Movie titles with a secondary subtitle — titles like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo — usually indicate mediocrity or at least uncertainty on the part of the distributor. But the practice suggests an interesting riddle game. The idea is to come up with a tight and expressive subtitle that indicates what the movie delivers (or seems to promise) on a primal popcorn level.
Example: In discussing Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood some 35 years ago, Tom Wolfe claimed that a key line came when Dick Hickock said to Perry Smith prior to their fateful visit to the Clutter home, “Honey, we’re gonna blast hair all over them walls.” Wolfe concluded that “hair on the walls” was the invisible subtitle of In Cold Blood — the book as well as the film. So the the title in the poster would naturally read as follows:
IN COLD BLOOD:
Hair on the Walls
The game is a lot tougher than it seems. The subtitle has to say it just right in a kind of haiku way. Simpleton example: The Wizard of Oz: No Place Like Home. The campiest and most emotional movies are the easiest to figure. Gone With The Wind: Waitin’ There Like A Spider. (Alternate: Gone With The Wind: Never Be Hungry Again.) Or Mommie Dearest: No Wire Hangers!
But what, for example, would the subtitle of Mamma Mia be? Twilight? Laurence Olivier‘s Hamlet (’48)? Lina Wertmueller‘s Seven Beauties? Au Hasard, Balthazar? Spartacus? All About Eve? All The President’s Men? It’s hard. Choose any movie title in the world but make it good. Nothing stupid or coarse. Nothing along the lines of Reservoir Dogs: Ear-Slice With Me.
True confession: Years ago in a West Hollywood bar I ran into the famous Scott Wilson, who played Hickock in the 1967 film version of In Cold Blood. I’ve always regretted not going up to his table and asking him sign a napkin with the words “Scott Wilson — hair on the walls.” I wimped out, of course, thinking he’d probably be offended. That was probably the right thing to do, but I’ve felt badly for years that I didn’t do this. Why is that? I’ve made mistakes in life, but who hasn’t? The thing that won’t leave you alone are the things you chickened out on — the things that might have been.