Friday, March 18, 2016

Are opening credits becoming uncool?

Dr. Strangelove's opening credits made an eye-catching
use of typography and design.
Last fall the Indiewire blog The Playlist offered their choices for the 50 Best Opening Credits of All Time. Many of the ones you'd expect, both classic and contemporary, are there: Dr. Strangelove, Do The Right Thing, Vertigo, The Pink Panther, Watchmen, Seven, etc., as well as several Bond movies, of course. Many online cinephiles also know about the website The Art of the Title, which celebrates the very best in title sequences, past and present. Clearly, there's a segment of film fans that really appreciate a well-done opening credit sequence. So why does it seem like more and more films these days eschew the opening credits altogether?

I don't have exact statistical figures to back this up, but if you've gone to enough movies recently, you've got to have noticed: a lot (though certainly not all) of contemporary films tend to favor the bare minimum for opening titles, namely, a few producer credits ("Lotsa Dough Pictures in association with Big Explosion Studios present an Alan Smithee Film") and then a title card, and then boom, the movie starts, and you don't get to see the full credits until the very end.

The impression I get is that it's so you won't have to wait a minute longer for the movie proper to start, so you can be thrilled with its scintillating dialogue, amazing acting and sparkling visuals. I tend to associate this trend with Oscar contenders - there's something about it that adds a veneer of faux-gravitas to a dramatic movie - but I've seen it done for comedies and action movies as well.


The detailed and stylistic credits of Seven established the mindset
of its serial killer antagonist.
As with many things in modern film, I blame George Lucas. I've read testimonials about what it was like the first time audiences in 1977 saw those words - STAR WARS - and the weekly serial-inspired opening crawl, pop up on the screen, followed by the first shot of the giant Star Destroyer firing on the tiny spaceship. I imagine it must have been breathtaking. Kubrick opened 2001 in a similarly bombastic, overwhelming manner nine years earlier, of course, but it's A New Hope that everyone remembers more. So yeah, there's no doubt that starting without opening credits can give your movie the opportunity to start on just the right tone.

But there are good reasons not to abandon opening credits altogether. For one thing, and this is certainly something I've experienced on many an occasion, from a movie-goer's perspective, the opening credits are, or at least should be, a kind of last-chance buffer for latecomers to arrive and find their seats. Seriously, if you haven't arrived at the theater by the time the opening credits end, then as far as I'm concerned, you deserve to miss the movie! 

These days, in particular, with all the pre-show ads and the parade of trailers that precede the movie, arriving on time shouldn't be a problem, yet all too often it still is for some people. Well, the opening credits are kinda like the final hurdle to clear. You can make it before they finish and still have it be a minimal disturbance to everyone else at best - and you probably won't miss much, plot-wise.


The main titles of Watchmen established the differences in this
alternate reality where history looks the same, but isn't.
More importantly, though, opening credits have been used to do things like convey important plot information, get inside the head of important characters, establish a mood or an attitude important to the movie, or simply to have a few laughs. 

I don't think these things should be minimized. They're fun, they're artistic, and they're an expression of the character of their respective movies. Going without them every so often can seem dramatically different, but they have a value to the overall movie, and I'd hate to think that modern filmmakers might be moving towards this trend too much.

Thoughts?

6 comments:

  1. Agreed, I like a nice credit sequence, especially where there's good opening theme music to go with! I like that you included Seven, great example.

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    1. The main titles of SEVEN left an impression on me when I first saw the film. That might have been one of the first movies where I became aware of what kind of impact a well-done title sequence could have on a movie; indeed, how it could resonate throughout the rest of the movie. No surprise that it came from David Fincher, who came from the music video world. It looks like it could be a video.

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  2. I find the lack of opening credits to be annoying. I feel that the movie makers want me to forget I'm watching a movie and only live their astounding creativity. Guys and gals, I know I am watching a movie. I want to know who is associated with it in a clever and memorable way or a simple a straight-forward way. None of your skulduggery is necessary. If the movie is good then I will live it.

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  3. Clearly you've given this a lot of thought. :-D

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  4. I love great credits sequences (and Saul Bass's name popped in my mind when I was reading your piece). But my favorites have to be the pre-Code credits, that show the actor's name, the photo and the character's name. They are very useful and helped me discover several new faces - Claire Dodd being the latest. I also like, in silent films, when the intertitle presents the character and it contains the actor's name!
    Cheers!

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  5. Yeah, I liked those, too. Good point. They were certainly good for matching names to faces so that later generations would remember not only the stars, but the supporting players as well. Not that those filmmakers were thinking of later generations when they did that.

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