Observations on Fight ClubSubmitted by Michael Nystrom on Wed, 01/22/2014 - 04:04
Last week I got it into my head that I wanted to watch Fight Club again, and invited others to join along to watch and discuss. I thought I might have something profound to say about it, and we covered a lot of ground in the discussion thread.
Rather than rehash what has already been discussed, I thought I'd offer some observations, mainly with respect to technology. Technology is something I try to keep a close eye on. It is I dare say sneaking up on us and a look at Fight Club shows us some of the ways how.
The first time I saw Fight Club was when it debuted in 1999, at a movie theater. It was on film - celluloid - delivered to the theater on rolls. The second time I saw, a few years later, it was on a VHS cassette that I rented at Blockbuster (while living in Taiwan). Both of those instances of the movie had a physical presence.
The last time I saw it, just a few days ago, it was delivered as a 48 hour rental that was a digital stream of bits from Amazon. No physical presence. It cost $2.99*, roughly the same as a when I rented it, but with no need to drive to the video store, park across the street, get wet and cold and risk late fees.
Same movie, three different mediums over the course of 13 years.
And without further ado... The Observations!
Early in the story, we see Ed Norton's character speaking with an IKEA operator while he leisurely browses the catalogue:
Remember the good old IKEA catalogue? Today it may look more or less the same as the one Ed Norton was browsing, but that's not real furniture anymore. The pictures of the stuff are mostly just computer generated images. It is cheaper that way.
Back in 1999, you still had to talk to a human to order your items from the catalogue. As frustrating and alienating as that seemed at the time, it still involved human interaction. While on hold, Norton was able to go to the bathroom:
Walk around his apartment:
And check out his dishes, all the while talking to another human at the other end of his telephone line. There is something very inmate about that.
What would he be doing if this movie were made in 2014? Looking at IKEA's "augmented reality" catalogue?
Norton goes to the doctor to try to get a prescription because he can't sleep. Check out that big old CRT monitor on the doctor's desk! You don't see those any more, not at the hospital. That's a sign that you're in a different time and place.
Here's Norton's destroyed yin-yang table after his apartment gets blown up:
No real technology observation here. I just thought it was funny.
But look at what else he finds in the smoldering ruins of his blown up apartment. Implausibly, there is Marla Singer's phone number, fully and completely intact on a perfect little slip of paper:
It is almost as implausible as finding a hijaker's intact passport in the ruins of the 9/11 WTC bombing. (Almost, but not quite, because Fight Club is fiction.)
What is the first thing Norton does after his apartment gets destroyed? He heads for a pay phone so he can call someone. In this respect, Fight Club is as conspicuous for the technology that you don't see. You don't see a cell phone, even an old fashioned one. You certainly don't see an iPhone or a tablet. They hadn't been invented yet!
Pay phones are over. These days abandoned pay phone boxes across the country are being turned into art installations. That's how obsolete pay phones are now. But back in the day, they cost a quarter:
Fight Club isn't the only 1999 film to prominently feature a ringing pay phone. This phone is ringing loudly:
It is Tyler Durden, calling him back. "I *69ed you," he says. "I never answer the phone."
*69 is over. Who needs it these days? It doesn't even work from a cell phone. Yet another piece of obsolete technology. (For those of you who never knew, dialing *69 used to get you the number of the person who just dialed you.)
Hey! While we're looking at Ed Norton talking on an old fashioned pay phone, what does it say there at the bottom of the screen?
Amazon streaming video? Back in '99 you would have said, "What the he---" It didn't exist yet.
These days it is just normal everyday magic.
Here's Tyler. Nice shot of him:
Tyler works nights as a projectionist at a movie theater. He changes the film rolls (among other things) when the cue mark, or "cigarette burn" gives him the signal. Here he is pointing out a cue mark on the film:
Do you remember seeing those? You probably haven't seen any in a while, because most movies don't come on film any more. They're digital.
Paramount Pictures is the first studio to quit distributing films on film altogether. Anchorman 2 was the last film they put out on film. The Wolf of Wall Street was the first film that wasn't distributed at all on film.
Those nice old movie houses that you like going to are either going to have to evolve or die.
Here we are, back to another scene with an old fashioned phone. Marla calls up the house. She's making a suicide attempt, and is reaching out for help. Norton, disconnected as he is from reality, doesn't want anything to do with it, but he doesn't hang up the phone. Instead he places the receiver on top of the phone and walks away:
We could have easily substituted a cell phone for that first pay phone, after Norton's apartment gets destroyed. But this one isn't so easy to get rid of. It is a plot device. It is key to the story of how Tyler and Marla meet for the first time.
Who would ever leave a cell phone open with someone talking on the other end, especially back in those days? There were the minutes to worry about, not to mention battery life. As far as the plot goes, you can't swap this phone out for a cell phone. Not for what this phone needs to accomplish.
As for the yellow latex dish glove, that remains current technology. (Though what he was doing with it remains another story entirely!)
Here's a quaint scene, from the days before Homeland Security. This is airport security, pre-9/11 style. He's an annoying relatively innocuous guy at a desk, not a heavily armed, potentially jack booted thug who might body slam you for saying the wrong thing.
And this is amusing. As part of "Project Mayhem" Tyler's soldiers are out making mischief. Here they are with big magnets, erasing the VHS tapes at the local video shop! In 2014, they'd likely be doing something in the virtual world - some kind of hacking.
And we'll conclude with one last project from "Project Mahem:" Destroying TV antennas on top of apartment buildings. (Yes, they're doing the satellite dishes too, but come on. TV antennas?)
For lack of a better ending, and due to the lateness of the hour: THE END.
And somewhat against better judgement, I hit save and publish this first draft. What the hell. You only live once. Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Later this week, we're watching The Matrix. You're welcome to join, and I hope you will.
*And as a final footnote, today, completely unsolicited, I received the following email from Amazon, which I reproduce here in full:
From: Amazon Instant Video
Subject: Amazon.com: Refund of your purchase of Fight Club
We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental(s) on Amazon Instant Video:
We're sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount(s):
While Amazon Video On Demand transactions are typically not refundable, we are happy to make an exception in this case. This refund should be processed within the next 2 to 3 business days and will appear on your next billing statement for the same credit card used to purchase this item.
Please visit our troubleshooting page for tips on ways you can potentially improve your viewing experience: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=2...
We hope to see you again soon,
Amazon Instant Video Team
Note: this e-mail was sent from a notification-only e-mail address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.