Posted by: daveed | May 27, 2011

Grand openings

IFC has published an exhaustive survey of the 50 greatest opening title sequences. More than just a list, each entry offers a well-written analysis along with behind-the-scenes technical details and an embedded video.

I especially loved the entry for #27 Taxi Driver (and also was amazed by the title sequence when I first saw the film):

There are only seven shots in the opening titles to “Taxi Driver.” Two of them are basically identical: Robert De Niro’s eyes in extreme close-up. The rest of the shots are things De Niro’s Travis Bickle sees out the windshield of his taxi. Dan Perri’s titles, and their emphasis on looks and looking, establish not only the mood of “Taxi Driver” but also its perspective. Whatever we’re going to see in the film to follow, we’re seeing through Travis’ eyes. And notice how he sees everything, too. The titles’ images of Manhattan are blurry or warped or slowed down, obscured by raindrops or tinted by color effects. The distorted imagery reflects the deranged mind observing it; he’s seeing things in a way that foreshadows his eventual mental breakdown. To us, it might look like an ordinary taxi passing through some sewer steam. To Travis, it’s a giant, lumbering beast passing through an enormous plume of Stygian vapors. This isn’t New York City; it’s Travis Bickle’s New York City. –MS


Interesting to note that, with a some exceptions such as Watchmen, very few on the list were from films made in the past decade. As expected, the celebrated Saul Bass is given due recognition as the best title sequence designer, back when there was more emphasis and reliance on the form to set up the story.

For more on title sequences, Art of the Title is a fascinating resource.

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