4.28.2011

The post-1960 credits sequence (Part I of...?)


Watching Breakfast at Tiffany's (dir. Blake Edwards, 1961) for the first time this week, I think my favorite part of the movie is the lovely, wordless title sequence, after which point pretty much everything feels somehow superfluous and uninteresting by contrast.  Don't get me wrong, it's a fine film (Mickey Rooney aside), but that opening credits sequence is so quiet and somehow sad and mysterious--seven shots, most of them beautifully "long" (both unhurried and in the sense of using wide-angles) of Hepburn at dawn, looking impeccable, slinking around 5th Avenue, to the strains of a slow instrumental version of Henry Mancini's "Moon River"--that the whole rest of the movie feels like something of a let-down.  I'd also go so far as to say that Hepburn's performance peaks in this moment: nowhere else in the film is she so natural, so relaxed, or so touching as when she matter-of-factly, somewhat sleepily, munches on a croissant and sips coffee out of a paper cup here.  I've never been much of a Hepburn fan--she's always struck me as a charming and stylish person but sadly limited as an actress--and the remainder of her performance here feels a bit too much like posturing; her acting never seems to have much depth or shading to it.  In these opening shots, though, she seems to have forgotten that she's an actress and succeeds in simply behaving.

This title sequence is also interesting to me in light of my chronological pass through cinema, because the 1960s mark the decline of the "title card" model (seen in pretty much every Hollywood film from the silent era through 1959) and the rise of what we might call the "concept" title sequence, in which the opening credits become a kind of film in themselves, or at least attempt to integrate themselves more thoroughly into the film proper.  Blake Edwards himself would come to perfect the concept title sequence in films like The Pink Panther (1963), which essentially collapsed the opening titles with the pre-feature cartoon.  As early as the mid-50s, Saul Bass had begun designing distinctive and stylish credits sequences, many of them for Otto Preminger (The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955; Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) and Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, 1958; North by Northwest, 1959).  Steven Spielberg would later pay homage to these kinds of sequences in the opening credits of the '60s-throwback Catch Me If You Can (2002), and Woody Allen would define himself in opposition to them by adopting his signature no-frills, Bergman-esque white-titles-on-black model.  ("I thought to myself, 'it's silly to spend money on titles!  It's a very American stupid habit.  I'm going to get the cheapest titles I can, just a plain announcement.'")


Compared to, say, The Pink Panther, the title sequence of Breakfast at Tiffany's is rather simple and straightforward.  But it nevertheless announces the possibilities of what a credits sequence can do--establish a tone, or even contain the essence of the film in miniature. 







No comments:

Post a Comment