Film title sequences are becoming more popular but is this necessarily a good thing? Do these sequences have a rightful place at the beginning or end of films we watch and why is it that not every film has them? Film title sequences are a form of visual communication and as such they are supposed to feed us information whether through setting the mood or hinting at what we are to expect in the following film, at the very least they list who was involved in making the film. There intention is to add to the experience of the film itself, to compliment it, but if done wrong can it go the other way and ruin the experience to a certain extent?
A major player in making film title sequences more than just scrolling text was Saul Bass. Saul Bass was an American graphic designer and an academy award winning filmmaker. Bass’s breaking moment was in 1954 when he designed a film poster for Otto Preminger’s film ‘Carmen Jones’. Preminger was impressed with Bass’s work on the poster for the film and gave him the opportunity to create the title sequence for the film itself. The reason why Bass has become so popular and looked to for inspiration is what he did with this opportunity. His idea was to create titles that would boost the experience of the film, he “viewed the titles as an opportunity to enhance the story”. To impose upon the audience the mood and tone of the film whilst giving subtle hints as to what is to come was his aim.
The title sequences for ‘The Man with the Golden Arm'(1955) and ‘Anatomy of a Murder'(1959) again for Otto Preminger were thought by many to have “elevated the role of the movie title as a prelude to the film”. This was a huge statement as it is saying that Saul Bass was responsible for making title sequences more than just scrolling text that had to be there to show who was involved in the making. It’s saying that he made title sequences important enough to secure a place before or after a film and in doing so he had created a better overall experience of the film to an audience with his title sequences as opposed to the standard credits. He had enhanced the film with his creations.
Another key director Bass worked with named Martin Scorsese, a director, and example being for the title sequence ‘Casino'(1995). According to Scorsese “Bass fashioned title sequences into an art, creating in some cases, like ‘Vertigo’, a mini film within a film. His motion graphics compositions function as a prologue to the movie – setting the tone, providing the mood and foreshadowing the action”. ‘Vertigo’ is a psychological thriller made by Alfred Hitchcock, believed by many to be a masterpiece. The main character James Stewart is a detective from San Francisco, he suffered near fatal trauma when trying to apprehend a criminal on the rooftops of the city, caused by vertigo, a fear of heights. Bass’s title sequence for this film start with an extreme close up of a woman’s lips, slowly pans up to her eyes, which shift from left to right. Along with the music this is quite disturbing. The shot is black and white and very shadowy, the eyes of the woman are pure black, not just the pupil. It’s also disturbing to be this close to someone, to invade their personal space so much. All this happens in the first twenty second of the film and it has already set a dark, mysterious mood. The camera zooms in on one eye, the whole screen goes red as the eye opens wider and the word ‘vertigo’ zooms from the depth of her eye onto the centre of the screen.
Still looking at the eye, a swirling pattern comes on the screen inside the eye, swirling round and round, which then replaces the eye and gets bigger as more swirling patterns emerge in the centre of the last one and this motion repeats as the names come up. The effect it gives makes you really feel like you’re falling, but not only falling, the spiralling shapes make you feel weird, dizzy almost, I am presuming this is a slight taste of what vertigo feels like in a way, which is why this title sequence is so popular. The music made by composer Bernard Hermann fits perfectly as the music repeats over and over but changes too over time, which adds to the feeling of falling, as you fall you just keep going down and down, obviously which is what this music makes you feel like, this connects us to the feeling of the character. The only downside of these title credits is that the swirling shapes are on a black background, which can easily be mistaken for a film set in space. The music also can be seen as exploring the unknown, so in this case I think it can be a little confusing. I think instead of a black background, maybe some buildings instead, then again this could take away the dizzying sensation away from the mesmerizing shapes as the buildings would detract from them. Therefore I think these title sequences are the type that get better every time you see the film as you have a greater understanding, and it opens up even more depth into the world a film sucks you into.
