Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Art of the Opening Credit Sequence: David Gordon Green's Undertow (2004)

A whole lot can be said with a great opening credit sequence. I always feel like unimaginative and lazy opening credit crawls are a real missed opportunity for filmmakers, so I greatly admire the ones who put a lot of thought and creativity into them. They don't have to be showy (Woody Allen's wonderfully minimalist white on black openings are as instantly recognizable as his films) and when done correctly they can rightly be labeled as art all on their own. As a companion to my ongoing celebration of my favorite closing shots, here is a new series at Moon in the Gutter focusing on truly splendid opening credit sequences. I find the one designed for David Gordon Green's extraordinary Undertow (2004), featuring both frantic action shots and still photography, to be breathtaking in every way and it seemed an ideal opening to the series.


Jeffrey Goodman said...

One of my favorite openings, Jeremy. I couldn't agree with you more. It's really stylish, fun, innovative, and great! I haven't heard it discussed often, but I have a hunch that the opening of THE WILD BUNCH must have influenced Gordon Green some here.

Mike Lippert said...

An excellent pick to start off this new series. David Gordon Green is one of our most valuable filmmakers. I especially love how, after the credits, how the cop gives Jamie Bell the board back. A nice comic touch to start a strange and original film.

Kevin J. Olson said...

It's one of the greatest openings to any movie I've seen. Green's kitchen-sink mentality brilliantly infused with Philip Glass' score masterfully sets up the premise of the film: here's a movie that is going to take us out of reality. That opening is so stylized and so obviously from "another place" that we can't help but give ourselves to the film immediately. It perfectly sets up the mythical and fairytale-like feel Green and his filmmakers are going for.

I've used this opening in numerous English classes with high school students to show them how through different techniques storytellers tell us how to listen to their stories and in what context we should interpret them. The kids also just love the opening and often have an easy time convincing me to watch the rest of the movie.

The whole film has an ethereal/otherworldly aura to it (wonderfully evoking the "children in peril" type of films like Night of the Hunter), and it's all set up by that fantastic opening sequence.

I'm glad you singled this one out, Jeremy. Great stuff.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much guys! This opening absolutely blows me away and I am so happy to hear I am not the only one really amazed by it.

Ed Howard said...

I knew before the credits were even done that I was going to love this movie. (I was right.) The credit sequence is just that great. It announces right from the start that this film is going to throw curveballs at us, that it's going to be bold and strange and quite possibly silly as well. I love the blatant use of crude filtering and image processing software, which clashes against the rugged rural atmosphere of the sequence. And Green further introduces the 70s cop movie clich├ęs as additional textural elements. It's just a great blend.

Ned Merrill said...

The other great thing about this title sequence is Green's use of the 1981-era UA logo with the evocative, somewhat eerie Joe Harnell theme music. Green mentions in the commentary that he chose to use the old logo because it had left quite an impression on him as a child. IIRC, he said it scared him when he was a kid.

Using this vintage studio logo also happens to be appropriate because of the way the credits borrow stylistically from '70s action cinema. With that in mind, Green actually probably should have used the '70s-era Transamerica UA logo, which graced the opening of films like THE KILLER ELITE and ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE amongst many others.