When it comes to crafting grimy, caustic and uncomfortably beautiful sorts of landscapes in either the film or music mediums, two names immediately come to mind as the ultimate auteurs: Trent Reznor and David Fincher. As the lead singer and creative force behind Nine Inch Nails, Reznor’s immaculately produced industrial pop-metal made him one of the definitive musicians of the last twenty-plus years of alternative rock, while a series of suspenseful, visually detailed and dark-bordering-on-apocalyptic thrillers in the second half of the 90s made Fincher the go-to director for thinking-man’s popcorn flicks. Getting the two together is obviously a match made in
heaven existential purgatory, and over the years, collaboration between Fincher and Reznor has helped elevate the games of both artists.
With the trailer for Fincher’s highly anticipated adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo recently leaking, heavily featuring Reznor’s music therein, it seems a good time to look back on how the relationship between the two has evolved over the years—starting with indirect collaboration, and eventually turning into a legitimate artistic partnership that has brought unforeseen accolades and attention to both.
SE7EN (1995). The first time that Fincher’s visuals meshed with Reznor’s music was in the credits to Fincher’s breakout film, the cold-world thriller Se7en. Previously a music video director by trade, having helmed legendary clips for such pop megastars as Janet Jackson, George Michael and Paula Abdul, Fincher and designer Kyle Cooper approached the movie’s credit sequence like something that could air on MTV—although probably not before 10:00 PM. The “Precursor” remix to Nine Inch Nails’ signature hit “Closer” plays over a choppy montage of the movie’s antagonist John Doe assembling his notebook collages, writing his manifestos and scraping off his fingertips, while the eerie, jittery, mechanical remix throbs in the background. It’s an incredibly tense and unsettling tone-setter, and IFC.com recently named it the third greatest credit sequence of all-time, giving it its due for “reviving the great tradition of elaborate credits sequences.”
FIGHT CLUB (1999). Reznor was never directly involved with any part of Fincher’s influential cult hit Fight Club, but he did play a large part in informing the movie’s source material, the original novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The author cited NIN’s 1994 album The Downward Spiral as a huge influence on the book, especially album closer “Hurt,” with its famous opening lyric, “I hurt myself today / To see if I still feel.” “I could recite every lyric from that song,” Palahniuk has said. “Because I listened to it for days on end while I was writing Fight Club.” What’s more, Palahniuk has claimed that Reznor told him that he wished he could have done the score for the movie, but was too busy—presumably with the recording of third album The Fragile, which came out the same year. Finally, rumors surfaced a couple years ago about Fincher’s interest in turning Fight Club into a Broadway musical—with You Know Who developing the music, natch.
“ONLY” (2005). Once his film career took off in the mid-90s, Fincher mostly turned his back on his music-video roots, only returning to the medium sporadically in the last 15 years. To date, his last music video is for the second single off Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth album, “Only.” Fincher’s CGI-reliant clip for the song featured a rendering of Reznor singing the song through a Pin Art toy sitting on an office desk, as other items on the desk (a cup of coffee, a perpetual-motion ball machine) begin to shake violently and Pin Art Trent tries to to force his way out. While in a brighter, more commonplace setting than the majority of Reznor-Fincher projects, the requisite creepiness is definitely there, though imbued with a technological playfulness not often seen from either artist. The video was a success, earning heavy rotation on VH1 and MTV and propelling the song to #1 on the Modern Rock charts.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010). Obviously the most high-profile collaboration between Reznor and Fincher to date came in their work on the hugely successful retelling of the controversial story of Facebook’s inception, The Social Network. Along with collaborator Atticus Ross, Reznor composed his first-ever original score for Fincher’s movie, eschewing the usual heaviness and aggression of his work with Nine Inch Nails for something subtler and moodier, though with the same ornate production and sense of underlying unease that characterizes most of the band’s work. The music both perfectly underscored the film’s ceaseless tension in between its main characters, and helped give a much-needed drive to many of the montage sequences, particularly the type of hacking-focused ones that have proven historically difficult for filmmakers to make seem exciting over the years. Both Reznor and Fincher received Oscar nominations for their work, with Reznor even becoming one of the Academy’s all-time most unlikely winners.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011). Though Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s smash hit novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, with Reznor again doing the score, will not see release until December, we got our first taste of the duo’s latest collaboration in the form of the movie’s recently leaked trailer. The two-minute clip features a rapid-fire montage of second-long images from the movie, delivered completely devoid of context, and all sent to Reznor’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Immigrant Song,” featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. on vocals. The gritty energy of the briskly edited sequence, layered over Reznor’s death-disco, actually recalls the duo’s first work together in the Se7en credits—and in our opinion, certainly bodes quite well for the eventual full-length movie.