Exploring Soundtracks: Fight Club

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Once again, we’re back to combing our way through David Fincher’s filmography. In the first two films we reviewed, “Seven” and “The Game”, we saw how Howard Shore’s scores contributed to establishing both subtle and suffocating atmospheres. We’ve also seen how the music in Fincher’s films tend to stay firmly rooted in character, and act as emotional cues for the audience.

Today we move on to David Fincher’s fourth film, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”. While the movie was a flop at the box office, it quickly gained a cult following after its release to DVD.

To serve the nontraditional story he was telling, Fincher wanted a score that matched its tone, and matched the character. So he turned to the sample-producing duo, the Dust Brothers. The score they created consists of drum loops, electronic scratches, and computerized samples.

Synopsis

A depressed man suffering from insomnia (Edward Norton), is living an empty life, and fed up with his boring, white-collar job. Shortly after meeting a strange soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), his aparmtent is destroyed in a gas explosion. Our unnamed narrator soon finds himself living in squalor at Durden’s derelict house.

The two bored men start an underground club with strict rules, where they fight other bored men fed up with their mundane lives. As the fight club escalates in its intensity, the two men are pulled apart when Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a support group crasher comes into the picture.

Fight Club

From the opening credits, we get a feel for what kind of movie we’re getting into. A record scratch kicks things off, followed by a drum loop and distorted synths punching a hypnotic riff through the speakers. Accompanied by the firing of computer-generated neurons and synapses, the credits promise for a high-octane, chaotic ride.

In the scene where Tyler and the narrator get into their first fight, there’s a lull as they sit nursing their wounds. Then you hear the heartbeat rhythm of a bass drum before the Dust Brothers turn up the volume. A drum loop beat kicks in as we’re introduced into Tyler Durden’s world.

Lots of the tracks in the film are short and to the point. The sex scene between Tyler Durden and Marla Singer, for one, is filled with swirling synths and another drum loop. It’s oddness matches the camera filter and angles used to capture the swirling, fragmented shots.

While it doesn’t always, occasionally the music in fight club is used to highlight moments of comedy. One of these moments is “Stealing Fat”, which accompanies the scene in which, you guessed it, they steal fat from a liposuction clinic. Another comes in when the members of fight club are tasked with starting a fight and with a total stranger and losing. That track isn’t listed on the soundtrack, but does include a few “la la la’s” and a whimsical melody for comedic effect.

We should also recognize that the official soundtrack by the Dust Brothers doesn’t include all of the music heard in the film. The movie ends with “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies as the corporate buildings collapse on screen. It’s by far one of the most perfect combinations of audio and visual in a film.

Final Thoughts

While some of the music heard in “Fight Club” reflects the anxious state of the main character, the overall soundtrack doesn’t match the scores from David Fincher’s previous films. The synth and drum loop tracks are more or less interchangeable with one another. With all of the potential of an interesting, complex character to dive into, the soundtrack seems rather cut and paste. These days, an algorithm could probably make it.

But while this soundtrack doesn’t match the careful craft of Howard Shore, it still does its job. The biggest downside of the official soundtrack is the absence of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”. But I suppose that would have cost too much.

That about wraps up our discussion of “Fight Club”. Next time, we’ll take a look at Fincher’s next film, “Panic Room”.

Track List

1. Who Is Tyler Durden?
2. Homework
3. What Is Fight Club?
4. Single Serving Jack
5. Corporate World
6. Psycho Boy Jack
7. Hessel, Raymond K.
8. Medula Oblongata
9. Jack’s Smirking Revenge
10. Stealing Fat
11. Chemical Burn
12. Marla
13. Commissioner Castration
14. Space Monkeys
15. Finding The Bomb
16. This is Your Life – The Dust Brothers Feat. Tyler Durden

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