It’s interesting how some films manage to accomplish so much with their opening sequences. The seven shot opening titles of Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) beautifully manages to establish the dark mood. Two of those shots are close ups of De Niro’s eyes, while other five show distorted images of a hazy and obscured Manhattan through the windshield of his taxi. We instantly know whatever we’re going to see in the film to follow is through Nero’s eyes. The distorted imagery reflects the deranged mind observing it.
Another title sequence where eyes play a major role is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). The credits, made by the master of the craft Saul Bass, appear over an extreme closeup of a woman’s face. The camera pans up to the woman’s eyes, which dart left and right and then stares straight ahead, showing tension and obsession. The camera next zooms in on a single eye and the screen turns red, symbolizing the passion to follow. The title appears from the depths of woman’s pupil followed by the a series of spiraling geometric shapes, giving us the disorienting sensation that we are falling. Eventually we return back to the woman’s face for Hitchcock’s credit, which also comes, appropriately, from the depths of the eye.
Unlike the last two examples, title sequences can be extremely simple yet powerful. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) is a classic example. The static shot of Dustin Hoffman taking the airport walkway, set to Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence, is a timeless classic. The scene speaks to a feeling every young lad relates to – that sense of being thrust forward while seemingly going nowhere. The Graduate remains one of the few films way ahead of it’s time when it comes to theme, score and camerawork.
Speaking of camerawork, how can we forget the continuous opening crane shot of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958)? Even James Bond films are noted for their raunchy opening sequences and Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) has the wittiest Bond title sequence. With girls posing like ancient statues while images from the film flicker on their gold-painted bodies, the title sequence leaves a bizarre and deep impact. Similar is the opening sequence of Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) where random imagery in noir settings set the mood right for the film to follow.
While some may argue opening sequences of films do not matter, masters of the film-making craft often use the first few minutes of the film to set the tone right. May it be the characters, locations, plot, theme, or something as complex as the perspective or mood of the film – the first 5 minutes can make a great difference.