Zodiac: The Unofficial Reading List

Director David Fincher’s attention for detail is legendary (and the focus of more than a couple of video essays). This particular effort by Hint of Film not only has that manic attention for minutiae as its subject. It also matches Fincher’s modus operandi and his dogged dedication.


H. Nelson Tracey tracked down almost every single book that appears in the movie, often working from grainy screenshots. In doing so, he compiles a reading list for the avid fan (and reconstructs the reading habits of the characters in the movie). He doesn’t stop there, but also catalogues the movie posters and other film references in Zodiac. The resulting video must have made Nelson Tracey’s local librarian proud (and probably set the maker back a few dollars, that were spent scouring Amazon and eBay). For good measure, the video essay also throws in some other artifacts that evoke the film’s historical setting, from Aqua Velva cocktails to a Dick Tracy lunchbox.


The video essay reflects on fandom’s almost pathological fixation on minutiae by passionately contributing to it. It mirrors the unhealthy fixation of the protagonists of the movie by going on a similar (though less grisly) quest. And it partially recreates the universe of the movie by reverse-engineering the work of the property master. Finally, in its methodical collecting, it also calls to mind the work of visual artists that displayed a similar penchant for inventorying and collecting (such as Joseph Beuys, Korbinian Aigner or Bernd and Hilla Becher).


What do you do for fun? That’s the question that sets off this video, a question asked by Robert Downey jr.’s Paul Avery in the movie. The answer that Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) gives is roughly the same as the one this video essay comes up with. You solve riddles that aren’t meant to be solved, collect memories that aren’t yours, assemble a world out of random snippets that seem to hold hidden meaning. And you read, obviously.