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Buzz mounts around David Fincher’s Facebook movie ahead of festival premiere

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-07-10

The combination of a topical subject, an idiosyncratic filmmaker, and a spot in the New York Film Festival has made David Fincher's “The Social Network”, a movie about the creation of Facebook, one of the most buzzed-about films of the coming autumn.

The New York Film Festival is more than two months away, but the buzz has already reached fever pitch with the announcement of the opening night screening: “The Social Network”, David Fincher’s movie about the creation of Facebook.

The combination of a highly topical subject, a talented, idiosyncratic filmmaker, and a plum spot in a rigorously selected international line-up has made “The Social Network” one of the most hotly anticipated films to be released this coming autumn.

“The Social Network” is adapted from US author Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction bestseller “The Accidental Billionaires”. The book traces the rise of the massively popular site from the Harvard dorm of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (played in the film by Jesse Eisenberg) in 2003 to an office in Silicon Valley, where Zuckerberg teamed up with entrepreneur Sean Parker (played by pop star Justin Timberlake) to expand the project. It also delves into the more sordid elements of Facebook’s global success story: allegations of greed, backstabbing, and fraud that accompanied the site’s creators as their bank accounts swelled and their experiment radically altered online communication.

Teasers, leaks, and rumours

Judging from the glimpses and rumours making their way around the internet, Fincher’s film promises to similarly examine the seamy underbelly of the Facebook revolution. The poster for the movie displays the tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”. Meanwhile, in the first trailer (which hit the Web in late June), we hear snippets of hushed dialogue and foreboding music, as words like “punk”, “genius”, “prophet”, and “traitor” appear on the screen. The second trailer, released on July 8, shows excerpts of online chats among Facebook founders and detractors, while actors simultaneously voice the exchanges that start out full of excitement but then crescendo into a frenzy of threats and accusations.

Those teasers have the dread-soaked tone and rhythms of a horror movie, or at least a very dark thriller. Fincher is indeed known for directing stylish auteur films infused with violence and finished with a mainstream sheen (Brad Pitt has starred in three of the director’s films): “Se7en” and “Zodiac” revolve around grisly murders, “Fight Club” deals with mental illness, and “Panic Room” is about a woman and her daughter held hostage in their own home.

But Fincher has proven to be capable of confounding expectations. People who thought “Zodiac” would be an action-packed serial killer flick were surprised to discover a dense, meticulously paced two-hour-forty-minute drama about the ravages of obsession. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, about a man who ages in reverse, was short on Fincher’s usual penchant for the macabre, but full of romantic sentimentality and striking visual effects.

Those antsy to know what kind of film “The Social Network” will be have relished online leaks by people who have read the screenplay, which is said to be full of snappy, humorous dialogue. Even juicier was an article in British newspaper The Sunday Times reporting that the film portrays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a “ruthless and untrustworthy sex maniac” and “borderline-autistic conniver” who launched his experiment in a fit of lovesick rage after his girlfriend dumped him.

The inclusion of “The Social Network” in the prestigious, non-competitive New York Film Festival, known for showcasing foreign and independent films chosen by an exclusive committee of US film critics, indicates that “The Social Network” is something more than a breezy big-budget tale of success and controversy. Richard Peña, one of the chief organisers of the festival, noted: “It’s exceptionally rare to discover a film that so powerfully captures the spirit of its time”, adding that the film is “not only of the moment but reflective of larger cultural issues as well” and confirms David Fincher’s “position at the forefront of contemporary cinema”.

Perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over “The Social Network” concerns the impact it will have on Facebook and creator Mark Zuckerberg’s reputation, which has a taken a beating in the wake of recent changes to the site’s privacy settings. Zuckerberg, for his part, has made it clear how he feels about the film. At a conference last month, he admitted: "I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive."

Date created : 2010-07-10