Vertigo’s title sequence was before the film like many are, but what about title sequences after the film, at the end? If the title sequences before a film are to ‘provide an entrée to the world the viewer will inhabit for the next few hours’ then what is the purpose of titles at the end? After all you can’t set the tone once the film is over. Two recent examples of title sequences after the film are ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’. Like most animated films these days the audience is everyone. Kids like them because they are basically epic cartoons and adults enjoy them because the writers put subtle jokes in that will pass over kids heads. Since these films will attract a lot of younger people who’s attention spans are shorter than adults, I think the decision to put them at the end of the film is a smart choice. Here you have the choice to watch them or not as when the film is over you can leave, unlike with intro credits where you are almost forced to watch them. The danger here however is that all the effort and time gone into making these sequences can be missed entirely if the viewer so chooses. However I feel that if the actual film captivates the viewer, the more likely they are too watch the title sequence at the end.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs credits are colourful, bight and cheerful. It stylises the characters but personifies their personalities which the viewer will have come to know through the film and it will make them smile. These credits are a continuation of the story after the ending, a sort of wrap up of the whole film. Also captivates on a few tongue in cheek jokes that were subtle through the film such as a shot where food has made a mess of the Great Wall of China and the characters clean it, then it shows a shot of London and after they clean it, it looks exactly the same as always. The credits for Kung Fu Panda are much the same, it shows each character in turn doing something that makes us smile because we know the kind of thing to expect from each one, while the text says the name of the person who did the voice for that character. I think the title sequences at the end of the films are just like putting a cherry on top of a cake, without them you still have enjoyed it but with this extra bit, the overall package just got better. Throughout the film you have been taken on a journey and got to know the characters that inhabit that world and the end title sequences are a time to reflect upon this time, make you smile and feel like you’re a part of it, as if someone else that just joined without watching the film wouldn’t get as much enjoyment out of them as you are having, this I feel is what is special about film title sequence that are at the end, inside knowledge. If the intro title sequences are to set the mood for the upcoming film, I think credits set at the end are to make you want to watch it again through fond memories of the story and world you just travelled through.
The bond title sequences are the most well known of all titles. The gun barrel sequence created by Maurice Binder, where the white circles come onto the screen, bond walks on and we see him from the side angle, he turns and shoots at us looking down the scope of a gun. “British media historian James Chapman suggests that the sequence is a significant part of the James Bond mythos because it “foregrounds the motif of looking, which is central to the spy genre”‘. Ever since ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963) the bond films have kept to the same formulae even till this day. The formulae of featuring weapons, explosions, wealth and attractive silhouetted woman dancing whilst having a dangerous edge to them. All of these things are key elements of all bond films and as the series of these films has been going on for so long with the title sequences being pretty similar from film to film they have become an integral part. A bond film without a big flashy title sequence would just not be a bond film. If you show any one of the bond title sequences to someone I can pretty much guarantee they know what film series it belongs to. The bond title sequences have become more than just a more interesting way of showing the names of people that were involved in the film, they have become a brand for the movies, an instantly recognisable set of visuals.
There are a lot of positive thoughts about title sequences but are there any downsides? It is surprisingly hard to find anything bad about title sequences. The only thing I can think of personally is the intro to Spiderman 3 by Kyle Cooper. I really like how it is produced and the mood it sets but they go on for far too long in my opinion and I got a little impatient for the actual film to start. This title sequence is three minutes and twenty four seconds long which is the length of most music videos. Three and a half minutes doesn’t sound long but when you are impatient to watch the film or maybe you have been waiting months for it to come out and then you’re made to sit through peoples names flying up for a length of time which ultimately doesn’t mean a lot to you, it may be frustrating. I liked this title sequence, but it was too similar all the way through. I think if they changed it up a bit more that would have kept me interested. I might be going against the grain here because a lot of people love this sequence, but on this occasion it made me fed up before the film has even started, luckily the clever ending to them had a positive effect and this saved them. The title sequences fly through a series of webs stopping at each one to the let the name of the people fall and get caught in them, before zooming onto the next web. At the end the computer generated web turns into a real web and the camera zoom out to the establishing shot. I feel if the person is not captivated by what is being shown through the duration of the starting title sequences then it could have the opposite effect of what is aimed for, instead of drawing people into the world it makes them sick of it already. This may be why not all films have title sequences; it is pretty risky to have a title sequence at the start that could potentially put people off the film before it’s even started because they don’t like the style or they get bored because it doesn’t interest them enough. There are a lot of factors that can go wrong. Why go through all this trouble when they could make a much easier and considerably cheaper black screen with standard scrolling white text. I think the answer lies in that so many title sequences are celebrated more often than the film itself, with whole websites dedicated to title sequences such as ‘Art of the Title’ and ‘Watch the Titles’ where the strap line is ‘Forget the Film, Watch the Titles’.
In conclusion film titles whether at the start or end of the film need to have the purpose of contributing to the overall package of the film. To not feel tacked on but to be integrated perfectly. If they are just eye candy it is a missed opportunity to make them two to three extra minutes the credits take up to crank the quality up a notch. Like the Bond films, ‘Catch me if you Can’ and most title sequences by Saul Bass proves, adding title sequences that integrate with the film can elevate a film onto a higher level than those without.