Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Key Grip, Aye? Very... Interesting" (Intro Credits)

This is a minor rant that applies mostly to older films, but one that I reflect on often (in fact, whenever I find myself sitting through a text-only list of names when I wanted to see a movie). My issue is with pre-movie credits that lack any inspiration whatsoever. I understand perfectly well that the cast and crew is proud of their accomplishments and rightly wants recognition, but testing audience patience with five minutes of white on black text that they stare at blankly just isn’t a good way to kick start a film.

Creative opening credit sequences can go a long way towards getting an audience excited for the film, or squeazing in some backstory or engaging in artistic play. Before I get too far, I should mention that the old disembodied-hand-turning-the-pages-of-a-book-with-the-same-title-of-the-movie just doesn’t cut it. Nor does the Japanese staple of the 1950’s and 60’s work for me: white credits on a woven/textured background that hold interminably while traditional music plays (Sorry, Kurosawa and Ozu). That being said, it is often the choice of music which makes a good intro work (as in almost all Tarantino films).

While coming up with good examples, this post became a list (in no particular order) as they doubtlessly often will. I welcome other suggestions in the comments.

1) Humorous cartoons like those at the beginning of most of the “The Pink Panther” series and also “Catch Me If You Can.”

2) The variously amusing or eccentric Bond openings culminating recently in “Casino Royale.”

3) The clever font integration of films like “Panic Room” where the text is placed along skyscraper walls with proper perspective maintained (by Kyle Cooper). Satoshi Kon’s anime “Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) commoditizes the credits by integrating them onto billboards, signs and other ads.

4) The scratchy atmospheric “Se7en.” (also by Kyle Cooper)

5) The minimalist graphic art styling of “Hard Candy.”

6) The silk-screened exuberance of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with credits timed to bullet and cannon fire.

7) The engaging alternation of text and image in films like “A Zed and Two Noughts.” Many excellent examples of this exist but I like the rhythmic use of Michael Nyman’s score in this example.

8) The playful cafeteria food credits in “Napoleon Dynamite.” (by Pablo Ferro)

9) The thematically-relevant Polaroid undeveloping in “Memento”

10) Politically-minded embedded short stories like ‘The life and times of a bullet’ from “Lord of War.”

11) The self-consciously read-out-loud credits from “Contempt” (Especially humorous since the day-lit open-air shot contrasts so prominently with the previous shot: an extended, dark and intimate dialogue between Michel Piccoli and a thoroughly naked Brigitte Bardot.) Godard made numerous other great credit sequences with silk-screened text in primary colors.

12) “Thank You for Smoking’s” witty integration of text onto vintage cigarette containers accompanied by a hilarious little ditty.

13) The poetic and simple “Raging Bull” intro showing DeNiro boxing alone.

14) Ambiguous, challenging montages like the science/technobabble credits of “Pi.”

15) Similarly, the punk-charged raucous roadmap montage of “Repoman.”

16) The flowing dance through a pile of bric-a-brac and text in “Delicatessen”

17) The compositional balancing of text on semi-surreal images that accompanies the intro of “City of Lost Children.”

18) Saul Bass’s plot-themed 60’s and 70’s credits like the body part intro of “Anatomy of a Murder” and the Las Vegas lightshow credits of the original “Oceans Eleven.”

19) The graphic art noir cutouts of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” with its perfect juxtaposition of red stains: lipstick and blood.

20) Jane Fonda’s zero-G striptease credits from “Barbarella.” There, I said it. It’s certainly one way of holding viewer attention. As far as pure hormonal response goes, I also have to give credit to “Planet Terror’s” (2007) go-go dancing intro credits with Rose McGowan.

Additions since the original list:
21) "Paprika" (2006)
22) "Ginger Snaps" (2000)
23) "Walk on the Wild Side" (1962) (Thanks to Self-Styled Siren)


Unknown said...

Even though it is disqualified for being TV, the Masters of Horror intro totally pwns.

Unknown said...

Also, not to be a jerk, but..."key grip" wouldn't be in the opening credits.

Unknown said...

"...and in case you're wondering, the best boy is somebody's nephew."

Mad Dog said...

Planet Terror's credits also impressed me.

But I don't see Ghost in the Shell, Innocence OR Solid State Society up there... yet. >:3

FilmWalrus said...


Good point about key grip not being on pre-movie credits. Still, the names of minor actors (without any context since this is before the movie) annoys me as does the finacial reality of producer and presenter credits.

Oh, and the MoH intro is totally awesome.

Mad Dog,
Good point about the Ghost in the Shell intro credits. The first movie has a voyeuristic-meets-futuristic flair and the Innocence just blows my mind with the CG cyborg effects.

Molly said...

I'd ask for one exception among classic page turning credits: Lady in the Lake with the stack of Christmas Cards slowly removed to a montage of carols that ends with the ominious 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and a gun on the table underneath the stack.

There's a lot of artistic innovation in that film, but I'm not terribly fond of it, and the credits are, I think, my favorite part.

FilmWalrus said...

Exactly Why,

I am sorry to admit that I didn't remember Lady in the Lake. Much like you, I really like that film even though it has plenty of anamolous elements that make it difficult to fit into the continuum or noir.

It took a lot brain straining and internet searching just to recall the ones I did, but there are many I'm sure I left out. No snub meant to Lady in the Lake.

Molly said...

ha ha I didn't mean to suggest a snub.

On the whole I am very fond of opening credits, if only because they keep me from banging my head on things during a film when I get distracted wondering if that really is such and such an actor or so and so's music.

I thought I'd bring up Lady in the Lake as a fairly singular exception to the (agreed) dull and unimaginative page-turning credits.

Also, I rather like the opening titles of Sleepy Hollow, which may not quite fit into your category because they appear over a sequence (albiet narratively unnecessary) in the movie proper and not on their own. But they work well with the music, and they interact with the environment, which text on top of scenes does not usually do.

I generally admire Tim Burton for usually a) having openign credits and b) making them interesting.

Anonymous said...

Saul Bass