That Woman

There is groovy hair, such as Julie Christie in Shampoo, then there is groovier hair, Angie Dickinson in Police Woman. She is the hippest police detective ever. Since it was 1974, Police Woman was required to have "Woman" in the title. "Police" just sounded dull. There was no spin-off, "Police Man" as in the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman. If there had been, it would probably be Barnaby Jones. Buddy Ebsen at 95 was far less active, however, than Angie Dickinson.

The lesson here is this: add "Woman" to any show title, Six Feet Under a Woman, Star Trek Woman, Love Boat Woman, Lost Woman. It makes a more interesting concept. And, when you only have live action footage to work with when creating a title sequence, use freeze frames, fast zoom shots, and details of things like legs.

Hot

The typical line used in a 1950s science fiction trailer is, “this could be YOUR future!” Most of the time, they are pretty far off. I haven’t been taken over by pod people. Flying saucers have not bombed Washington D.C. We haven’t started turning dead people into Soylent Green. If you watch Fahrenheit 451, however, they were fairly spot on. Now we don’t travel in monorails and the landscape doesn’t look like an odd post-war European neighborhood, but the television idea is right. Everyone has giant wall mounted monitors. Nobody, except revolutionary intellectuals reads. And the television shows use the audience as part of the program, as in “What do you think… Linda?” or “Vote now on American Idol.”

Whatever your position is on the benefits or evils of reading, the title sequence is magnificent. How do you create titles when the audience can’t read? You can do it with still images of television antennas, solid color, and a voice over. No type, no animation, it’s a simple idea that costs $1.25. But I’ll take this over a million-dollar HD CD sequence that has glossy chrome, flying thingamajigs, and blasting audio. Call me old.

Angels in Malibu

I have a reel that I show my first year students at Art Center. It’s a collection of my favorite classic film titles. Of course I have multiple Saul Bass titles, such as Psycho and North by Northwest. I have Stephen Frankfurt’s beautiful sequence for To Kill a Mockingbird, and other incredible examples. I also have the title sequence for Gidget. Why? Because I love Gidget. If you don’t you are probably a Communist. The sequence is pretty cheesy, but perfect. So laugh if you must at my inclusion of Gidget in my Top 10 titles list. Some day, however, Gidget will be recognized as genius. A little bit of trivia: Sally Field played Gidget, and her brother on Brothers and Sisters, Ron Rifkin, played Mel, one of the gang on Gidget.

Tootsie Wootsie Hoochee Koochee

I can't say I really dig Christmas movies. The whole Elf, Tim Allen Santa thing just makes me cranky. I will, however, watch Meet Me in St. Louis. It's not particularly Christmas themed, but it has nifty titles, technicolor, and a happy turn of the century setting. I don't quite understand the plot. It's a family, and the world's fair, St. Louis, and a possible move to New York. This is the part that I don't understand: The father gets a better job in New York, so the family needs to move. But everyone is so whiny and spoiled that he decides to forgo this amazing opportunity and stay in St. Louis.

That's not going to end well. They're all happy at the end of the movie, but a few years later when teenage rebellion kicks in there are going to be screaming matches. "I gave up the biggest chance of my life for you girls!" says the father, "F#*k You! F#*kface" screams the teenage daughter. The titles are nice though.

Bombs Away

One of the disturbing things about getting older is that all of your cultural references become obsolete. I’ll mention Leave it to Beaver, and get blank stares. Or I’ll suggest someone look at the colors of the Fillmore posters, and, once again the stare that says, “Wha’?” and, “You’re old.” Today I mentioned Pablo Ferro’s incredible title sequence for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and had a similar reaction. I love Ferro’s explanation that refers to the sexuality of the scene. Others might skirt the issue, or suggest the viewer can determine his or her own meaning. Pablo states blatantly, “Everything we do is always very sexual. A B-52 refueling in midair? Of course! It’s sexual.” The combination of the wonderfully immediate typography, easy listening music, and documentary footage creates a pornographic and sensual experience. Okay, maybe not hot, hot, hot pornography, but certainly sensual.

Driving in Circles

One of our great mentors was Saul Bass. Saul was endlessly supportive and encouraging. Saul was the first phone call we received that first day at AdamsMorioka when the phones were turned on. Losing Saul was a huge loss that we still feel. After he passed away, The Academy held a memorial service at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Another memorial was held in New York. The New York memorial focused on Saul’s identity and graphic work. The Los Angeles memorial was about his title sequences. Seeing these on huge screen with incredible sound was life changing. I love showing my first term students some of Saul’s title sequences. They are inspired and awed, especially by the lack of CGI. It’s amazing what can be done with a few lines and some type.

One of the often-missed sequences is for Grand Prix. There is no flying type, no intense digital effects, and no techno music. Live action, some simple type, and genius editing make a dynamic introduction. The repeating images, repeated usage of circular forms, and sound of the race let us know the subject, tone, attitude, and pace of the film we are about to see. We’ve often said that our job is not to make lots of sweet frosting, but to make a solid cake. Grand Prix is this, the core of an idea expressed elegantly and minimally.

Roadhog

Who doesn’t love the title sequence from Mister Magoo? Little did we know as small children we were watching the work of design hero Alvin Lustig. For those living under a rock, Mister Magoo was a television cartoon character voiced by Jim Backus (Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s Island).  The cartoon followed the practically blind Magoo’s misadventures. Obviously many a hi-jinx occurred with driving and cases of mistaken identity. United Productions of America, UPA, produced Mr. Magoo. Lustig designed their logo also. My favorite moment: the roller coaster near miss. I suggest we stop yelling, “mother@#%*!^,” and yell “Road hog,” when someone cuts you off. Or at least, I should.

UPA

The American Experience in Living Color

AmericanExperience

When I’m asked, “if you weren’t a designer, what would you do?” I answer, “I would work on the Disneyland Railroad, or I’d study American history.” The Disneyland Railroad obsession is another post, this one is about the title sequence for the WGBH program, American Experience. For me, American history is a remarkable subject. Don’t worry; I won’t turn this into a “Salute to America” blog, yet. Perhaps because so many members of my family were involved in this history since Jamestown and Plymouth, it is alive to me.

The title sequence for American Experience, designed by Alison Kennedy and Chris Pullman, tells a rich history with success, failure, justice, and injustice. It does this poignantly and smoothly. There is a clear subtext that this is all of our history, whether you come from a family that arrived on the Mayflower or arrived at LAX yesterday. So much could have gone wrong with this title sequence. It could have been a sequence of images cataloguing each racial and socio-economic group. It could have fallen into the sappy and nostalgic. However, it doesn’t.  The montage shows us a rich and diverse nation made stronger by our differences, and our shared idea and vision. It does this beautifully, and is about our feelings, not just events.

Song of the Islands, Na Lei O Hawaii

Recently, someone asked me what my favorite television title sequence was. There are many wonderful examples, The Rockford Files, Wild Wild West, and now Mad Men. But, come on, the winner, hands down is Hawaii Five-O. The theme song alone, composed by Morton Stevens and covered by The Ventures should make it a favorite. The quick cuts, freeze frame action, and high-energy camera work are miraculous. Reza Badiyi, a television director who also created the Mary Tyler Moore montage, created the sequence. For those Waikiki aficionados, Jack Lord is standing on a balcony of the Ilikai Hotel. For anyone out there who thinks the other Hawaiian crime show, Magnum P.I. was better. No, it was lame.