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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