The Film Before the Film: An Introduction to the History of Title Sequences in 10 Minutes

Some watch the Super Bowl for just the commercials. Others watch films for the title sequences that bookend a movie. Title sequences can be “engaging or wildly entertaining … or simply drop dead beautiful.” They can “ooze with visual poetry and sophisticated imagery,” or they can put the audience in the right mood for the movie, or close it in the right way, writes the web site Forget the Films, Watch the Titles.

But it hasn’t always been this way. During the early days of cinema, title sequences were often crude and informational. That started to change with the advent of sound film, when title sequences took on aesthetic dimensions they hadn’t known before. By the 1950s and 1960s, they became a high art form, especially in the hands of the iconic graphic designer Saul Bass. The history, philosophy and aesthetics of the title sequence — especially the opening credits — all get covered by The Film Before the Film, a short, informative film born out of a research project at the Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule. It runs 9 to 11 minutes, depending on whether you count the closing title sequence!

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