Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What happened to opening credits?

There seems to be a lack of opening credits in modern movies these days. I can't remember the last new movie I saw that actually had a main title theme and credits. Now, given that you can count the number of new movies I've seen in the theater on one hand, I'm probably making too broad of a generalization, but there's been a noticeable trend over the last few years, even to me, for filmmakers to dive right into their movie, BAM!, without ever giving any credits beyond the title.

I hate that.

Oh sure, I understand all too well about needing to grab people's attention right away, etc., but you know, nobody's going to walk out of a movie four minutes into it because they had to sit through opening credits.

When I go to the movies, even when I pop a DVD in the machine at home, I'm coming from real life. From the stress of work, or dealing with the stupid drivers on the road, or the monotony of household chores, or an argument with friends, or a gigglefest with friends... it doesn't matter whether it's stress or cheer, I've got real life on the brain. I go to/put on a movie to get away from them. And you know? Opening credits are the transition point. The theater darkens, the music starts, the credits roll. The flavor of the music sets the tone, tells me what I'm in for. I loosen my grip on the outside world, let the score and the credits relax me... so that when the movie starts, I'm there. Ready to go. Movies that tend to jump right in? I'm doing that transition during the movie's opening. I have to discard my distractions as the movie starts. Oh sure, I get there, but I miss opening credits.

When I think of modern (but, er... not so new) films that did it right, I think of films like The Untouchables (1987). Perfect opening credits. Stylish and atmospheric letters and shadows, with Morricone's dark but catchy title theme putting me into the right frame of mind... by the time the first scene starts, I am so there, body and soul, ready to go. Real life is forgotten, and I'm eager to see what's coming. Or Dead Again (1991). Or James Bond films, that give you a teaser, but also a nice set of opening credits.

That's what I miss in movies that choose to toss you off a cliff instead of letting you enjoy the view a moment, before giving you that hard shove.

I always stay through the end credits of every film for the similar reasons. Well, for three reasons really. 1) before songs became so prevalent, end credits were a great place to listen to the composer's music again without dialog and sound effects overrunning it, 2) to give acknowledgement and salute to the makers of the film, and 3) to ease back out of fiction into real life.

4 comments:

  1. I've always thought this, too! You sit down and right away they're swooping into the action, sometimes with an actor's name showing up in the bottom corner in tiny print. My favorite opening credits are the ones from the 30's that showed clips of the people with their names over it "Kay Francis AS Mary Stevens" etc. and they'd even let us know who people like Ned Sparks and Allen Jenkins were!

    I could opine forever about the "good old days" :)

    Oh, and it drives me crazy that people don't stay for closing credits. I went to a John Mills double feature in NYC last month, and this man on the outer asile actually got up and left five minutes before the movie was over, for both movies! Everyone else just left while "The End" was just appearing on the screen. I just think it's so disrespectful..

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  2. DKoren, I know what you mean! I always love it when the credits are at the first. It's a great transition, like you said. By the way, if you want you see a modern (by which I mean, made within the last thirty years) film with magnificent opening credits, you should watch Ladyhawke, which is one of the very best fantasy/romance movies ever!

    Kate Gabrielle, I love those opening credits from the early 30's, too. It's so much fun to get a little appetizer before the meal begins (please pardon the food metaphors).

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  3. I love the opening credits, too. A lost art. I try to stay for the end credits in modern films at the movie theater, but very young and impatient ushers with carpet sweepers stare at us until we give up and go.

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  4. Hi Kate - I LOVE those old credits that give pictures of the actors! Either at the beginning or end of the film. Then you could actually truly identify the players.

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    Amanda - Oooh, I love Ladyhawke! That is a great movie I can watch over and over, and yes, you're right. It has lovely opening credits too! I'd forgotten about that.

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    Hi Jacqueline - you know, I get that too from young ushers, wanting to rush me out of the theater, but I just glare back at them. I've even gone to the mgmt on occasion and complained about their behavior, telling them that the movie isn't over until the credits are over and that I'd appreciate if they'd respect their paying audience a little more and have their ushers wait five more minutes before busting in and disrupting things. I'm sure they probably disregarded my comments five seconds later, but it made me feel better. :-D

    I really wish more people would stay. And I do love when filmmakers put funny little clips at the end of the credits, like the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Cracks me up, and it does convince some people to stay.

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