Cinema History by Titles & Numbers

Between the simple card opening D.W. Griffith’s 1916 Intolerance to the vibrating neon first onslaught of Gaspar Noé’s 2009 Enter the Void, Ian Albinson’s A Brief History of Title Design packs in countless iconic, representative, and otherwise fascinating examples of words that precede movies. As Editor-in-Chief of the blog Art of the Title, Albinson distinguishes himself as just the person you’d want to cut together a video like this. His selections move through the twentieth century from The Phantom of the Opera, King Kong, and Citizen Kane, whose stark stateliness now brings to mind the very architecture of the old movie palaces where they debuted, to the deliberate, textural physicality of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Lady in the Lake. Then comes the late-fifties/early-sixties modernist cool of The Man With the Golden Arm and Dr. No, followed by Dr. Strangelove and Bullitt, both of which showcase the work of Pablo Ferro — a living chapter of title design history in his own right. After the bold introductions to the blockbusters of the seventies and eighties — Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, Alien, The Terminator — but before the freshly extravagant design work of the current century, we find a few intriguingly marginal films of the nineties. How many regular cinephiles retain fond memories of Freaked, Mimic, and The Island of Dr. Moreau I don’t know, but clearly those pictures sit near and dear to the hearts of title enthusiasts.

An elaborate work of motion graphics in its own right, Evan Seitz’s 123Films takes the titles of fourteen films — not their title sequences, but their actual titles — and animates them in numerical order. If that doesn’t make sense, spend thirty seconds watching it, and make sure you’re listening. Doesn’t that calmly malevolent computer voice sound familiar? Does the color scheme of that “4” look familiar, especially if you read a lot of comic books as a kid? And certainly you’ll remember which of the senses it takes to see dead people. This video comes as the follow-up to Seitz’s ABCinema, a similar movie guessing game previously featured on Open Culture. Where that one got you thinking about film alphabetically, this one will get you thinking about it numerically.

Related Content:

A Brief Visual Introduction to Saul Bass’ Celebrated Title Designs

450 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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