Madonna’s most private video to this point and concretely positions her throughout the uneasy female trope of the damaged angel, daddy’s little woman who misplaced her “innocence” too quickly.
Drawing on Citizen Kane, one other movie a few media mogul’s misplaced innocence, Fincher movies “Oh Father” in a black and white snowscape with exact use of deep focus to create a cinematic and haunting ambiance. After Little Madonna loses her mom and her father descends into anger and abuse, Fincher movies from increasingly disorienting angles as this younger Alice is taken to a terrifying Wonderland.
The damaged string of pearls turn into the primary image of damaged purity, one thing treasured unable to be made entire once more. In the reduction of to Grownup Madonna within the snow. Fincher lights and frames Madonna in such a method as to raise her to a degree of purity and vulnerability that we have now not seen within the Madonna image-canon to this point.
It’s as if Fincher and Madonna wish to silence the critics of her expressive sexuality by deflecting to and together with her trauma, finishing a basic white girl narrative of absolution via emotional “vulnerability.” So actual is that this absolution that Fincher has Grownup Madonna go to a priest for no cause aside from to make a heavy handed pun on the lyrics “oh father I’ve sinned.”
Every part however the cycle of abuse is damaged on this video. Although the refrain lyrics are about her father not with the ability to damage her anymore and feeling higher about herself, they’re sung over photos of Madonna enduring home violence as an grownup. Not-Sean-Penn hits Madonna very near the digital camera. There’s a profound but self-indulgent disappointment in how open and weak Fincher has shot the uncomfortable second to attach previous and current.
In changing into and forgiving the patriarchy with “Specific Your self” and “Oh Father,” respectively, Madonna exhibits her willingness to undertake patriarchal tropes and concepts. She has her personal complicated relationship with abuse and unrevolutionary opinions like these she penned in Intercourse: “I feel for probably the most half if ladies are in an abusive relationship they usually understand it they usually keep in it, they should be digging it.” These two movies collectively reveal an unsteady conception of how energy ought to work and play out in (sexual) relationships.
Within the fantasy world of “Specific Your self”, it’s arduous to say when energy would turn into abusive. “Oh Father” is a testomony to the very risks of that deregulated energy. But, she stays noncommittal about how energy ought to work.
Fincher equally echoes all through his filmography with questionably “feminist” characters like Amy Dunne, Meg Altman, or Lisbeth Salander. And whereas they have been on the similar time advocating for radically deregulated sexuality, they have been additionally advocating for a radically deregulated tradition trade as effectively.
From the very starting of the video, it’s clear we’re wanting on the stuffed corpse of a tradition hunted by colonial textual poachers. Nothing about “Vogue” displays voguing roots in Black queer ballroom tradition. Fincher’s repeated use of black and white movie instantly confronts us with how white Madonna is. After which we understand how fascinated Fincher has been with Madonna’s whiteness because the starting.
The very first thing you discover about Madonna within the “Specific Your self” video is her white pores and skin. Fincher has amped the publicity to such a level that her options are practically indistinguishable and juxtaposed her the notorious black cat. Madonna is so white on this video she will be able to seem as smoke. Different iconic symbols of whiteness like swans and milk seem.
It appears a benign aesthetic transfer till her neck collar and steel chain connects her, the spinning jazz musicians being appraised by her slimy husband, and eventually the idealized brown Laborer-Mannequin. Now it’s his darkish physique that exhibits off her whiteness and her newly liberated sexuality.
“Oh Father” intentionally units her amongst equally white issues. Even the pearls, the central visible motif for the shattered innocence can also be used as an indicator of treasured whiteness as effectively. And the issues with Outdated Hollywood filming and staging nascent in “Oh Father” get introduced out dramatically in “Vogue.”
We have to bear in mind, as Movie scholar Richard Dyer stated, that the “codes of glamour lighting in Hollywood have been developed in relation to white ladies, to endow them with a glow and radiance that has corresponded with the transcendental rhetoric of common Christianity.” White pores and skin served because the literal customary for movie coloring and lighting, particularly when it got here to defining what made “magnificence.”
Fincher takes full benefit of this with “Vogue.” Filming Madonna in crisp greyscale and craftily enjoying with lighting to offer Madonna that radiant, supposedly “liberated,” glow, the 2 construct upon the model of whiteness established with “Specific Your self” and purified with “Oh Father.”
Fincher is aware of the best option to spotlight this glowing whiteness is to distinction it in opposition to one thing darkish. In “Specific Your self,” it was the black cat and the laborer’s physique. “Oh Father” has its play with shadows, statutes, and silhouettes. “Vogue” combines all these after which doubles it by not solely capitalizing on the Black physique, however on Black tradition as effectively.
