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Title sequence: Its communicative function and creative capabilities

Almost every film has a title sequence. It is entirely self-comprehensible so that any attempt of theorizing or classification of title sequences seems redundant. In its widest sense, the title sequence covers all film titles (beginning and ending), with film’s title as its most important part, while in a narrower sense it refers to the part of the title listing film’s creators, while the title of the film and »the end« present separate textual parts. Therefore, title sequence is any written text marking the beginning or the end of a film, but does not include scene text, featured in the shot as part of presentational structure of film, nor does it include different kinds of subtitles.

The beginning and the end of film are its most prominent parts, which make the title sequence a divider between the world of film and off-screen, real world; therefore, title sequence figures as a special metafilmic signal and an immanent film phenomenon since it is present only in the medium of film. The essay is an attempt at revealing communicative functions of the title sequence and creative possibilities of its use.

The first part of the text offers a historical overview of the development of title sequence, from the lack of it in early films to gradual accumulation of information under the pressure of the market (emergence of recognizable film related names) and law regulations (information about production whose appearance and sequence are today strictly defined and conventionalized).

Second part of the text deals with the structure of the title sequence: the picture and text. Textual dimension of the title sequence is in collision with the mimetic audio-visual nature of film; in early films (until World War II), the unnaturalness of text in the title sequence was resolved with various — from today’s point of view — clichéd procedures: a hand turning leaves of a book or with a simple listing of film crew.

Title sequence is an attempt of synthesis of text and picture, and thus appears artificial, which is the foundation that makes it metafilmic; the same thing can be read out of attempts to completely eradicate written text from the title sequence and purify film from this »non-filmic« element (O. Welles’ spoken radio sequences; P. P. Pasolini’s singing sequences). Such a strong metafilmic signal as title sequence can never be fully integrated in the narrative structure of film, so that such radical procedures with the title sequence present nothing but auto-referential questioning of conventions.

Central part of the essay reviews functions of the title sequence — identifying (film title), where the author considers types of titles, their metaphoric, and commercial appeal; informational function (cast and crew), where the author examines the list, the sequence of names and their commercial appeal; other standard titles such as studio emblem and the final title »the end«, the lack of which today points to the fact that film has developed more subtle and inherent procedures for indicating the end of the projection.

The last part of the text is dealing with the shaping of the title sequence accompanied by a historical and aesthetical overview of Saul Bass’ opus, as the work of this »artist of the title sequence« figures as a blueprint for historical-aesthetical development of title sequences, their uses, functions, techniques, and styles. In this context, the author examines Bass’ cooperation with O. Preminger, A. Hitchcock, E. Dmytryk, W. Wyler, M. Scorsese. Title sequences of their films in Bass’ production became short, independent, experimental films. The main focus is on Bass’ crucial innovation that transformed title sequence into a work of art — introduction of movement. This signalled a break up with the static, typographic design of the past, and a shift from stylized figurativeness to total abstraction, followed by baroque stylistic of his later works for Scorsese.

After Bass’ opus, the text goes on to further historical development of the title sequence, for example, the development of brand through the title sequence (James Bond, Pink Panther), introduction of revolutionary sub-title sequence (The Touch of Evil, O. Welles), and the development of pre-title sequence — film scenes screened before the title sequence serving as a prologue or an incentive for action. With the appearance of pre-title sequence, the title sequence became a narrative punctuation mark used with purpose and intention.

The last paragraphs describe various possibilities of the title sequence, like inversed title sequence where letters appear at the lower part of the screen (Kiss Me Deadly) or three-dimensional title sequence (Star Wars). From the context of recent cinematography, the author considers title sequences by Kyle Cooper, title sequences featured in films by director D. Fincher, and in Ch. Nolan’s Memento, the appearance of an additional scene after the ending sequence, and the paradox in films where title sequence is produced by omitting the title sequence (Mullholand Drive by David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick’s films). The latter are ultimate examples that viewers can perceive all kinds of rhetorical connotations implied by the title sequence even when it does not fit into its basic definition; showing to what extent have creative possibilities of title sequence surpassed its primary communicative function.

Stanislav Tomiæ

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