Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb….
First and foremost, I hope you have had a lovely Christmas. I was very lucky to be given my very first Kindle and it has already opened the door to plenty of reading material I may have otherwise missed. My first book selection was Laremy Legel’s Film Criticism: A Decade Behind the Scenes in the Movie Industry. Legel writes an easy-going expose into the modern film critic, but crucially the experience of writers in the USA. Often, he will go a little off-track and highlight his own bugbears and frustrations with cinema itself – one of which is Opening Credits…
“…seriously, you don’t care who the casting director was. I don’t care … yet there they are, splashed up on screen, taking up my time, getting me out of the mood for a movie. Credits, by their very definition, are founded in reality … This is the antithesis of preparing me for a fictional world where I’m supposed to believe in motivations and character arc”
The book is available on Amazon here.
He explains how the James Bond iconic opening credits is acceptable and how Catch Me If You Can’s “stylish” sequence (which, in turn, was influenced by Saul Bass and his credits for Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese) “jazzed” him up. His argument is simple (and dates back to 2007, and the original article this book chapter is expanded from for Film.com) – that all it is, is vanity.
As far as opening credits go, I adore them. I believe that, though I am not making a note of every name that flickers on the screen, I am acclimatising to the tone of the film. The carved-out letters and arresting Newton-Howard score for Signs; the vast, empty landscapes and Newman score for Wall-E; the playful jazz and Windsor-EF-Elongated font of every Woody Allen film. The heighten my sense and prepare me for what is to come.
Too often, I begin watching a film and uttered those fateful words, “oh, this is gonna be good…” before the opening credits have finished (and, sometimes it is good … sometimes it isn’t). Rewatching For a Few Dollars More (titles by Iginio Lardani) over Christmas reminded me of how exciting, and slick, Sergio Leone’s western was. The Opening Credits are integral to that. Morricone’s score alone immediately takes hold of you and demands your attention. The list goes on and on – and though, cynically, we can argue (as Legel does) that it is merely a guise to celebrate the egos of filmmakers, it is also an art form in and of itself. Like all art forms, it can fail – but that does not mean it is to be erased all together.
Modern graphic designer Kyle Cooper (Fight Club, Iron Man and Se7en) is widely seen as the natural extension of Saul Bass, while Daniel Kleinman has taken over the majority of title duties on the 007 series. These are pioneers in modern filmmaking – and yet their names are rarely seen during the opening credits (maybe the James Bond ones…)
I appreciate that some films take great pride in beginning without opening credits – immediately starting the film after the studio logos. But that is up to the director. A catch-all criticism of all Opening Credits is insulting to the art form itself, inaccurate in its argument that audiences do not require it and naïve towards to the nature of cinema itself.
Legel argues that opening credits ultimately break down the fourth wall of the cinema. It tells the audience, explicitly, that it is not real – and, by extension, the motivation and character arcs are not real too. Does a reader claim the pages of the book “reveal” the lack of truth in a story? Do cinema-goers recoil in horror when a close-up or stylish-edit focuses our attention on something different? Does the crackle of a record “reveal” the manufactured process of vinyl – and therefore lose the authenticity of the “real” musician?
I like you Laremy, but Opening Credits are part-and-parcel of the medium – and a part that makes cinema so fascinating. In fact, Philip French refused to leave a cinema until the closing credits were finished as he believed that, as a critic, he is paid to stay throughout the film in its entirety. In that regard, even the closing-credits that many ignore, is a vital part of the cinema experience. And finally, why shouldn’t we celebrate the artists involved? Filmmaking is much, much more than a single man directing others – and opening credits, at the very least, tell us about the many, many people involved in the process of filmmaking. Something that too often gets ignored – more than the closing credits are.
NB. Th website The Art of the Title is a brilliant website that analyses and celebrates the artistry of the opening credits.