The Short Before The Film

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Often called “the short before the film” opening title sequences can be artworks in their own right. In fact some great screen artists like Saul Bass and Pablo Ferro made careers out of their title sequence designs.

There are many to choose from but opening sequences like Taxi Driver, Dr Strangelove, Psycho, and of course a number of the Bond films represent, some of the most recognisable motifs in cinema history and equal to that of the films themselves.

It’s from this point that we will present Title: Sequence for the forthcoming White Night celebration on Saturday 22 February. But where do you start? In curating anything, I guess the starting point is things you really like. They come with baggage of course, and the important thing is to divorce the title from the film – does it stand up as an artwork in its own right?

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What we’re hoping to do is use the power of our monster screen and make audiences gasp with the sheer inventiveness and scale of some of the best titles we can find. The process is such an interesting one though. Right now we’re at a selection of close to 120 minutes, which we need to get down to 30 – around 15 title sequences. The most important thing now is establishing the flow – finding those little islands where three titles run together and create their own mood.

This is of course, a Fredick Wiseman documentary technique – and it works. From there we’ll build the bridges between the islands and there you have the program.

Whether they make the final cut or not, titles such as the Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (1965) and The Graduate (1967) are just startling and stand to repeated viewing – and sampling if you’re so inclined. The layered composition and inventiveness always brings a smile to the face and forces you into watching the feature.

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Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat is especially unique – mean and lean, it’s just too groovy and remains one of the great title sequences of all exploitation cinema.

Then there’s Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate. Ben Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) movement along the airport conveyor belt with the titles appearing against a beige titled wall: cut to his bag moving along another conveyor belt commodifying his life: and Simon and Garfunkle’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ belting out. It’s simple genius, sparse and tight, the movie is right there and encapsulated in that moment.

Go the other way and take a look at John Milius’ 1982 film Conan The Barbarian. Conan’s “chronicalar”, played by Mako, warbles out the context of the mythical period (sometimes only just getting there) over a darkened screen followed by a blaze of molten metal and a soaring Romanesque horn based score… well it’s just magic on the screen.

I remember also working at the Valhalla Cinema in Northcote during the 24-hour science fiction marathons and feeling the floor quake with 900 audience members stamping out the rythmn of James Cameron’s original Terminator (1984) – now that was something!

There are just way too many to name and there’s about a thousand ways you can program them and everyone’s got an opinion, but gee it’s fun.

– Richard Sowada, Head of Film Programs, ACMI

Got your own favourite title sequence? Why not tell us in the comments below. Better yet, why not post us the video?

Title: Sequence will screen as part of our White Night Melbourne festivities on Saturday 22 February 2014. 

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9 Responses to “The Short Before The Film”

  1. Golden Age 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    THE SHINING!

  2. ACMI 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Ohhhh great choice! That music is so perfect.

  3. Nathan Jones 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    The lead-up to Batman (1989) with the first Danny Elfman score to really shake up the world, with the bat logo being formed with the opening credits. The dark, gothic tone was immediately set.

  4. Stephanie 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I’m not able to find a clip online, but the opening scene (which is a dream sequence) in Zach Braff’s ‘Garden State’ is a good one. It depicts his character calmly sitting in his seat on an airplane which is clearly crashing, while the people around him are crying and screaming etc. Really powerful!

  5. Art of the Title 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Sounds like a great idea for a screening!

    For more title sequence reference, head over to: http://www.artofthetitle.com

  6. ACMI 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    This guy here? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38lWxFNzCas
    So good – looking at these reminds us how important a good score is!

  7. ACMI 19. Dec, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Yep! We can’t find that around the interwebs either, but it’s a good one!

  8. soelc 20. Dec, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    The Cheap Detective (1978) has one of the funniest and inventive opening credits.

    Maybe for the next White Night you can do best closing credits – my vote for that would be West Side Story (1961).

  9. Snoozie 20. Dec, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Se7en. It influenced credit sequences for a truckload of movies and TV shows that followed. Plus it features music by Nine Inch Nails. Brilliant.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEq-4fua3lM

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