Only one of the opening-credit sequences mentioned in Alice Rawsthorn‘s 2.21 N.Y. Times piece (“If There Were An Oscar For Film Titles”) stirred my interest: Neil Kellerhouse‘s for The Social Network. “[The] idea was for the titles to be totally unobtrusive…it was literally a case of how small can we make the type,” Kellerhouse explains. Which I liked enormously. It established the brisk, dry tone of the film in just the right way.
Sooner or later all discussions of main-title sequences end up mentioning (i.e., defaulting to) Saul Bass. There’s no getting around the guy. Lord knows I’ve written plenty about his ’50s and ’60s work. I can write about the main-title sequence of The Man With The Golden Arm all day along. So let’s give it a rest this time and consider…I don’t know, how about the absolute worst title sequences of all time?
The worst are always primarily interested in calling attention to their cleverness or cuteness or flashiness rather than conveying some mixture of mood and metaphor about the film itself.
One of the most irritating, I feel, is the pompous and obnoxious blue-laser-flash sequence that opens Richard Donner‘s Superman: The Movie (’78). The guy who designed it obviously fell in love with the idea of turning each and every major name connected to the film into a hissing fantabulous cosmic light show. It quickly becomes tiresome, and then irksome, and then rancid. Mainly because the sequence goes on forever. By the time the film is about to start, you’re almost ready to leave.
The absolute worst, however, didn’t use any titles it all. The film was Robert Moore‘s The Cheap Detective, a 1978 spoof of Humphrey Bogart-in-a-trench-coat films, and it opened with either star Peter Falk (or so I recall) speaking the titles directly into the camera lens with a sassy Sam Spade tone of voice. I was sitting there aghast, wondering if he was going to mention the gaffer and the best boy.
Another groaner is the cartoony credit sequence for Steven Spielberg‘s Catch Me If You Can. It was all about underlining how clever and entertaining the person who thought it up was. It was actually a kind of omen. It said “beware…a spirited movie that Spielberg had a grand time making but which you’ll never be able to quite believe is about to begin.”