Laura Wilkens

Thoughts - A Design and Film Related Blog

The blog portion of focuses on graphic design, film, and travel.

Opening Title Design - The 1960s Part 2

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
With It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (gotta remember there's four "mads"), we have another set of opening titles designed by Saul Bass. The concept of these titles is in no way reflective of the film's plot (although the titles are over a staggering 4 minutes long) but instead match the theme of the film. The credits revolve around an image of the globe which goes through sight gag after sight gag initiated by the inhabitants of that globe. The bold color palette and playfulness of the images allows the entire sequence to take on a very child-like quality. This quality is central to the actual film as well, as all the characters forget about their normal lives and the rules of society so they can go on a wild goose chase for a buried box of cash worth $350,000 ($2,705,000 today according to Wikipedia). The energy of Mad World is non-stop as the plot bounces between the journey of 12 main characters, another 7 supporting characters and over 45 cameo appearances by famous comedians of the time period. The opening titles mirror this energy perfectly.


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
The typography used in the opening titles of Dr. Strangelove is truly inventive. The first set of titles ever designed by Pablo Ferro, the design is a strong departure from previous years. It had always been important that no matter how decorative the text became, it always had to be legible. Therefore, title text in previous films was almost always very bold with more decorative elements (if there were any) stemming from a strong letterform. Ferro's letters are strange shapes, some stocky and fat, others paper thin. More often than not they were simply an outline to let the footage behind the words show through. This quirky look along with the happy-go-lucky tune “Try A Little Tenderness” juxtaposed over footage of bombs and war machines pairs perfectly with the satirical nature of the film.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
What can be viewed today as an experimental work of art, the titles for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly combine the two-tone color scheme of the titles for A Fistful of Dollars and the frenetic movement of the type from the titles of A Few Dollars More. The credits are built from a variety of different typefaces most of which are combined in ways that would never be seen as appealing by working graphic designers. Coffee and water was used on the film to make the organic white splotches that surround the titles which makes it a successful departure from the majority of titles designed up until this point.


Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
The opening titles for Bonnie and Clyde are so simple and yet so effective. One of the key aspects of the film is the empathy you feel for the two main charaters. Despite being gun-toting law breakers who rob banks to their heart's content, you can't help but root for them. The opening title sequence builds this connection with the viewer from the start by flipping through old family photos and images that look commonplace for the time period. Towards the end, we are given a typed backstory of both Bonnie and Clyde next to endearing pictures of each of them. All of these images are mixed in the the credits which begin in a cream that matches the vintage look of the photos but slowly fades to red; a foreshadowing of the death and carnage that's to come.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Although the actual graphic design elements used in the opening titles for 2001 are somewhat scarce, I can't help but include one of my favorite films on this list. Kubrick made the decision not to overwhelm the audience with credit after credit and instead kept them short and sweet. The key aspect of this sequence is the power to take a simple arrangement of text and images and make it EPIC with the help of a triumphant musical score: "Thus Spake Zarathrustra" by German composer Richard Strauss. The strength of the opening is highlighted by the gradual appearance of the sun seen from the dark side of the moon (perhaps from the view of the Starchild?). The lack of titling enhances the vast, empty expanse of space leaving the viewer with a ominous feeling about what's to come, not to mention the almost 3 minutes of black screen with a building rumbling noise attached. A perfect beginning to such a thought-provoking film.