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.

The Identity of the Zodiac Killer

The principle suspect in both the book Zodiac and its film adaptation of the same name, Zodiac (2007 Fincher), Arthur Leigh Allen, was heavily implicated as the Zodiac Killer. The film’s closing credits make note that Allen may have been exonerated by a partial DNA mismatch. I’ve linked a story from the San Francisco Weekly disputing this story.

http://www.sfweekly.com/news/yesterdays-crimes-news/yesterdays-crimes-the-zodiac-killer-dna-profile-that-never-was/

It is also worth noting that the handwriting matches which helped stop the investigation into Allen, courts of law have been mixed as to whether handwriting analysis can be considered as substantial evidence. I’ve linked an interesting article discussing this.

https://science.howstuffworks.com/handwriting-analysis2.htm

I’ve embedded a series of interviews concerning him from the Special Edition of the film Zodiac. As a forewarning, I found this a bit disturbing. The descriptions are at times graphic.

 

In Defense of Arthur Leigh Allen, there is no clear evidence he is guilty. The most important thing to remember when discussing whether Arthur Leigh Allen is that all evidence against him is purely circumstantial.

I’ve linked to stories with several other potential suspects:

Earl Van Best, Jr.: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/zodiac-killer-earl-van-best-mugshot.html

George Russell Tucker: https://blog.sfgate.com/crime/2012/05/14/ex-gumshoes-zodiac-book-fingers-solano-county-man/

Louis Joseph Meyers: http://abc7news.com/archive/9441384/

For even more, visit: http://zodiackiller.com/index.htm

All-in-all, I doubt the Zodiac killings will ever be solved definitively. I’ve attached a sketch artist’s sketch of the Zodiac Killer and a picture of Arthur Leigh Allen to help you draw your own conclusions.

To help you draw better conclusions, I’ve attached compelling evidence that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.

As a final note, the misspellings and strange grammar in the Zodiac’s cryptogram are not unusual as is shown by the Kryptos Sculpture at the CIA’s headquarters. https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/headquarters-tour/kryptos