Not the Sunday Intertitle

From Z: “Any resemblance to real events or persons living or dead is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.”

No intertitles in Costa-Gavras’ films, that I’ve been able to find. Plenty of writing on the screen, though.

Since the stories he tells are often based on true ones, or set in real historical situations, the use of text is sort of genre-appropriate. Although I don’t think we can really argue that it’s a technique taken from documentary — the history of fiction films starting with a superimposed crawl stating the time and place and what’s happening politically is a very long one — it’s true that this approach literally turns the film into a document for the duration of the text.

C-G can begin a film with a scene-setting graphic, as in UN HOMME DE TROP ~

Since this is a Harry Saltzman production, this MIGHT be the work of an uncredited Maurice Binder. I do hope so!

He can use a superimposed date to get over a jump in time, as in L’AVEAU, which cheekily identifies its first flash-forward as a hallucination, then treats the later ones as real ~

I like C-G’s experimental side. The relentlessly brutal L’AVEAU might be unwatchable without this ludic spirit.

The movie ends with Czech graffiti, subtitled. Does that constitute a kind of intertitle?


In C-G’s endings we sometimes learn about what happened after the events of the movie itself. Z has perhaps the best example of this ever, and it helps that the explanation of the title has been held back until the very end (spoiler alert, I guess) ~

It’s just a list of things banned by the Greek generals, culminating in the letter Z, which was forbidden because it could be used to say “He still lives.”

Where a Hollywood true story might tend to reassure us that the story we’ve just watched resulted in wrongs being righted (I’m generalising massively here), C-G tends to tell darker stories and he wants to send his audience out angry or determined, not reassured.

From SECTION SPECIALE — devastating in context.

I’m not usually crazy about the textual “future re-cap” ending. It can signify a failure on the scenarist’s part to effectively condense the true story into a cinematic narrative. And I usually find it a colossal cheat when it’s used in fiction films. I don’t like it in AMERICAN GRAFFITI *at all*. ANIMAL HOUSE, directed by C-G’s pal John Landis (who put C-G in three of his films as an actor, a record for this director-casting maniac) is OK because it’s parodying the form and the jokes are pretty good. MAGDALENE SISTERS is just confusing because the characters aren’t real, but they’re based on real stories… so are the hackneyed captions telling us about real people or fictional ones? It’s supposed to be devastating, but I found it irritating because I’m a pedant and a bad person, I suppose.

AMEN. (note the full stop) is a dicier example. It has two protagnists. One was a real person, Kurt Gerstein, a Nazi whistle-blower who tried to warn the world about the Holocaust while being deeply involved in it (it’s a fascinating and terrible story), the other is a compound character signifying various people in the Catholic Church who did various things to get the Pope to act (unsuccessfully). The film solves this conundrum by summing up Gerstein’s post-movie fate and remaining silent about the quasi-fictional Jesuit.

I would say that just as I slightly prefer Costa-Gavras’ more playful and quirky early work, where the nouvelle vague tricks in no way take away from the seriousness — in fact, they point it up — I prefer the use of text early on, because it has a similar wit. Playing with the docudrama conventions rather than subscribing wholeheartedly. Likewise, the two freeze-frames in UN HOMME DE TROP, capturing the moment of death for two characters, are much more striking than the standard-issue freeze endings of MUSIC BOX and BETRAYED, even though the latter, with the action actually juddering to a halt, is rather haunting ~


6 Responses to “Not the Sunday Intertitle”

  1. Interesting idea about Costa Gavras turning the text into a literal document – I guess it makes it even feel even more like a piece of journalism than it normally would. Is this common in agitpop cinema?

    You could probably make a strong link from those Warner Bros Newspapermontages to Fritz Lang’s Mabuse to the policiers of Fincher (I think Zodiac used this technique a lot) and maybe Pakula.

    Although it may seem uncinematic on paper, it might be interesting to see a thriller creatively constructed out of documentation like that (although I guess that its just an epistolary slideshow)

    Regarding fictional “this happened to these characters”: any thoughts on the use of that in Melville’s Army of Shadows?

  2. Howard Curtis Says:

    “Army of Shadows”, yes! Those final captions make for one of the most devastating endings over, and I don’t see how that information could have been conveyed so well in any other way.

  3. Army of Shadows is, I think, quasi-factual, so it’s on the verge of OK/not OK, and in this case I think it works. The proof being that I’m moved rather than irked.

    And the editor, Francoise Bonnot, cut most of Costa-Gavras’ films. Her mother cut a lot of earlier Melvilles.

    I think text-on-screen is a big thing in agitprop, also variants like Godard, etc.

  4. The most jaw droppingly weird use of the ending text trope must go to the schlock action film Blood Debts. It’s typical 80’s “good guy has family killed, kills all the bad guys”, but I don’t think ANY others ever ended like this:

  5. “Army of Shadows” is Melville’s masterpiece

  6. Ha! They should have added, in the manner of Brute magazine, “But it was worth it!”

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