The televised phone call from the Zodiac (1969)

when watching the film, I was skeptical of the authenticity of the events and how true this telling of the Zodiac killers story is to reality despite the great level of truthiness the film carried. Though I can’t validate much of the movie I was able to find a recording of the actual televised phone call between Sam (the self-proclaimed Zodiac) and Melvin Belli (played by Brian cox)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsM-kwU2mRU

watching the actual footage makes the reality of these terrible events tangible. To what extent dose a film maker have a responsibility to accuracy of a film and on the flip side how much creative liberty can he take before the truth of the events are obstructed? Were there any scenes in the film that you doubted actually happened the way they were depicted in the film?

Zodiac: David Fincher’s Commitment to Historical Accuracy

As we discussed in class, David Fincher is a director that has a great attention to detail and this stands true for his work on the film Zodiac. Zodiac is based off of a true story of the Zodiac killer, who tormented Northern California for years.

Here I have linked in an article that goes into how realistic the Zodiac film was and discusses its historical accuracy: http://www.indiewire.com/2018/04/zodiac-david-fincher-accuracy-true-events-1201948258/. Below, I have posted one of the actual Zodiac letters. It is nearly identical to the one shown in the film and the language is the same as well. Fincher did not alter the details that were crucial to the actual crimes the Zodiac Killer committed.

Fincher even went as far as to dress the actors that played the murder victims in the same clothes the real victims wore the night they died.

This article also provides an excellent video clip, which layers Fincher’s film with actual interviews from the Zodiac case. I have linked it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb75EkzE24k. The realism and accuracy in this film is extremely impressive, yet quite disturbing at the same time. I think that is one of the major reasons the film is as powerful as it is.

Viewer: Common Elements in Mysteries and Thrillers

As a computer science major, I’m a huge fan of The Social Network. It’s a fascinating film that captures the dramatic reality of power and money through elements like friendship, betrayal, and deception. But when I recommended the movie to my girlfriend, I was slightly bothered by her choice to avoid the film solely because it’s “too dimly lit”. However, after watching another one of David Fincher’s films, Zodiac, I’ve come to notice that a lot of his films are in fact ‘dimly lit’ – and that too, for a good reason. The genre of thrillers and film noir rely heavily on a sharp contrast between high-key and low-key lighting in order to convey an intense or dramatic feeling. Mysteries keep a lot of its subject matter in the dark, and therefore use things like shadows to depict secrecy or the unknown. These shadows are created with small, intense lighting at different angles to either lengthen or shorten the area taken up by the shadows. Although I don’t agree with her decision to not watch a movie for its lighting, I do think this sort of dimmer lighting is a tool used by directors in mystery and thriller films to create an artificial feeling of intensity and to keep the audience in a constant state of suspense/fear. This correlation definitely explains her distaste for other mystery/thriller movies that I love, like The Silence of the Lambs and Shutter Island.

A prominent theme in this film (and in the crime/mystery genre) is obsession – specifically obsession to the extent of self-defeat. Common examples of this sort of obsession is apparent in some of the other popular David Fincher films like Seven, Gone Girl, and Fight Club. Seven involves a psychopath who is obsessed with the seven deadly sins (sloth, pride, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, and jealousy). Gone Girl is one of my favorite movies and it delves into obsession as well. In that film, Amy Dunne is obsessed with the concept of true love and being romantic, and that eventually leads to her own and her relationship’s demise. In Fight Club, the characters are constantly obsessed with the idea of confronting mortality and testing their limits. Similarly, in Zodiac, Graysmith obsesses over the case of the Zodiac killer and spends over twenty-two years trying to find their true identity. His submersion in the case eventually lost him his job, his wife, and many of his friends, which is a common result of obsession in a lot of the mystery and thriller films.

