The Psychic Sunday Intertitle: Thinking Aloud

Heard about this one in a Facebook discussion about surtitles or supertitles or whatever you call them — the rare practice of superimposing an intertitle over action. Not very popular due to the difficulty of re-doing the opticals for foreign markets. Academic Carol O’Sullivan was asking for examples, citing BEN-HUR as one. I weighed in with Hitchcock’s THE RING, which uses the effect during a climactic boxing match possibly for the same reason they used it in the BH chariot race — to keep the action going under the dialogue, for a faster pace.

Eric Scheirer Stott recommended WALKING BACK, directed by Rupert Julian under Cecil B. DeMille — right under him — which is a hectic jazz age road to ruin romp, exulting in Charlestons, hip flasks and slang while wagging a stern finger at them simultaneously. The DeMille Hypocrisy in full cry.

The superimposed intertitles are fascinating — they represent the hero’s stream-of-consciousness inner monologue. A unique bit of film language, at least until ANNIE HALL’s date scene.

If you can think of any other examples of superimposed intertitles, let me know and I’ll make sure Carol hears about them.

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4 Responses to “The Psychic Sunday Intertitle: Thinking Aloud”

  1. Lawrence McLain Chadbourne Says:

    This wasn’t part of the origiinal film, but I recall a version of The General prepared by Raymond Rohauer where the intertitles were turned into subtitles, thus speeding up the film for faster paced modern viewers and altering the careful rhythm Keaton had originally designed,

  2. And enabling Rohauer to renew the copyright based on it being a “new film”… that seems to have been the thinking behind all his rampage of retitling.

  3. bensondonald Says:

    “Sherlock” would superimpose text on a POV shot to tell us what the detective was deducing from visible details (playfully leaving some unexplained). This was most memorably applied in “A Scandal in Belgravia”, where Irene Adler’s naked body revealed absolutely nothing — or that she’d momentarily short-circuited his brain. He has to turn and look at clue-covered Watson to confirm his sleuth-o-vision is working. The Downey Jr. movie used the same device less wittily. There it was more like the computer readouts Downey saw in “Iron Man”.

    “Sherlock” also made nice use of superimposed emails and texts instead of showing actual screens, although I think it’d been done before.

    In “Paleface”, Bob Hope screams for help from the top of a distant tree and the quivering letters “HELP” appear. Speaking of “HELP”, the Beatles movie by that name spotted dryly funny expositional text throughout. When a tiger menaces one of the boys, a superimposed title helpfully identifies it as such.

    The campy “Batman” show optically superimposed its “Pow!” and “Zap!” visual sound effects during the first season. Thereafter, probably for economy, they were title cards cut in.

    The TV show “Laugh In” would run gag lines as subtitles. One read “Help! I’m being held prisoner in the control booth!” Police in a couple of towns reportedly showed up at local NBC affiliates.

    “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” opens with art film subtitles in Swedish, which devolve to a tourism pitch in English and finally an anecdote about being bitten by a moose.

    A familiar gag elsewhere is to have a character rant at length in a foreign language, while a subtitle or intertitle provides an improbably short and / or obviously bowdlerized translation. In “Wakiki Rabbit”, Bugs Bunny delivers a long, mock-Polynesian speech that translates as “Welcome.” A three-syllable grunt translates as “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

    A Benny Hill episode had the Ladybirds singing in a nightclub setting with Hill and company in their audience. The subtitles become gossip about romances and crushes among the cast. Finally a subtitle asks, “Who does Benny love?” Once it’s clear we’re not getting an answer, the laugh track kicks in.

  4. The WB cartoon gags are all present in variation in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, where Brooks as Mel Funn furiously cusses out his pal at great length, with easily lipreadable renditions of “son of a bitch” etc, followed by the intertitle “You bad boy!”

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