This video essay by Nora Thos and Damian Perez explores the history of opening credits and the artistic and technological approaches used to present them. While it serves as a good example of a student-level video essay, it lacks the precision and the depth of analysis found in the best of that category.
Thos and Perez begin by tracing the evolution of early opening credits, which were initially just a few frames of crude signage which served only to establish copyright and ensure contractual obligations. Eventually, pioneering credits designer Saul Bass, who worked with visionaries like Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock, set a much higher bar, using creative illustrations and effects to reinvent credits. In Bass’s formulation, opening credits could be visually engaging, artistically stimulating, and narratively useful. However, I think Thos and Perez overstate Bass’s level of influence in introducing this concept—compelling opening credits sequences had been around well before the 1950s (the ominous outline of a man on a crutch in Double Indemnity’s credits is a personal favorite of mine). Eventually, Thos and Perez explain, the advent computer-generated effects led to a “second renaissance” for opening credits, allowing for much more elaborate sequences and third-dimensional effects.
This video essay is a capably paced and very well-produced piece, which shows a deep familiarity with the history of the subject matter as well as confidence in the technical elements of producing such a piece. On the downside, unfortunately, is a comparatively unrefined script and a somewhat shallow intellectual approach. The ending of the piece, especially, feels as though the creators were floundering for a conclusion that left the audience with a “big picture” understanding, or a deeper thematic takeaway. The final minute flits between a brief exploration of a single trend in opening credit design, Woody Allen’s minimization of the opening credits, the similarity of approach between two 90s thrillers (Se7en and Mimic), and the experimental style of modern filmmaker Gaspard Noe. None of these ideas feel connected, and all four are under-explored. Thos and Perez would have benefitted by exploring more similarities in credits design across the decades of film history, and by examining why a trend might be popular by suggesting the effect it has on the audience. That would give this piece more substance and coherence, beyond its effective exposition and effective use of sound and image.