Traumatizing Realism in Zodiac

David Fincher is known to be a perfectionist when it comes to creating his movies. He will film hundreds of takes until he gets the perfect take, just like what he imagined it to be like. In Zodiac, Fincher filmed an insert shot of a book falling on a seat for tens of takes until it fell just right. Furthermore, Fincher and his team worked extraordinarily hard to make the 2007 film as realistic and close as possible to the real events surrounding the Zodiac killer. While his films benefit from this demand for perfection and realism, at what point does realism become too real? In a Film Radar interview (https://news.avclub.com/zodiac-was-so-realistic-it-creeped-out-the-killer-s-rea-1824178873)  a survivor of one of the real Zodiac killer’s attacks, Bryan Hartnell, describes just how realistic the scene in Zodiac was to the real attack. “What they’ve captured on the film that you see when Cecilia is being stabbed, that’s the flash I saw happening”, Bryan describes. He continues to reveal that the entire scene was essentially exactly what happened in real life, so realistic that it creeped him out. For the average viewer, this realism is beneficial, allowing the story to be told as close as possible to the truth. However, for the survivors of such attacks, these scenes could bring back horrible memories. There have been many movies, both recently and in the past, that have been criticized as being insensitive to the survivors of the real events, as they either bring back traumatic events or show events they would rather keep private and in the past.

At what point is it ok to film/release a movie based on real events. What is the film creators duty when it comes to reconstructing real events for films? When are realistic films too realistic? Are there any historical events that should be left alone?

Source Evaluation, Review of Manohla Dargis’s Article on Zodiac (2007): “Hunting a Killer as the Age of Aquarius Dies” and other thoughts about the Zodiac Killer

Dargis wrote this article  in 2007, around the time the movie was released. Therefore, I believe it delivers great insight on how David Fincher’s <em>Zodiac</em> was initially received. This is interesting because it was one of the first all digital films. The article can be found here:  https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/02/movies/02zodi.html.

 

The digital aspect of the film seemed to have no bearing on the author’s opinion of it. This is an excellent and glowing review of Fincher’s movie. It is detailed and gives examples  that illustrate the author’s thoughts. However, there is not enough criticism and too much plot summary. It seems like it could double as an ad for the movie.  The author focuses  on Fincher’s attention to detail. He focuses on the movie’s accuracy to the depicted time period.  Also, he describes the mise-en-scène well.  The author does not mention this, but I believe that the digital aspect of this film gave Fincher the ability to be detailed oriented and look into the past. His visual effects can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sZS8OVyVr4. 

 

My favorite paragraph is here:

The story structure is as intricate as the storytelling is seamless, with multiple time-and-place interludes neatly slotted into two distinct sections. The first largely concerns the murders and the investigations; the second, far shorter one involves Graysmith’s transformation of the murders and the investigations into a narrative. ~ Manohla Dargis.

 

I believe this paragraph describes the whole movie well. There is a scary, horror aspect to this film. Then it launches into an investigative film. Lastly, it focuses on the Graysmith’s life after the investigation. It fleshes out him as a character further. The movie then focuses more on Graysmith’s condition during the investigation. He quits his job and writes a book while his home life slowly degrades.

The Real Zodiac Killer 

After the movie, I wanted to know if Arthur Leigh Allen was actually the Zodiac Killer.  So, I decided to examine the works of internet sleuths. Here is a current website dedicated to finding the Zodiac killer: http://www.zodiackiller.com/SuspectGaikowski.html

The have a pretty convincing article that points to a man named Gaikowski because the letters GYKE can be found in one of the Zodiac letters.  Also, Gaikowski looks more like the victim’s description of the killer. Also, in 2002, the FBI took a DNA test of the stamp of one of the letters and found it does not match Arthur Leigh Allen. However, it turned out the DNA was from the top of the stamp. So it still can be allen: http://www.sfweekly.com/news/yesterdays-crimes-news/yesterdays-crimes-the-zodiac-killer-dna-profile-that-never-was/

 

David Fincher’s Obsession with Detail in Zodiac

There seems to be two fronts on which Fincher dished out his meticulous deditication to making everything perfectly the way he wanted in Zodiac (2007). The first being during the production phase. Fincher would be able to control the shots through mise-en-scene and cinematography. Getting the framing and the lighting just right, having the right depth of field, and getting the actors to do the right thing (1989). I found a great example that illustrates Fincher’s attention to detail during production by showing every insert shot in Zodiac:

The other way that Fincher controlled the small details of his film was through digital effects in post-production. Fincher strived to make his film look as realistic as possible. Ironically (and very much against the philosophy of Christopher Nolan), he chose to use digital effects over practical effects to accomplish that. I found some (unfortunately very low-res) special features that breaks down the use of digital effects in Zodiac:

