The main credit sequence in a film performs three principal functions, all of which are complex. First, the audience must be given vital information about the nature and content of the film. As narrative tools, the credits must negotiate between the demands of the story and the audience's information state on coming to the theater. For example, in Good Will Hunting (1997), Ferro wanted credits that would introduce and focus on Will (Matt Damon) and show his literacy. Second, the main title must attest to the strengths and powers of the filmmakers (during the studio era, the studio whose logo preceded the title sequence; since the 1980s, the era of independent production, it typically touts the principal cast and director). A well-designed and ostentatious title sequence acts as an advertisement for the producer and filmmakers, touting not only the film but other films made by the same people; it suggests technical know-how and a concern for audience engagement, thus constituting a basis for audience investment in other film products. Third, the main title is a kind of display board for the film workers' specific talents. In general, and at least in well-received films, the better one's card in the main title sequence (the larger the type, the better the placement), the higher can be one's asking price for future endeavors. The title is an economic asset for the filmmakers and their cast and crew, and often payment for services rendered on a project is deferred in exchange for increased visibility of one's name in the titles.
Educated at Brooklyn College and the Art Students League, Saul Bass gained a reputation as the man who revolutionized film titles, with stark graphic animations deeply evocative of the sensibility of the films that unspooled after them. His first efforts included Carmen Jones (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955) and The Big Knife (1955) but it was with The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Otto Preminger's voyage to the seedy world of heroin addiction (and the first film on which a director received proprietary credit), that Bass found a style of boldly angular, semirepresentational graphics—in this case, an addict's outstretched arm—that could fragment musically into pieces that formed symbols or parts of words. Before this film, credits had been little more, as Bass once put it, than "words, badly lettered." After The Man with the Golden Arm , they became aesthetic unities in themselves.
Bass designed credits for more than fifty films, including Trapeze , Johnny Concho , Around the World in 80 Days (all 1956), Bonjour Tristesse and The Big Country (both 1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Exodus , Ocean's Eleven , and Spartacus (all 1960), Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), Seconds (1966), Alien (1979), Broadcast News (1987), GoodFellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), and Higher Learning and Casino (both 1995). But Bass's most celebrated collaborations were with Alfred Hitchcock, for whom he designed the swirling, multicolored, shape-shifting vortex superimposed over a macro-close shot of a red-filtered human eye in Vertigo (1958), a sequence that disoriented audiences even before the story began; the black-and-white schizoid words that morphed, split, and shuffled like playing cards in Psycho (1960); and the skittering emerald green lines that raced down the screen in North by Northwest (1959) to form the main title, then transformed themselves into the skyscrapers of Madison Avenue. For Psycho , Bass is reported to have storyboarded a number of scenes, including Marion's shower, which required seventy-eight camera setups.
In 1974 Bass directed and titled Phase IV , a film about desert ants going to war with humans. After 1987, his main titles were designed with the assistance of his wife, Elaine, who also codirected a number of films with him, including the short Why Man Creates (1968), for which he won an Academy Award ® .
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Vertigo (1958), Exodus (1960), Psycho (1960), Why Man Creates (1968), Phase IV (1974)
Benenson, Laurie Halpern. "The New Look in Film Titles: Edgy Type That's on the Move," New York Times , 24 March 1996.
Rebello, Stephen. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. New York: Dembner Books, 1990, and St. Martin's Griffin, 1998.
Front credits are nowadays invariably briefer than end credit rolls. Aside from the title of the film, the main credits typically name the principal cast; the writer(s) of the screenplay; the author(s) of the material from which the screenplay has been adapted, if any; the cinematographer; the composer; the designer (or art director); the costumer; the editor; the producers; the director. In the studio era—roughly 1930 to 1960—each of these aspects of filmmaking was handled by a specific studio department, and the head of each of these departments was
named in the credits, no matter who did the actual work. At Paramount in the 1950s, for example, the name of Hal Pereira (1905–1983) appears as art director on virtually every front credit the studio produced; at MGM in the 1940s, the name of Cedric Gibbons (1893–1960); at Twentieth Century Fox in the same decade, the name of Lyle Wheeler (1905–1990). Contemporary main title sequences are sometimes strikingly abbreviated for dramatic effect. Steven Spielberg (b. 1946), for example, typically runs his credits only at the end of his films, retaining the actual film title card—if that—at the beginning. Because audiences are somewhat less likely to read titles at the end of a film, this practice, while modestly withholding the director's credit until the first position after the finale, also reduces the billing of actors and crew (an effect somewhat mitigated by the intensive advertising that all new blockbusters receive). The end credit roll, which originally repeated only the names of the principal cast ("A Good Cast Is Worth Repeating," end credits at Universal Pictures uniformly began, starting in the early 1930s), now tends to contain all of the members of the cinematographer's gaffing crew and the grip crew that handles the camera; all of the carpenters and painters who work for the art director; everyone involved with sound, dialogue, and foley track recording, as well as those who cater, chauffeur, assist, insure, negotiate, supply, and in any other way are connected with the film. At the end of Titanic (1997), the extensive end credits include "inferno artists," "water systems engineer," "etiquette coach" and a "thanks" to the Mexican Minister of Tourism.
In 1942, an attempt to do away with full end credits proved unsuccessful. By law, copyright acknowledgments for all songs and musical tracks used must be included by producers in the end credits. With productions becoming increasingly more complex and involving more and more workers, end credit sequences have become notoriously extensive. For Superman (1978), 457 end credits roll for twelve minutes, about one-tenth of the entire film's length. In Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968), the end credits take up more than twelve minutes. The end credits of Jurassic Park (1993) list 519 names.