'Movies should start as soon as the titles roll'.

by Ian Thompson

Before Saul Bass, it was considered that a simple title caption would suffice to get across the title of a film and that the audience should sit through whatever credits had to be presented before the film would start in earnest. Saul Bass believed the film should start as soon as the captions started rolling and he demonstrated this many times throughout his career, producing titles for and impressive line-up of great films, most notably for Alfred Hitchcock. He’s widely considered to be the finest exponent of the art of the film title and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. I’ve been a massive fan since I saw him speak at the Icograda seminar in 1979 and I was lucky enough to visit his studio on Sunset Boulevard in 1986.

Haunting and body snatchers
I love film titles, but the truth is, I like the simple title captions too – the ones that pre-date Bass’s reign. It’s something to do with the excitement at the beginning of the film and with the directness of movie graphics. The first films I really loved were horror and sci-fi films and before I learned that it was important to have taste, the more scary, cheesy, weird and brash the title caption, the better I though they were, and the more excited I would get. When I was 10, I wouldn’t have been impressed by Saul Bass’s titles for Cape Fear later on – too small, font not scary enough, the whole thing too mannered for my boyish tastes. Whereas, ‘The Haunting’ or ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, well, now you’re talking.

Of course, another great thing about the titles is that they usually pre-date the marketing campaign, so if the designers come up with some kind of logo at that stage, it’s usually not there at the beginning of the film. I’m not sure what the process used to be, perhaps the director used to get together with the studio caption artist.

Anyway, I love them even more as I get older, great hand drawn fonts, designed to grab attention and fill the screen. If I believed in such things as guilty pleasures, which I don’t, this’d be one of them.


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