These video show the surprising extent that digital effects were used in this film. They also, however, serve to justify this use for certain cases. For instance, the shooting of the couple at the beginning of the film. To do that as practically and realistically as possible, Fincher would have actually shoot people. No one, obviously, can do that. So to film that scene and have it look as realistic as possible, he had the blood resulting from the bullet wounds be inserted digitally. And not just the blood showing on the skin, but it splattering on the seats of the car. This was his way of making this scene look real, because it really did happen. These effects could easily, as in Speed Racer (2008), look fake. But the post-production team worked meticulously to make them look real. And they do. That’s why it is so surprising to see how much digital effects are used in Fincher’s films.

This makes me wonder through, which ideology is better? Fincher’s or Nolan’s? Maybe the perfect balance probably lies somewhere in between.

Viewer: Zodiac, inspirations from film noir and the dangers of information saturation.

I really enjoyed Zodiac, I was drawn in by rich character development, the thrill of the chase for the serial killer and even their weariness after several years of being on the case without any significant results. David Fincher was able to dictate the feel of the movie across the timeline of the zodiac case. Elevating the sense of tension and danger in times of increased activity of the killer and slowing down the pace to a slow and weary crawl during the most passive periods of the case. During the Zodiac’s most active years the film has a film noir quality to it. The gritty detective (Dave Toschi) with odd idiosyncrasies coupled with a more subdued and passive partner. The relentless journalist who is often at odds with law enforcement, Paul Avery and the cartoonist Robert Graysmith who actually doesn’t mesh fit very well with the other characters during the first half of the movie. I felt enthralled by the struggle of these characters as they slowly came to understand what kind of threat the Zodiac posed for the city of San Francisco.  A typical film noir trope has a mystery/crime that generally is solved at movie run-time. David Fincher offers no such gratification and actually subverts the genre by extending the run-time and introducing an element of manic obsession. What happens when the script is suddenly changed and the usual crime case becomes and un-solvable quagmire where information is no longer reliable and often fails to make any sense? The movie becomes a psychological thriller with Robert Graysmith the upstanding cartoonist taking the spotlight as the movie’s main protagonist. We shift tone and focus from the Zodiac killings and the Zodiac himself to the people who struggle to understand and catch him.

An unknown entity, with competing and contradictory information regarding his identity and motivations. This movie strikes me as meditation on the nature and power of information. We are presented with information in different forms, from the mysterious ciphers, to the written letters, vocal accounts from victims, suspects and expert consultants.  Yet with such a staggering amount of information present none of it could definitely lead to the arrest the true perpetrator of the killings. A very interesting thing I noted in the movie was how David Fincher utilized digital effects to show the passage of time through the accumulation and change of information. The Detectives surrounded by the ciphers and letters as the Zodiac killer increased his activity and correspondence with the police and media. The construction time-lapse and the news audio montage show how the city still continues to change even though the nature of the zodiac case remains constant. With our rapidly growing world and how information becomes easily accessible it becomes very easy to overlook important details or  simply choose to ignore information that is seemingly useless and move on to the next. If we obsess on old information the world will eventually leave us behind even though our intentions might be just. Robert Graysmith has to struggle with this fact as he tries to solve the Zodiac murders years after they had been perpetrated and what was now considered “old news”. He had to struggle a system content with moving on and information corrupted through age and time.

In our world today where digital media is ubiquitous and information is easily accessible is it possible that we may have become less receptive to it? Are we taking learning for granted? The news cycle is rapid and there is very little time taken for contemplation or understanding. In the world of Zodiac information is a cherished and valuable commodity. All parties involved struggle on a daily basis to acquire as much as they can regarding the Zodiac killer but when information loses it’s potency or there becomes too much of it people lose interest and move on except for Graysmith who fights against this mechanism. His resolution although seemingly satisfying to him doesn’t strike a very strong accord with me because it wasn’t grounded in concrete and definitive information. This is odd for me to admit because I too tend to be more intuitive rather than focus on hard facts. This leads me to ask, in our data driven world is it still acceptable to make decisions based on our intuitive knowledge or “gut feeling?