Tuesday, 13 October 2009

“Zodiac” Is Fincher the Next Stone??? (Guest Article)

By Ms Burb.

Posted by MsBurb I LIVE for docudramas. And I really live for murder cases, solved or not, as the human need to kill and the process that the mind goes through to become a killer, holds an endless fascination for me.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m part of the Black Irish human experience, and as you breathe air, so I breathe death and destruction.
Yeah, I’m a cheery sort.
Nothing like a good autopsy report to get me bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a long day of writing!

Well, when it was released that, finally, someone was going to take a cinematic crack at the unsolved Zodiac murders, which occurred in and around San Francisco between 1968-69, I was as giddy as a school-girl waiting for her macabre prom date to show up!
And as 2007 came and went and David Fincher’s “Zodiac” was made and released, and I must say, it didn’t take me long to fall back into 1968 once again, the sights and sounds of the Bay Area washing over me as dug into my theatre seat, the opening scene showing the Oak Bay Bridge on July 4, 1969.
Wait a sec! Stop the projector! What the heck are we doing in 1969?

Everyone who follows these notorious murders knows that the first confirmed killings were committed on December 20, 1968, when Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday were summarily gunned down on a moonless night, on Lake Herman Road, just over the county line in Solano, and just a few miles from downtown Vallejo.

Yet Fincher takes us instead right into the then sleepy Californian town of Vallejo, on a clear summer’s night, on the fourth of July, a half a year later, when middle-class people everywhere in America were celebrating in their backyards and in parks with picnics and fireworks, a typical innocent 60s kind of celebration with friends and family, totally devoid of any evil, we thought, back then.

But evil did exist in 1969, and its presence came quite silently and without fan-fair, as dark and as enveloping as the coastal haze that would soon move inland, to this sleepy town, as Darlene Ferrin picked up her friend, Michael Mageau, for a quick bite to eat at Mr. Ed’s drive-in burger joint.
Yes, Darlene was married, and yes, she was popular with the guys but her husband, Dean, knew of this penchant of hers, and as he worked the night shift at a nearby restaurant, Darlene did what Darlene usually does on her nights off as the waitress at the Vallejo House of Pancakes, hob-knob with her guy pals.

That particular day had been a busy one for Darlene, taking her sisters to the park for the fireworks, and as such, even though she was expected at David’s house by early evening, it was actually closer to 11 pm when her tan Ford Fairlaine pulled up to his house.
Segue to Mr. Ed’s as Fincher does and although you will NOT see it on your first viewing of the film, there is a red Ford Mustang parked in the first row of cars as Darlene drives into the burger joint. You will not see that car but Darlene will, and her empty stomach soon takes a backseat to her emotions, as she drives that Fairlaine right back out of that burger joint, very upset, with Michael blissfully unaware (in the movie and in real life it was said), of her feelings nor of the significance that the Mustang would soon hold.

Darlene had men interested in her all her young adult life, some favourable and some not so, and Fincher properly demonstrates this to the viewer. So far, so good, although my confusion with starting the movie in 1969 still lingers. Oh well, I guess you can’t have everything in a “What follows is based on actual case files.” movie, now can ya?
Segue out of Mr. Ed’s as Fincher sends the viewer to the Blue Rock Springs golf course parking lot, and in 1969, that lot was a dirt lot, with very few homes nearby. Today, of course, that area is quite populated, and if it had been so on July 4th, 1969, none of us would even know who Ferrin and Mageau were.

But on that night, forty plus years ago, it was just a vacant lot, save for the odd teens wreaking fire-cracker havoc as Darlene parked her Fairlaine for an evening of radio listening and friendly conversation with Mageau, in what was known as a lover’s lane, by the locals, back then.
The movie zooms forward, with the genius use of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”,
as Fincher takes the viewer on an horrific ride, very intense and chaotic, into the world of the Zodiac killer, albeit a slightly different one than the real-life world of this murder spree killer, who wrote more letters taunting authorities than he did actually murdering people.

Fincher has all the basics down but allows his artistic license to run amuck when he pairs both character actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., playing San Francisco Chronicle crime-beat columnist, Paul Avery, and cartoonist/Zodiac hunter, Robert Graysmith, together at the Chronicle, solving this crime as a team when no such pairing ever took place, Robert being hired well after Paul had left the Chronicle in an acrimonious split.
But facts don’t seem to matter much to Fincher, as can be said for the docu-dramas of film producer, Oliver Stone (JFK, Nixon). Why let facts get in the way of a good story, right? And why start at the beginning when the middle is much more entertaining?

When I see the words, “What follows is based on actual case files.”, at the beginning of a film, I tend to want to believe the dude who wrote them, that what I’m about to see is in fact a true likeness to the real-life events, albeit condensed into a neat commercially acceptable format.

But, I guess, David has seen how rich Oliver has become on his quasi docu-dramas, so why let history get in the way of an affluent career in the cinematic arts, right?
Yes, Fincher is a slave to some of the details, like replanting the trees on the island at

Lake Berryessa, as the two real trees that were there at the time of the Cecelia Shepard murder and Bryan Hartnell attack, died years ago and were cut down. Heck, Fincher even goes as far as filming the murder scene on the exact date and time that the murder/attack took place forty years ago!

Yep, but the big lies, like starting the movie in the middle of the murder spree, instead of at the beginning, the erroneous pairing of Avery with Graysmith, and the as yet unsubstantiated accusation of Arthur Lee Allen as Z, well, that’s okee dokee, doncha know!

If you can get passed the obvious flaws, the mood, the music and the actors are stellar, despite a less than favourable block-buster showing at the box office. Sad really, as this movie, flaws and all, is well acted and well executed, and leaves no stone unturned in portraying the essence of this killer, a man (or men, as I’m so inclined to believe) who came and killed, wrote some letters, and as Avery’s character said, “...became a footnote in history.”

Ignore the box-office failure and go rent “Zodiac” if you are interested in getting to know Z. Ignore the glaring inaccuracies and concentrate on the atmosphere Fincher so eloquently creates, about a time and place long since passed, and about a killer, the one who got away with murder, who some say may still be out there!

1969, David Fincher, Zodiac