The Revolutionary Title Sequences and Trailers Created by Pablo Ferro: Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Stop Making Sense, Bullitt & Other Films

Pablo Fer­ro, who died last month after more than 60 years in graph­ic design, had such an impact on cin­e­ma that we’ve all felt it at one time or anoth­er, despite the fact that he nev­er direct­ed a sin­gle fea­ture him­self. Rather, he made his mark with title sequences and trail­ers, each of them exud­ing no small amount of then-rev­o­lu­tion­ary and still dif­fi­cult-to-imi­tate style. Hav­ing emi­grat­ed from Cuba to New York at the age of twelve, Fer­ro taught him­self to ani­mate before find­ing his first free­lance work in illus­tra­tion and then his first real job in adver­tis­ing. For his com­mer­cials he devel­oped a sig­na­ture style of rapid cut­ting, a new aes­thet­ic made to sell new prod­ucts, and that impressed many who saw them, includ­ing a cer­tain Stan­ley Kubrick, then at work on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb.

“He said we could sell the movie as a prod­uct,” Fer­ro remem­bers Kubrick telling him in an in-depth three-part inter­view at Art of the Title. “I said that would be great.” The result­ing trail­er’s inter­play of image, sound, voiceover, and espe­cial­ly text looked like noth­ing that had ever come before, and even it turned out not to be Fer­ro’s most mem­o­rable con­tri­bu­tion to the film.

That hon­or belongs to the open­ing cred­its above, which lay­er Fer­ro’s sig­na­ture hand let­ter­ing — an ele­ment request­ed by clients again and again through­out the rest of his career. (“He asked me what I thought about human beings,” Fer­ro remem­bers of Kubrick in the inter­view. “I said one thing about human beings is that every­thing that is mechan­i­cal, that is invent­ed, is very sex­u­al. We looked at each oth­er and real­ized — the B‑52, refu­el­ing in midair, of course, how much more sex­u­al can you get?!”)

Four years lat­er, in 1968, Fer­ro would use cut­ting-edge split-screen image tech­niques to craft an even more visu­al­ly stun­ning open­ing title sequence for Nor­man Jew­ison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, a mas­ter­piece of style made to open a film itself cel­e­brat­ed as a mas­ter­piece of style. Fer­ro describes it as an expe­ri­ence “where it was a chal­lenge to make it both sim­ple to watch and under­stand, and fit­ting for the film. I was lucky that the cos­tumes and the cin­e­matog­ra­phy had the look of, like, a bizarre mag­a­zine. The whole film felt like a the­atri­cal show.”

Lat­er that same year, anoth­er set of Fer­ro-designed titles would open anoth­er Steve McQueen-star­ring thriller, Bul­litt, which need­ed each and every one of its visu­al ele­ments to reflect the dare­dev­il sen­si­bil­i­ty, albeit a con­trolled one, at its core. Fer­ro got a bit wilder when he worked for Kubrick again, cut­ting togeth­er the trail­er below for 1971’s A Clock­work Orange. Though rem­i­nis­cent of his Dr. Strangelove trail­er in its use of onscreen text — “SATIRIC,” “BIZARRE,” “FRIGHTENING,” “METAPHORICAL,” and “BEETHOVEN,” among oth­er suit­able descrip­tors — it dis­pens­es entire­ly with voic­es, those of the film’s char­ac­ters or oth­er­wise, rely­ing entire­ly on the intri­cate lay­er­ing of music and image for its con­sid­er­able effect.

“Every frame is per­fect with the music and it tells you the whole sto­ry at the same time with­out say­ing a word or read­ing words aloud,” as Fer­ro him­self puts it. “I could see why nobody imi­tat­ed it — it takes a lot of work.”

With all this on his résumé, it makes sense that more work con­tin­ued to come his way until the end, includ­ing trail­ers and titles for  Stop Mak­ing SenseBeetle­juiceMen in Black, and L.A. Con­fi­den­tial, all of which, and much else besides, you can see in the Art of the Title ret­ro­spec­tive video below. Though Pablo Fer­ro him­self has gone, his influ­ence on film will no doubt last for decades and decades to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cin­e­ma His­to­ry by Titles & Num­bers

Inside the Mak­ing of Dr. Strangelove: Doc­u­men­tary Reveals How a Cold War Sto­ry Became a Kubrick Clas­sic

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion

Watch 25 Alfred Hitch­cock Trail­ers, Excit­ing Films in Their Own Right

The Art of Film and TV Title Design

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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