THE DEATH OF OPENING TITLES

“Our altered states are as real as our waking ones…”

I’m not too fussed about the impending cease and desist on autotune choruses, but I’m in mourning over the sudden death of opening credits on movies. Too often the film starts as it means to go on…not even a title screen, with the details left until the film’s close prior to the scrolling end credits. To me, the opening credits are an intrinsic part of the film experience. If I wanted to dive straight in, I’d stream a crappy iPhone cam-copy online, where the pirate is too shook to get things rolling ’till after the first minute or so.

I don’t even want a CGI tour of the human brain, flying letters or anything like that…a matter-of-fact white font on a black background will do, but they seem to be becoming an endangered species. It’s a shame, because more often than not, the title sequence has fired my imagination more than the two hours or so that follows – I’ve sat through some rubbish, but stopped short of feeling short-changed because I found the music, presentation and lettering that preceded it so agreeable. But this isn’t the time to be listing those alphabetical order red-herring cast listings.

One of my favourite movies (though I’ve long pondered as to how it would’ve fared in the hands of Arthur Penn instead of Ken Russell, I imagine it would’ve been a lesser film), is ‘Altered States’ – first introduced to me when I read the ‘Mad’ parody as a five-year old. To this day, I enjoy it as the kind of film that benefits from herbal accompaniment – to my shame, I’ve not read too far into the nods to Theatre Of Cruelty helmer, surrealist and writer Antonin Artuad – a man quite partial to opium, or checked the original novel by Paddy Chayefsky, screenwriter of classics like ‘Network’ too, who adapted the film then later disowned it after some rows with Ken (hence the ‘Sidney Aaron’ credit) over the manic mindfuck pace of the finished piece, sadly passing after its release.

But let’s steer from the madcap content, and instead concentrate on what is, in my opinion, the greatest opening title in film history – a moment of sobriety and solitude that’s the calm before the hallucinatory storm, with a pioneering 1980 motion graphic that precedes a less subtle but nonetheless effective copy to a Brad Fiedel score for ‘The Terminator’ four years later. Designed by Richard Greenberg, the font is terrific (love that ‘A’) and that gradual slide before the actual reveal is a stunner. Greenberg formed R/GA with his brother Robert in 1977, to change the game with their credits for ‘Superman’ in 1978 (bear in mind that the near-exact repeat of those titles 28 years later for Singer’s sequel snoozefest was the solitary goosebump moment)  with the company’s LA branch (RGA/LA) ultimately creating some killer title work (pun unintended) on ‘Se7en’ and plenty of fine work for Nike in recent years.

Actually, while we’re talking favourite credits, talk of Saul Bass is a given. He’s been covered to death, but this ’05 site entry http://www.notcoming.com/saulbass/index2.php is by far the most intelligent presentation of his handiwork. I’m a ‘Seconds’ (1966) man, and the use of reflective mylar, that score and stark lettering remains unsurpassed.

Don Record’s work on ‘Prime Cut’ (1972) is strong too, accompanied by a sequence that’s not for the vegetarians. It’s a perfect start to this oddball thriller.

A staggeringly obvious inclusion, (and like ‘Prime Cuts’ a film scored by Lalo Schifrin) Pablo Ferro’s work on ‘Bullitt’ (1968) is way ahead of its time as well. This showreel of his graphic title work demonstrates just how prolific and versatile he is.