Friday, February 19, 2010

My Favorite Film Title/Credit Sequences Part 1

Stunt man Bob Simmons played Bond in the first...Image via Wikipedia
When I was a kid growing up watching movies at a local theater, I couldn't wait until the main titles were through and off of the screen. I thought they held up the movie, especially if it was one I really wanted to see. Yes, I had no patience, then. [wife: "You have it, now?"] I think it was during my college days that I began to appreciate the creativity behind those titles, or end credits. The playful use of graphics, music and motion (or fonts) that were on display in the really great ones, lent to the story that was on-hand. Or sometimes, the main titles gave a brooding foreshadowing of what was to come via whatever method the skilled designers behind them employed. Whether it was subtle, or blatant, those sequences could and did mesmerize me. It would be years later that I'd learn about some of the masters of this special art, like Saul Bass and Maurice Bender (and if you've ever seen any of the older James Bond movies, you've seen this man's excellent work). In other words (and especially when they're great), I've come to genuinely enjoy, and look forward to, the main title sequences and/or the closing end credits of the movies I take in. Here are some of my favorites, in no order or ranking:

Main Title - The Wild Bunch: this is the now famous (and fabulous) entrance of the "Wild Bunch" into a quiet southwestern border town. Peckinpah's use of the black & white titles, via intercuts and freeze frames, are just so elegantly done. It is a truly effective sequence with the clear message that these are very serious, violent people encased on the screen. Any illusion to the contrary is surely ended when the director's title credit comes across on Pike Bishop's (William Holden) order:
"If they move, kill'em!"

Main Title - Superman (The Movie): This is the great translucent graphic main titles director Richard Donner used for his now classic 1978 comic book adaptation. Those swooshing title images (a clear reference to the main character) cutting across the screen is augmented by John Williams' heroic score leading the way. It is as good as it gets for a superhero movie introduction, then or now.

Closing Credits - Angel Heart: This is the closing credits from Alan Parker's 1987 film, Angel Heart. It is the movie adaptation of the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. The dark, contrasty images of Harry Angel's "elevator ride to Hell" are intercut with the closing credits, along with creaking sounds and sinister musical score. All of it, make this closing sequence well worth staying to the end for.

Main Titles - Alien: This is the famous slow fade-in of the film title sequence in director Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror classic, Alien. The title appearance is played across the top of the screen (with the interstellar expanse as a backdrop), moving from out to in (hint, hint). Jerry Goldstein's eerie score lets everyone know what they're in for, too.

Opening Title - Duel at Diablo: Ralph Nelson's 1966 western, with its bloody Apache knives cutting across the opening black screen is one of the best (and most grim) western preludes ever. It sets up what's to come in a most effective and direct manner possible.

Main Titles - The Outlaw Josey Wales: This is the main title sequence from Clint Eastwood's early masterpiece from 1976, The Outlaw Josey Wales. After the pillage of the Wales homestead, the simple titles are overlaid on the scenes of the avenging Missouri guerrillas on horseback. All of it done to the marching score by Jerry Fielding. It's a great introductory sequence and it provides the backstory of the main character. As well, it uses some of the best of Bruce Surtee's beautiful cinematography.

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  1. Yes, those are excellent examples. Some of my personal faves include the opening credits for both FIGHT CLUB (going through the protagonist's brain and out through his mouth to the barrel of a gun!) and SEVEN (incredible remix of "Closer" by NIN) which has been endlessly copied and really sets the tone and atmosphere for the rest of the film.

    I would also cite the opening credits for THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY - a personal fave with all of those trippy colors and Ennio Morricone's iconic music playing over it... amazing!

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, the opening credits for BLUE VELVET are incredibly effective with classic Hollywood style font over a curtain of lush blue velvet gently swaying (or pulsating?) also really sets a mood.

    Man, there are so many but those are a few I can think of off the top of my head.

  2. You have some great examples yourself, J.D. There is just so many in moviedom, and a few are better than the film themselves (note to self: I need to post some of them). I always appreciate your comments and examples, my friend. Thank you very much.

  3. This was really interesting, lp13. Anymore, if I'm impatient at the beginning of movies, it's because I've just had to sit through 30 min of trailers and commercials. (I loathe commercials at the theaters, btw.) The opening credits start and sometimes there's this split-second wondering "Now, what movie are we seeing?"

    I like Alien's fluid opening. Even though there's something going on, it's not too distracting to read the credits and yet you know you're not missing any important action when you pull your eyes away to read them. Does that make sense? I got a little impatient with the stop-and-start of The Wild Bunch opening.

    There was something particularly sinister in the opening of The Wild Bunch for me. The children giggling while watching the fire ants swarming on the scorpions just gave me the creeps. (I assume those were fire ants.)

    The Outlaw Josey Wales is a classic in this household! One can never see that movie too many times. ;-)

  4. Some terrific examples there. I always loved the Bond openers when I was a kid, although I was also a little impatient as far as credits go. JD mentioned Fincher who is a great exponent of this art, and I'd add Saul Bass, too.
    Great to see Angel Heart on here. A truly chilling finale to a wonderful film.

  5. For sheer exuberance and because I love the song that plays over it, the opening credits for REPO MAN are pretty awesome and set the mood for the film perfectly.

    "Let's get sushi and not pay!" ; )

  6. Those closing credits to Angel Heart I had completely forgotten, and I don't know how -- most impressive. And I had forgotten that Brownie McGhee was in that film. He was one of my dad's favorite musicians. And Dual at Diablo I am unfamiliar with, but what a shocking opening for a western.

    I also like the opening credits for the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

  7. Christine: commercials and those pre-movie 'zines have to be the worst recent trend in theaters today (IMO). The ALIEN titles are a discernibly simple, fluid sequence. In comparison, TWB is almost a slow burn of sorts (pun) with its titles, and its symbolism of the ants/scorpions standing in, and foreshadowing what's coming, for the principals is chilling. TOJW!

    Steve: the Bond trailers were always a point of discussion on the school yard among the males my age, at the time ;-). Good call on Fincher with re: to this art, too.

    J.D.: it had been so long since I saw REPO MAN, I had to check it out again on YouTube. You're so right. "REPO MAN THEME by Iggy Pop" (1:44 mark). And I forgot Michael Nesmith was the Executive Producer!

    Naomi: ANGEL HEART is one of those films that was done so well for its time, and included some great jazz and jazz musicians. DUEL AT DIABLO is an underrated, but fairly brutal, western. Its start does catch the eye, doesn't it? Great addition with the original and fun Thomas Crown Affair titles, Naomi.

  8. D'oh! I forgot to thank all of you for your wonderful comments and the examples you've offered regarding this post [my mother would kill me for that lapse in manners].

  9. I kind of think your mother is justifiably proud of you.

  10. You are a very kind woman, Naomi. Thank you.

  11. Some great choices there that I couldn't argue with. I've also got a fondness for the opening of Peckinpah's Major Dundee - a flawed film to be sure but that scene of the aftermath of the Apache massacre with the guy dangling over the soon to lit fire is chilling stuff.
    I also love the beginning of Stanley Donen's Charade, as the body is tossed from the train before that superb score and credit sequence kicks in.

  12. Thank you very much, Livius. Great examples of your own, too. One of these anticipated one of my favorites that is upcoming ;-).

  13. Since J.D. mentioned it, here is Forget the Film Watch the Titles examination of Kyle Cooper's remarkable title sequence from David Fincher's Se7en film.