If movies didn’t have to be advertised in advance, audiences could experience a feeling of total freshness, well, freshness. They could spend the first half hour savoring this tongue-in-cheek take on modern dating frustrations, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan, not realizing that the movie was about to transform from Sleepless in Seattle to Sierra. At least the director, Mimi Cave, has a trick that feels subtly disorienting even if you know she’s coming: She holds the opening credits until the 33-minute mark. this delineates the two contrasting parts of the film, while at the same time expressing on a structural level the idea that something is seriously wrong. if this is the beginning of the movie, then what exactly have we been seeing so far?
Anyone who’s gone the distance with ryusuke hamaguchi’s oscar nominee driving my car will know the feeling. I saw the movie in a crowded theater where there were waves of bewilderment when the opening titles came on after 40 minutes or so. back in the days of celluloid, there was always the chance that the reels had lined up in the wrong order, so now it was fun to see those old analog habits kick in, some of us turning in our seats to wince. the projection booth.
By rearranging the basic furniture of the cinema, cave and hamaguchi bring a new kind of tension to the art of the opening sequence. Acclaim has always tended to sit disproportionately on those openers who exhibit clear technical prowess, such as the one-take shots that launch Touch of Evil, the player, and Johnnie To’s breaking news. The last of these begins with a vicious six-minute battle on the streets of Hong Kong, during which the camera is repeatedly raised to sniper level before returning to a worm’s-eye view of the melee.
Even slight bewilderment can be enough to grab our attention, as during the nearly wordless opening of Billy Wilder’s 1972 comedy Avanti! Why did Jack Lemmon persuade a stranger to swap clothes with him in the crowded bathroom on a flight to Italy? seven minutes later, the lira falls. a serene show can also work on an audience like hypnosis. There are no bombs, bullets, or bathroom shenanigans in the eight-and-a-half-minute opening shot of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai. the camera gazes sleepily at the various chattering figures crowding around the candlelit parlor table in a 19th-century brothel. tea is served, games are played, fans are elegantly opened and we are hooked.
The options for an effective opening sequence are numerous, but what makes one truly great? “The most successful openings are the ones that pique the audience’s curiosity or interest rather than inform them,” says veteran editor Paul Hirsch. “But you have to be careful. There’s a difference between piquing someone’s curiosity and confusing them.”
Hirsch won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), although I wouldn’t single out the beginning of that image as an example to follow. “star wars opens with this scrolling text crawl on the screen. I always thought that if we hadn’t had that, people would still have understood what was going on. I don’t think the best way to start a movie is to dump a lot of information into the audience’s lap.”
Most innovative are the 11 images Hirsch cut for Brian de Palma, including the sisters, Carrie and Blow Out. De Palma reserves a special contempt for directors who waste those precious initial minutes. “When you start a movie with a shot of Manhattan taken from a helicopter, or these boring shots from a car that show a car going into a building, I mean, this is not an idea,” he said in 2010. “Especially the start of a movie when the audience is ready for anything. wasting that time on a boring take on geography baffles me.” Hirsch remembers de Palma telling him, “If I ever shoot a driver, shoot me.”
sisters begins with a man watching a blind woman begin to undress after mistakenly entering a men’s dressing room; blow out begins with a long point of view shot from an assassin’s perspective. Neither sequence is what it seems: the first turns out to be an excerpt from a candid one-camera-style TV show, the second is a fake horror movie called Mixed Frenzy. de palma has staged more complicated opening sequences (eyes of the snake begins with a 13-minute traveling shot that introduces the dramatic characters and establishes the central conspiracy of the plot) but it is his tactic to pull the rug out from under our feet when we’ve barely stepped through the front door which is so much fun and delightful.
Many of Hirsch’s best opening sequences (he also edited Falling Down, which begins with Michael Douglas growing tense in a Los Angeles traffic jam) are around five or six minutes long. is this the optimal time for a good opening, equivalent to the classic three-minute pop song? “I haven’t thought about that,” he says, shrugging. “a sequence will tell you how long it should be. when you’re cutting, you keep going back and playing “what’s wrong with this picture?” until you find nothing wrong.”
one of the advantages of a long opening sequence is that it is well placed to create a narrative break before the movie itself begins. Think of the harrowing prologue to the Pixar Up animation, which compresses 80 years into 11 minutes, or the relationship that comes to life before dying out in the opening of 18 Minutes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Back in style today is the kind of lengthy introductory flashback found over 30 years ago in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That dizzying eight-minute opening shows how the film’s hero (played as a teenager by River Phoenix) acquired his fear of snakes, his skill with a whip, the scar on his chin and the felt hat on his head. . The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King begins with a flashback to the fateful day that Sméagol (Andy Serkis) began his transition into the monstrous Gollum. the most recent version of death on the nile opens by explaining why belgian detective hercule poirot (kenneth branagh) first grew his trademark mustache, making the film not just a whodunit, but a why grow it .
The most unorthodox use of the extended opening sequence in recent mainstream cinema was in no time to die. Although it is not the first James Bond film in which the hero is absent from the prologue (that honor is to live and let die), it is the only one to begin with a childhood memory of a minor character. Bond fans are used to waiting forever for the opening credits sequence, but no Time To Die beat its predecessors: 24 minutes elapse before the title appears on screen.
Only in this century have directors really begun to exploit the power of retaining that traditional starting marker. The credits of Rojo (2018) by Benjamin Naishtat, a story of political turmoil in Argentina in the mid-1970s, do not appear until 23 minutes. . “If a rule is changed, you naturally start thinking about why it exists, which is a train of thought you suspect the directors of red and drive my car would applaud. after all, drive my car is about the need to do things differently: its hero introduces uncle vanya in different languages, while red is about the insidious effect of blindly following the rules without thinking [of] the interests of who they serve.”
such a break or notch also invites us to catch our breath. “Pulling back the credits can be a way to create an intermission,” says O’Sullivan. “That seems like such an old-fashioned idea. but it’s a blessing to have a moment to process information when there’s so much to digest.”
If the structural weirdness of fresh and drive my car catches on, that 30-45 minute sweet spot could become the new normal for opening titles. apichatpong weerasethakul got there first, waiting three-quarters of an hour before the credits rolled for his enigmatic 2002 drama Happily Yours; Yoshihiro Nishimura did the same in his creepy Helldriver (2010). No one seems to have gone as far as the Japanese provocateur Sion Sono: The titles of his unspeakably wacky fantasy, horror, comedy, and suspense Love Exposition (2008) drop at the 58-minute mark, with another three hours of action still to come. we go. Of course, Disney’s original 1940 fantasy roadshow dispensed with the convention entirely, which begs a philosophical question: If a movie doesn’t have opening titles, has it ever really started?