The Sunday Intertitle: Now in 3D?

Haven’t managed to find any 3D intertitles!

But the opening super from REVENGE OF THE CREATURE is the modern equivalent of the intertitle, I guess.

One could also argue that establishing shots, particularly those including signs, pick up where the old intertitle left off, informing us via text of the location of the next scene. Here’s a 3D example from THE FRENCH LINE ~

Obviously, we pull out from a close-up on the single world “Paris”, the better to get the gag.

All of this kind of film-making can be seen as old-fashioned. I don’t normally agree 100% with Brian DePalma, but when he said “Establishing shots are a waste of time,” he was kind of right. Place can be established as easily in close-up or mid-shot in the course of the action, leaving the long-shot for a moment when it has dramatic impact — a principle first noted by Hitchcock, in conversation with Truffaut, and illustrated by the example of THE PARADINE CASE (not otherwise a hyper-modern piece of cinema).

But on the other hand, and one should always try to have another hand, as the famously ambidextrous Lars Von Trier* argues, ostensibly clunky devices like titles to tell us the time and place have “an atmospheric value” — partly because they evoke other movies we’ve seen. There’s something hilarious about the redundancy of a shot of the Paris skyline, Eiffel Tower prominent in the distance, with the superimposed title “Paris.” Nothing says Hollywood quite like it.

*Camera in one hand, penis in the other, both vibrating violently.

12 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Now in 3D?”

  1. Christopher Says:

    some of my favorite Intertitles are the ones in many silent films that announce the intro of a character with character name and the actor playing them.Has the double benefit of being theatrically dramatic and helping to keep straight on whos who..

  2. On the other hand, there’s “Chicago, 1929” from SOME LIKE IT HOT. I was only 8 when I saw it in the theater, but remember the huge laugh it got. Wilder and Diamond knew how to tell a joke.

  3. And which jokes to tell!

    Wilder had a real knack for scene-setting, learned at Lubitsch’s knee. Why simply say where we are when you can make it memorable with a joke? I like the sign in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, helping to set up the French Riviera, which reads “English spoken. American understood.”

    And Sunset Blvd has one of the best introductory signs ever, neatly giving the title and the POV (gutter-level) all at once.

  4. Ahhhh, the great Lubitsch. Best of the best. His establishing shot of Venice in TROUBLE IN PARADISE didn’t even need words… not printed ones, anyhow.

  5. And it took a week to invent, thinking solidly, we are told (by Wilder, who wasn’t there, but still…)

  6. For every rule, there are exceptions! The place/time-setting titles in Fincher’s ZODIAC have the same character of obsessive-compulsion as the rest of the film. For scene-setting shots, they can establish atmosphere and tone really well, and in an instant. The example that came to mind, contrary to what De Palma said, comes from Hideaki Anno’s NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. The establishing location shots are similar to those in Ozu – stillness, cicadas, architecture, near-emptiness – but they accumulate a sense of post-apocalyptic dread in short order.

    Then again, as when any of that kind of declaration is made, insofar as the concept applies to conventional films and television, De Palma absolutely has a point. Most of the time, directors and editors and cinematographers, etc., do things the way they do them because……that’s what they were told!

  7. Off -Topic : A Monstre Sacree

  8. Then there’s Brazil’s excellent opener “Somewhere in the twentieth century”. Although what it’s superimposed over depends of course on which version you’re watching.

  9. That’s a line Gilliam had used a lot in trying to describe the film’s setting, along with “On the border between LA and Belfast.”

    DePalma’s stricture only works if you’re concerned about being economical with time in a modern Hollywood manner. Something which is less of a concern for Ozu, whose shots don’t quite function as traditional establishers (if they did, it still wouldn’t explain why he might use three of them for one scene) but are more elusive…

    Even though I mock Trier, he’s right that the atmospheric value of an onscreen title can outweigh any supposed inelegance. Kubrick said that he didn’t particularly like writing on the screen, but sometimes it was the simplest way to convey information — yet the titles in The Shining do far more than that. As the film goes on, their seemingly random interjections of time information actually deepen our uncertainty and anxiety.

  10. Indeed. And I recall the entire theater jumping in fright when the title card reading “Wednesday” popped up in The Shining coupled with the music being used at that instant (Pendereki I recall)

  11. Yes, and then we laughed, because it was so strange. Or at least my school film society audience did. ‘We just got scared by Wednesday!’

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