More and more, I’m finding that the first 2-3 minutes of a movie are my favorite part of the film. My life is devoted to the beautiful expression of information, which is why film title sequences hold a special place in my heart.
On this episode, I talk with Ian Albinson (Editor-in-Chief and Founder of the kick-ass Art of the Title) and the brilliant Gareth Smith (title sequence designer — along with his wife Jenny Lee — of such films as Juno and Up in the Air) about the benchmarks of film title design and the constraints involved in presenting what is essentially a legal document to a paying audience.
Here is “A Brief History of Title Design” edited by Ian Albinson:
Check out this great overview of Saul Bass titles sequences put together by the website Not Coming to a Theater Near You.
It’s hard to pick a Saul Bass favorite, but IFC picked Vertigo as the greatest title sequence of all time.
Kyle Cooper is largely considered the new modern master of title sequences. Here’s his game-changing opener for Se7en:
And if the Cheers title sequence (a favorite of Gareth Smith) doesn’t make you happy, then I don’t want to know what lurks in that cold, black soul of yours.
OK, team. Let’s fill up those comments. What are your favorites? I’m particularly partial to the titles for Catch Me If You Can, which has the stylish audacity of pretty much revealing the entire plot of the movie. Your turn…
You’re right, the titles for “Catch Me If You Can” are brilliant. Here are some of my favorites:
Preston Sturges’s “The Palm Beach Story,” which encapsulates at breakneck pace the backstory of the movie we’re about to watch and is crucial to the way it ends.
Alexander MacKendrick’s “The Sweet Smell of Success,” which is set to a brassy, down ‘n’ dirty soundtrack and follows the distribution of a “large metropolitan daily” from loading dock to Times Sq sidewalk, where a copy is picked up by the main character. Perfect segue.
Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” which presents the cast and titles as a cheesy late-night advertisement for an anthology album, complete with whirling, cheesy graphics and snippets of each tune.
Carol Reed’s “The Third Man,” featuring an abstract, intimate portrait of everyone’s favorite character in the movie: Anton Karas’s zither.
Listening to this podcast, I finally put my finger on something. I knew “Frasier” was a solid show (more my parents’ taste than mine; I still like “Cheers” more), but why did “Frasier” always leave me cold? Was part of it it’s relatively sterile title sequence compared to “Cheers”? Roman hits the nail on the head when he says the title sequence of “Cheers” had “warmth.” I remember hearing that sitcom title sequences in the 90s got shorter, to get people watching a show quicker, and to give them less time to flip to another channel (an example they gave was “Wings” having its title sequence shortened a few years into its run), so maybe “Frasier” was victim of that too. To have “Frasier” opening with a title card and some Jazz, then a fade in with credits over the scene, even though that sort of intro is commonplace now, it (subconsciously) felt impersonal and generic, even more so compared to something as iconic and personal as “Cheers.”
Granted, “Cheers” and “Frasier” were different shows, the former (to me) was about lovable losers coming together like family, the latter in comparison about actually having to deal with your biological family. But since Frasier and Niles were both stuffy and pretentious in their own ways, was the impersonal title sequence of “Frasier” actually fitting to the show, whether intentional or just a product of shortened 90s sitcom title sequences?
In any event, thanks for a great podcast! I definitely reassessed the role that title sequences play in setting a mood (that we’re often not even aware of consciously), and this podcast inspired me to check out Kyle Cooper’s site prologue.com–whoa. Now even the title sequence for “Home Alone” takes on new layers!
Hi Roman, great fan of the show. What music was used at the end of this episode?
It’s Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Prologue’, from the 2004 movie ‘Birth’.
I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the “Bond” films! They’re absolutely beautiful.
The title sequence for The Watchmen was brilliant. It introduced us to the history of the universe it takes place in, one which has some parallels with ours but some differences. Seeing the “flower power” picture re-created but with a massacre as the shot fades away makes the universe of watchmen frighteningly real and disturbing.
Some recent faves from film, television, conferences, and re-imagined
(Can’t find a full version on Vimeo.)
By Any Means
Les Bleus De Ramville
20000 Leagues Under The Sea (re-imagined)
Mad Men. Possibly the greatest title sequence for a television show ever. (No offense to Cheers.)
Thanks for the episode and all the links. Never saw Catch Me If You Can, so it was a pleasure to see the title sequence!
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events title sequence is amazing. Too bad the movie wasn’t good.
I recomend http://www.watchthetitles.com
No mention of Cowboy Beebop?! What a fantastic opening sequence!
The video missed a few of Saul’s best film titles.
“Around the World in 80 Days”
“West Side Story”
“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World”
Only answering this question 5 years late!
Watchmen, Lord of War, Game of Thrones, Zombieland, Cowboy Bebop.
All have excellent and iconic music, great visual style, and set the scene/tone of their respective things wonderfully.
7 Years late. I apparently can’t read.