As a result of whereas there’s the standard Madonna/Fincher positioning of the white feminine in opposition to the Black physique as sexual or statuesque props (as is the case for each “Oh Father” and “Vogue”) to mark sexual liberation, they’re additionally utilizing Black tradition to show “coolness” and relevancy.
By setting this tune a few particular type of queer Black expression in opposition to the context of Outdated Hollywood, Madonna and Fincher actively poach primary dance strikes and formations from Black individuals and blanche them in white supremecist requirements of magnificence and cinema.
Fincher highlights this by framing the Black our bodies that do seem within the video in classical angles and lighting that we established throughout a time when Black actors might be little greater than extras. In Madonna’s complete spoken-word checklist of nice purveyors of magnificence and Tradition, not a single individual of coloration is talked about, but with out them, this supposedly “hit” tune wouldn’t exist.
IV. “Dangerous Woman”
For his or her last collaboration, Fincher and Madonna reteam to make use of Outdated Hollywood once more, this time to determine Madonna as a “severe” artist with a visible literacy to impress the institution. “Dangerous Woman” is a midling video off of her Erotica album, the album accompanying the publication of Intercourse, which particulars a femme fatale’s Elektrile dysfunction and her homicide in opposition to an overlit neo-noir setting.
The video follows Madonna, a “dangerous woman, drunk by six, kissing another person’s lips,” as she tries to search out success in intercourse solely to be murdered by a associate, permitting her to affix her real love, her guardian angel (Christopher Walken). What is meant to be Ready for Mr. Goodbar meets Wings of Need is a flim-flam patchwork of visible and lyrical cliches.
This fallen girl is simply too bossy, “smokes too many cigarettes,” she drinks masculine drinks with the boys after which drinks champagne alone via her tears. The neo-Forties aesthetics makes an attempt to say that “then continues to be now,” and these stifling attitudes persist.
However there’s nothing within the lyrics that counsel the necessity for Madonna to die due to these vices and cement the perpetuation of sexist storytelling. The choice to kill the femme fatale is motivated by little greater than eager to make cinematic allusions.
At finest, that is one other try to silence conservative critics who have been outraged on the express content material of Intercourse and the 2 different singles off the Erotica album, “Erotica” and “Justify My Love.” At worst, that is one other occasion like “Oh Father” wherein Madonna and Fincher fail to spot the hypocrisy of their invocation of patriarchal tropes, photos, and attitudes in the direction of energy as being the very reason for Madonna’s discontentment and “downfall.”
Writing with a beleaguered sigh on the publication of Intercourse, feminist firebrand bell hooks wrote, “at the moment, Madonna is redefining her public persona in a fashion that negates and erases her earlier assist for feminist points.” The essay, which makes up the long-lasting opening chapter in hooks’ seminal Outlaw Tradition, stakes out the methods wherein post-”Materials Woman” Madonna shifted from a aware and significant feminist persona to a “colonial” and “antifeminist” one.
However Madonna didn’t accomplish this alone. She had assist. As hooks acknowledges, “Madonna is de facto solely a hyperlink within the advertising and marketing chain that exploits representations of sexuality and the physique for revenue,” she writes, “a sequence which focuses on photos that have been as soon as deemed “taboo.” Not eager to undermine her personal hype, the fabric woman should argue that her photos are totally different – unique.” Enter video wunderkind, David Fincher.
The 4 music movies David Fincher and Madonna made collectively chart the pivotal steps on this turning away from any kind of recognizably useful feminism. And neither of them present any indicators of placing down these instruments.
Madonna nonetheless insists on utilizing Black culture and bodies as props to mark her private freedoms. Fincher movies the ice-pick feminism of Amy in Gone Woman and Lisbeth Salander in Woman With The Dragon Tattoo a lot the identical method he filmed Madonna in “Specific Your self.” Alien3 and Panic Room characteristic the identical weak gender trope reversals that do little greater than give a lady “dick power.” Lisbeth and Amy’s whiteness is actually a supporting character, given how a lot Fincher makes use of it to distinction and mix into the backgrounds.
These are the photographs hooks has in thoughts when she says, “A lot of the latest photos [Madonna] tasks in movies, movies, and pictures inform ladies and everybody that the joys, the massive orgasm, the true freedom is having the facility to decide on to dominate or be dominated.”
Supported by Fincher’s imagery and aesthetics, Madonna was capable of redefine herself as a straight-white-dick-centered and finally established order hedonist, hidden behind a consciously cinematic display.