David Fincher on David Denby, film critics and embargoes

I talked to David Fincher this morning about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and asked him what he thought about the decision by David Denby to publish his review of the movie in this week's edition of The New Yorker.

Denby saw the film on Nov. 28 at a screening for the New York Film Critics Circle and signed a waiver promising to hold all reviews until Dec. 13 (the movie will be released on Dec. 21). After Denby's decision to ignore the embargo, producer Scott Rudin responded by banning the critic from all future screenings of his films.

In 1999, Denby wrote a review of Fincher's Fight Club so scathing that it was quoted in the packaging of the DVD release ("I would deliver a long tirade against it if it weren't such a dog - such a laborious and foolish waste of time...")

Fincher didn't remember Denby's Fight Club review when I mentioned it to him ("Have you read Alexander Walker's review?" he asked.) But he did have something to say about the brouhaha that has erupted over Denby busting the Dragon Tattoo embargo:

"I think Scott [Rudin]'s response was totally correct. It's a hard thing for people outside our business to understand. It is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. But as silly as this may all look from the outside - privileged people bickering - I think it's important. Film critics are part of the business of getting movies made. You swim in the same water we swim in. And there is a business to letting people know your movie is coming out. It is not a charity business. It is a business-business.

"This is not about controlling the media. If people realized how much thought goes into deciding at what point can we allow our movie to be seen, they would understand. There are so many other things constantly screaming for people's attention. I started shooting this movie 25 days after I turned in The Social Network. We have been working really hard to make this release date. And when you’re trying to orchestrate a build-up of anticipation, it is extremely frustrating to have someone agree to something and then upturn the apple cart and change the rules – for everybody.

"Embargoes look, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t show movies to anybody before they were released. I wouldn’t give clips to talk shows. I would do one trailer and three television spots and let the chips fall where they may. That’s how far in the other direction I am. If I had my way, the New York Film Critics Circle would not have seen this movie and then we would not be in this situation. I would be opening this movie on Wednesday Dec. 21 and I would have three screenings on Tuesday Dec. 20 and that would be it.

"That’s where [Rudin] and I get into some of our biggest fights. My whole thing is 'If people want to come, they’ll come.' But they should be completely virgin. I’m not of the mind to tell anybody anything about the movie they are going to see. And that kind of thought is ridiculous in this day and age. But by the same token, when you agree to go see something early and you give your word – as silly as that may sound in the information age and the movie business – there is a certain expectation. It’s unfortunate that the film critic business has become driven by scoops.

"Ultimately, movies live or die by word of mouth anyway. All that other stuff doesn’t matter. Nothing against film criticism. I think film critics are really valuable. But the most valuable film critics are usually those people who come see a movie with their Blackberry and then text their friends 'It sucked.' or 'It’s awesome. You should see it.' You know what I mean?"