October 06, 2007

Three Examples Of Exceptionally Awesome Opening Titles

Here are three examples of opening titles which kick my ass. What strikes me about all of them is how, by the time story begins, they have successfully transported their audience to a completely different world with a completely new mood. Within two minutes, you have become lost in that place. Example 1: Alien (1979) The visuals combined with Jerry Goldsmith's unsettling non-theme manage to get under the skin like worms-- it's even more threatening than the work he did on the title sequence for Planet of the Apes. This immediately feels uncomfortably real and serious. There is no doubt that something incredibly dangerous and far beyond your understanding is lurking on the periphery. The story goes something like this: Goldsmith had composed an actual theme and something happened-- someone hated it or whatever-- and he was forced to hastily throw this together, so it is with bitterness that he regularly endures its praise. If you are interested in hearing director Ridley Scott's commentary on the sequence, you can check it out here. Example 2: Lost Highway (1997) ...with buggy sound. Sorry. I've only seen the film once (because Universal has yet to release it on DVD in the US), and it was at a midnight show last winter at the IFC Film Center here in NYC, but the print was clean, the screen was huge, and the sound was C-R-A-N-K-E-D! It was a comparable experience to seeing the opening treatment of Star Wars, and it was certainly the best film experience I've had in a long, long time. By the time Bowie's song faded, it was pretty obvious that I was about to get my ass kicked, and I was not disappointed. There were so many perfect pairings of sound and image in this film-- the first time we see the blonde incarnation of Patricia Arquette, for example. Example 3: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Manages to be modern and old fashioned/sentimental at the same time. Must be the combination of the helvetica and the ye olde trinkets. You've already started to cry and the film has barely begun.


stexe said...

Big thumbs up on goldsmith's 'alien' score, but lest we forget the perfect pairing of bernard herrman and saul bass:
and what the hell, I can't stop myself.... a successful updating of the 'psycho' opening titles and theme:

Lance Ehlers said...

Yeah, the examples I cite are by no means the definitive three opening sequences, but they are three which immediately came to mind when I posed the question to myself. Also, they are from films which I REALLY liked. Saul Bass did title sequences for a ton of films, but none of those films captured my imagination the way these three did. Not even Psycho, to tell you the truth. I know that in the film world, that is considered heresy. Good film, just not one that I would ever think to watch if I owned it.

Saul Bass' titles for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, for example, are fun, but I remember being annoyed by the film.


stexe said...

Sure it's all subjective, and you made good choices, I'm just psyched to share my own fetishes. Those films I linked to aren't my favorites either, but I like the pairing of the titles with the musical score. The opening titles stand alone as short experimental films. Here's a feature I don't recommend watching, except for the nice opening credits animation with the fun soundtrack.