A GREAT MOVIE doesn't have…
January 29th, 2004 by Clark Humphrey

…to have a great main-title screen, but it helps. I’m talking about great typography, great composition, and even a little razzle-dazzle (“First National Pictures, Inc. Presents Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Stupendous Story of Adventure and Romance–THE LOST WORLD”).

Also note the “busy-ness” of Golden Age main titles. The Thin Man‘s title screen includes not just the name of the movie but five of its stars, the director, the producer, the MGM name and logo, a copyright notice, and MGM’s old “Controlled by Loew’s Incorporated” bug. And in the background you can see a mockup cover of the original novel, with author Dashiell Hammett’s name clearly visible. And it’s elegant, not cluttered-looking at all. These days, a studio will commission graphic-design specialists to create snazzy logos for a film’s print advertising, and even give these designers screen credit in the film, but only use a plain, small-print typeface for the on-screen title itself.

When you see a beautiful title screen, you know the filmmakers have at least made an attempt at classic showmanship. If you just see the movie’s name in some common desktop-publishing font, why bother watching the rest?

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