The Late Shift: Fight Club



Greetings, space monkeys! With the nD Festival at a close and the midnight movie schedule once again on track, I am back on the Late Shift horse. I spent my short break from Italian horror films and '80s nostalgia in Cincinnati, where I attempted to dance to “Two Princes” at a wedding and saw Imperial Teen and The Walkmen at the Midpoint Music Festival. But we're not here to talk about how impossible it is to bust a move to the Spin Doctors — we're here to break the first and second rules of Fight Club.

If anybody ever tells you that they have a new and original opinion on Fight Club, you can go ahead and stop them right there. By my calculations, which are tremendously complicated and scientific (honest), there are no more words to say about Fight Club. None. They've all been said. No matter how clever your observation on hypermasculinity, violence as a metaphor, Antonio Gramsci, Nietzsche's ubermensch or whatever is. It's pretty much been done to death.

Now, with that said, I've got some ideas about Fight Club to tell you about.

There's this generally accepted conception about what Fight Club fans are that was brought up in Craig Lindsey's controversial review of the movie in last week's issue of the Scene. Essentially, the suggestion is that die-hard Fight Club fans have no idea that the movie is pointing and laughing at them. That they take Tyler Durden's 'roided-out male fantasies as a gospel. In some extreme cases, maybe they'll start their own fight clubs. In even more extreme cases, maybe they'll try and blow up a Starbucks. But, at the heart of it lies an anti-consumerist, hegemonic masculinity that Fight Club seems to promote on its face. (But only on its face!)

So, yes. There's definitely an undeniable element of mooks in Fight Club's fanbase. It's the same group of dummies who take American Psycho way too seriously and probably really love the song “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit. But, if that crowd exists in droves, they didn't seem to turn out for the midnight screening of their opus. It was mostly flannel clad dudes in their mid-to-late 20s. So, you know, guys like me.

I can't speak for anyone else in the crowd, but I'd prefer to never be punched in the face, thank you. For all of the anarcho-punk shows I've been to in my lifelong support of upping the punx, I've never felt the urge to burn down an Old Time Pottery. But, for whatever reason, when I first saw Fight Club when I was 15 or 16, I became wildly obsessed with Chuck Palahniuk. I bought every book Palahniuk ever wrote — including a travel guide for Portland, a city I have never been to — in first edition hardback. I mostly loved Survivor and Lullaby, but I could appreciate the others. Until Invisible Monsters made me bleed out of my eyes with disgust. But, uh, we don't have to get into that.

That said, I don't think I've actually seen the movie all the way through since I was maybe 20. And now that I am a verifiable adult (and one who Tyler would likely hold contempt for), I don't think I can watch the movie in the same way that I used to. I definitely am not interested in getting punched in a basement, but I totally get that nagging feeling of "I need to live more." I think it's something we all understand. We just don't answer that notion with "I should probably join a cult." And that's what Fight Club is really about: the rise and fall of a cult. It's basically The Master, except with more bleeding from the face. (I haven't actually seen The Master yet, so it's possible there's face blood in that too.)

It's also the perfect image of a pre-9/11 film, in part because the characters make only the tiniest leap between "cult" and "domestic terrorism" — which is clearly influenced by the ELF assaults and WTO protests of the late '90s. If this were a cultural studies paper, I'd argue that the way we watch Fight Club now and the way we watched it in 1999 is radically different, so much so that they may as well be different movies. Which I think goes along with the criticism I made of Ghostbusters that riled so many people up.

But that's not what kept me engaged in Fight Club.

What I liked about seeing Fight Club in the theater wasn't so much the presence of all of my cultural doppelgangers or the armchair cultural theorizing, but rather the people who had never seen the movie before — mostly girlfriends who got dragged along by the aforementioned doppelgangers. Their genuine reactions — whether it was laughter at Tyler's nunchuckery or horror at the chemical burn — made the movie for me. A lot is said about the super-fans that go to these movies, but I think the newbies are completely undervalued. They may get steamrolled at a movie like Rocky Horror, but being able to watch the movie vicariously through them made it more fun.

So basically, what I'm saying here is that you should con your friends into going to midnight movies. Of course, that can backfire if the people you trick into hanging out at the Belcourt in the middle of the night completely hate the movie. But, when it works? It's awesome.

His Name Is Robert Paulson:

* The drink special was a cool one. Called “Cigarette Burns” after the industry term for the dot that appears before a reel change (and, in the movie, a single frame of pornography), the whiskey drink included lemon, habanero/honey syrup, bitters, rose ash and, incidentally, my favorite tea — Lapsang Souchong. It tastes like a campfire, which is just great.

* The preroll returned with a parody called “Film Club,” Captain Kirk fighting an alien, a seatbelt PSA starring crash test dummies (remember when that was a thing?), a long trailer for the upcoming 12 Hours of Terror event, a parody of "Venus" by Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, a hilarious re-edit of a terrible "pray away the gay" video, a weird Everything Is Terrible father/son song and a bit of Alfred Hitchcock.

* Speaking of 12 Hours of Terror, it looks positively bonkers — especially Society and Detention. Holy crap. I'm definitely going to try to catch some of these, even though I'm a notorious horror wuss.

* When I was looking for clips of Fight Club to put at the top of the post, I had to sift through page after page of parodies, re-edits, shot-for-shot remakes, kinetic typography and all sorts of other weird fan made detritus. What is it about this movie that inspires fans to flood YouTube with tributes?

In two weeks: Begrudgingly, I have bought my tickets for Rocky Horror. I'll see you nerds there on Friday, October 26. I'll be the one who checks out between when Meatloaf exits the film and “Dammit Janet.” Then for the rest of the movie.

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