The opening sequence of a film is its first chapter and often determines whether or not I choose to continue. The inclusion of a title sequence (when the credits appear in part at the start of the film in addition to the end) is something that is always guaranteed to peak my interest. They’re a great way of easing a viewer in, like an appetizer hinting at what’s to come. For a lot of directors, the convention has become a little more style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of style over substance – give me a catchy tune and a quirky font and I’m on board. Having said this, a really stand-out title sequence can encourage immediate engagement, acting as an extension of a poster or DVD cover. If you weren’t invested going in, now you’re paying attention.
There are a lot of iconic opening credits that prove this to be true. Rebel Without A Cause, Vertigo, The Graduate, Napoleon Dynamite – all of these films I remember sitting down to watch, not all that enthusiastically, but quickly became captivated thanks to their attention-grabbing openings. David Fincher, a director renowned for his attention to detail, really appreciates the potential which opening credits have. For Fincher, they’re introductions with both style and substance; they cleverly manage to abbreviate the film to come. His mastery is evident in his equally skillful but widely different tittle sequences, from Fight Club (1999) to Se7en (1995) to The Social Network (2010).
Fight Club opens with a fast-paced ride through someone’s brain. The camera leads us past nerves, blood cells, and bone whilst the titles flash up on screen. All of this is accompanied by a track that completely embodies the film’s own wake-you-up-with-a-slap vibe. When the camera emerges, we see we were actually inside the protagonist’s brain, who sits with a gun barrel in his mouth. So just in the opening credits, Fincher has told us that we’re about to see a film about the male psyche, shown to us through the mind of the Narrator. By making the Narrator’s brain the first thing we see, we are being told that everything that follows is a projection of his unreliable mind. So, really, Fincher gives away the plot twist within seconds.
The opening to Se7en is another, but very different, look at a single character. The short clips between the titles show the serial killer ‘John Doe’ making his preparations, thus taking place before the events of the film itself. We see only his hands as he makes entries in his diary, develops some photos, and casually removes the skin from his fingers. The whole sequence is made to be unnerving by Fincher’s intimate close-ups, which gives us a pretty focused introduction to this character. We learn that he is first and foremost anonymous, but we’re teased with a little more information in seeing his dirty fingernails, which contrast with his meticulous preparations.
In The Social Network, Fincher achieves the same thing he did in the other two but majorly dialled back. The credits don’t actually come at the start of the film, but right after a scene in which we see the protagonist (Mark Zuckerberg) get dumped by his girlfriend who calls him an arsehole, which introduces a running theme in the film of people disliking Mark. The credits then fade in over a really simple sequence of Mark running home afterwards. He doesn’t look around him, he doesn’t stop to speak to anyone – the whole clip emphasises Mark’s loneliness which is ironic as he spends the film setting up a website that aims to connect people. In a sequence that lasts only two minutes, Fincher manages to portray Marks’ self-absorbed attitude and his failed attempts to form relationships as a result.
I can’t count how many films I haven’t finished because the opening wasn’t interesting enough. Fincher’s are only one example (albeit a great one) of how a title sequence can make use of all available screen time. If a film starts with credits, I don’t think it’s only because the filmmakers want us to acknowledge the main contributors. They’re waving a siren at you telling you “the movie has started, we’re in! Get on board.” So no more putting the film on and making a cup of tea while the credits are rolling. Even if it is just some funky font and a banging tune, it’s setting you up for a funky movie with a banging soundtrack – take it all in.