I’ve always loved ingenious title sequences. Saul Bass, who created some of the greatest movie openings of all time (Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, Walk on the Wild Side, That’s Entertainment, Part II and a handful of Martin Scorsese films, to name just a few), remains one of my heroes, along with Maurice Binder (who did those unforgettable James Bond titles) and Pablo Ferro (who once sent me a hand-inked note in the exact typeface he used for Dr. Strangelove!). In recent years such talented conceptualists as Kyle Cooper and the team at yU & Co. have generated graphic ideas as innovative as any of their predecessors.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of so many filmmakers choosing to forego a formal opening and throw—
—audiences right into the action is that it’s relegated titles to a back-row seat, figuratively speaking. But some directors still realize that a good opening title can set the mood and lead audiences into a film in the right frame of mind (no pun intended).
That’s why I was so happy to receive a two-disc DVD called Forget the Film, Watch the Titles! produced by SubmarineChannel in Amsterdam. Disc One presents an array of opening sequences by some of today’s most imaginative designers (mostly for non-U.S. films), while Disc Two is devoted to short documentaries that profile those individuals and studios from around the world.
I had an unexpected reaction to the stand-alone titles sequences: not knowing most of the films, I could admire the visual treatments but I felt somewhat aloof from them because they were disembodied, removed from their proper context. This was a useful reminder of something crucially important: titles are intended to be part of the films as a whole. On the other hand, meeting the designers on Disc Two, seeing samples of their work in various media, and hearing them talk about their approach, was fascinating.
If you love this aspect of filmmaking, I encourage you to check out the DVD, which comes with an informative booklet. You can also spend a lot of time at the website watchthetitles.com, which streams scores of great title sequences as well as interviews, designer profiles, and other goodies.