TITLE SEQUENCES – The Cart that Pulls the Horse

I just visited the Art of the Title website, about which I’ve written in a previous post, to see what that brilliant & energetic collective of filmmakers and graphic designers are up to, and was gratified to see expanded content, including interviews with distinguished designers and appreciations of “classic” sequences. Of course, Saul Bass, figures prominently.

Check out the cover article on the opening titles for North by Northwest, which Bass created for Mr. Hitchcock’s MGM masterpiece. Proposing that “intersections” is the matrix that inspires (gives birth to) this sequence, author Ben Radatz argues that:

“It is appropriate, then, that Saul Bass establishes this theme in both the tone and design of the main title sequence — his second Hitchcock outing, following Vertigo the previous year. Almost immediately, the open canvas of forest green is jailed by a series of intersecting lines, setting the ground rules for the sequence by corralling the sans serif title blocks into vertical columns, rising and falling as though tethered to one another.

The sequence is split into three distinct tiers — the first being entirely graphic, with the titles superimposed over the gridded background. In the second, the graphics dissolve into the reflective façade of the United Nations building in New York City — a prominent location in the film — perfectly mimicking its orthographic window framework. The third tier brings us down to ground level, observing the anonymous masses navigating the Big Apple.

This progression from cold abstraction to perceived reality — symbolically reflected in the building’s façade — to up-close and personal parallels Thornhill’s journey through the film, mirroring both his plight and his changing identity over its course. It also draws the audience into human-scale conflict, where commuters do their best to ignore each other unless compelled otherwise, resulting in hostility. Bernard Hermann’s big, climactic score gives the sequence a sense of increasing urgency, turning up the volume in concert with the march of the crowd.”

The rest of the article is eminently worth reading. Also featured on the front page is an interviews with Chuck Braverman, designer of the titles for Soylent Green, and a look at the 2012 Emmy Nominations for title graphics.

Check it out!

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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One Response to TITLE SEQUENCES – The Cart that Pulls the Horse

  1. Pingback: “ASPIRATIONAL PARATEXTS” INDEED: The “Quality Opening” Gambit of the Title Sequence | REVIEWS OF PREVIEWS

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