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Brad Pitt spars with 'Fight Club' critics

October 14, 1999
Web posted at: 3:59 p.m. EST (1959 GMT)

From Paul Vercammen
CNN Entertainment Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are spoiling for a fight with anyone who might try to land a punch on their new film. "Fight Club," being released on Friday by 20th Century Fox, puts the two Academy Award-nominated actors into the ring for more than a few rounds of bare-knuckled brawling.

"We had some great choreographers on the fight scene once we got into the club itself," says Pitt, who plays Tyler Durden, a self-styled male-consciousness raiser. Newsweek's David Anson reviews Pitt's character as "a kind of Nietzschean Robin Hood, using violence to restore dignity to the benighted American male."

"We did a little training in the beginning," Pitt says. "But again, these guys aren't supposed to be skilled fighters."

Pitt says the film isn't about "knocking the other guy out. It's just getting in there and participating. So we wanted to keep it loose, and it's free-form. Although I hit Edward whenever I could and was able to get away with it."

Such banter from Pitt is something of a pre-emptive strike. Words may be exchanged, nostrils may flare, boys may seem to be boys as this film goes to screens nationwide. At bottom, David Fincher has directed an urban-professionals' evocation of the "men's movement" debate -- the question of whether the male in the United States has been emasculated. Before show's end, the Fight Club morphs into something called Project Mayhem.

Pitt's character, called in the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk novel, "a guerrilla terrorist of the service industry," encourages men to beat each other in order to reconnect with a lost sense of manhood.

"If Rudy Giuliani was upset by a little bit of elephant dung on a portrait of the Virgin Mary," writes critic Jason Kaufman for NY Rock, referring to the New York mayor's recent displeasure with the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Sensation" exhibit, "'Fight Club' should give him a coronary on the spot."

The film, writes Kaufman, is "shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater of conservatives obsessed with the impact of movie violence on real-life sociopaths."

On the mat

At the time of the novel's publication three years ago, critic Thomas Gaughan wrote for Booklist, "This is a dark and disturbing book that dials directly into youthful angst and will likely horrify the parents of teens and 20-somethings. It's also a powerful, and possibly brilliant, first novel."

And Sven Birkerts wrote for Esquire, that "Fight Club" is "a bizarre, ugly, and determinedly cranked-up novel, a novel, you must dislike while reading, but there is something else in the pulse -- the staccato edges exposed, the way it gets from line to line -- that makes you wonder if the author might not know a few secrets.

Clearly a rumble is coming as this show rolls out at cinemas: The editor of "The Hollywood Reporter" has called it morally repulsive.

Norton and Pitt say they're ready to take on all comers.

"The fighting is not necessarily 'take your aggressions out on someone else.' The idea is just to get in there, have an experience, take a punch more importantly and see how you come out on the other end."
-- Brad Pitt on "Fight Club"

"I think it's simplistic and kind of lazy journalism" to make such critical statements, Norton says. "That's just like sort of grabbing at today's headlines and sort of glibly lumping in some sort of associative link between a film like this and that. This isn't a film about guns."

"The fighting isn't necessarily 'take your aggressions out on someone else,'" Pitt says. "The idea is just to get in there, have an experience, take a punch more importantly and see how you come out on the other end -- test yourself.

"I mean, that's the modified self-help version of the psychology, I guess."

The plot's Fight Club is devised to attract men who feel powerless and numb. And it's logical to expect that the film itself may draw a similar viewer.

But Pitt and Norton argue that the topic isn't as closely related to the old beating-drums-in-the-woods weekends of the 1980s as some will expect.

"I don't think it's strictly male in its themes at all," Norton says.

Conflict with no resolution?

"Fight Club" may be called out on other grounds, too.

Anson, in his Newsweek review, says the film trades in homoerotic imagery without addressing it: "When the movie, after satirizing the gym-enhanced bodies of men in Gucci subway ads ("Self-improvement is masturbation," Tyler pronounces), cuts to the impeccably lean and cut body of its leading man, it is in the grips of a style-content contradiction that this slick denunciation of surface values battles throughout."

A similar contradiction might manifest in responses to the film. Pitt, in particular, is warning detractors away while saying the film's intent is to encourage people to mix it up.

As with the gay imagery Anson sees in the film, it may be hard to have it both ways.

"We're telling more about not behaving as a spectator," Pitt says. "More the point of the story is to get in and get involved."

At another time, in another film, the line might be, "Make my day."

From 'Magnolia' to 'American Beauty,' fall films primp for Oscar
September 21, 1999
Movie makes 'Fight Club' book a contender
September 7, 1999
Bemuscled Norton takes on a heavy 'History' lesson
October 29, 1998
Meet Brad Pitt: Actor talks traps, perfection, and honesty
November 12, 1998

Official 'Fight Club' site
W.W. Norton Web site
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