ART OF THE TITLE
June 29, 2016
The final episode of The Night Manager hit our screens last Sunday, leaving us surprisingly satisfied with Pine’s bringing down of criminal mastermind Richard Roper, yet still hopeful for another series. But it hasn’t only been the storyline which has captured our attention – we’re looking right back to the start at the glossy opening titles with their ‘weaponry de luxe’ theme, which had a bit of an explosive impact with the show’s audience. Title sequences such as this one have more or less become an art form in their own right, and we were inspired to take another look at some of our favourite titles sequences from film and TV, which have really managed to capture the essence of the work without giving too much away.
THE NIGHT MANAGER
‘I’ve always been fascinated by the morality of conflict,’ says title creator Patrick Clair, ‘and the way in which we fetishise such abhorrent deadly acts for entertainment and storytelling.’ And The Night Manager’s storyline of a lifestyle of luxury fed by arms deals gave Clair that perfect opportunity to visually explore this concept in its opening sequence. The credits are 100% CGI, suits them both stylistically and technologically – reflecting the advanced technology of the weaponry itself, but also the idea of the image from the perfume ad, or fashion editorial, touched and retouched beyond reality to a seductive perfection; and a beauty which at the same time plants that unsettling seed of unease that blossoms throughout the series, as we slowly uncover the dark truth of the business behind Roper’s riches.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
The fully digitalised production techniques of Clair are not always favoured by title sequence designers: this 60s inspired sequence has a retro feel to match its story’s era, much enhanced by John William’s spooky, slippery title track. The animated figures were actually created with handmade stamps, produced in exactly the same way as Frank Abignale Jr uses within the film. The titles’ creators clearly valued the handmade feel their stamps lent the sequence: ‘The original stamps, created in a few hours, are those that exist in the final product. The magic of the first try was not altered. The force of the sketch remained.’ As in all the best sequences, the simple yet stylish type interacts beautifully with the designs, with the letters extending up and down the screen to create transitions between scenes. The figures constantly slip behind and out of the lines, each time emerging in a new disguise, all the while with their silhouetted, hand-stamped texture giving them a half there, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t texture, getting to the bottom of the true nature of our hero.
This is another hand-crafted sequence, which exploits the jitters, smears and crackles of analog film to manipulate its imagery. Titles director Kyle Cooper did tabletop shoots with the film’s actual props as well as producing his own, using them to give an early insight into the obsessive mind of the film’s protagonist (or is it the antagonist?). The sequence of close ups inhabited by needles, razorblades and shadows has a small, quiet, methodical violence to it, which, set to the seething electronics of the soundtrack, is also deeply unsettling. The typography itself was etched by hand, ‘because,’ says Cooper, ‘it was from the mind of the killer, and I was taking that further, wanting it to be like the killer did the film opticals himself.’ You can feel how the resulting fragmented, staccato sequence, has been painstakingly ‘stitched’ together almost entirely by hand, just like Doe’s own notebooks.
This sequence uses the end of Skyfall‘s opening scene as an effective starting point, plunging Bond into a murky, underwater world envisioned by their creator Daniel Kleinman as ‘a bit like Bond travelling into the underworld, a trip to Hades.’ They draw on the rich heritage of Bond title sequence imagery to explore, like the film itself, the spy’s own inner conflicts and psyche. The ruined architecture of Bond’s mind is populated by symbols of his own mortality. At one moment it’s an endless maze of pillars, archways and roaming light that surrounds him by his own shadows, then a graveyard of weapons, then a hall of mirrors, where his ever-shifting target turns out to only be himself – a reference perhaps, says Kleinman, ‘to his own self doubts and also to the fact that I saw his nemesis in the file as being a Bond doppelgänger, the yin to Bond’s yang, a dark reflection of 007.’ Are those piercing blue eyes aiming the gun, or looking down the barrel?
With these titles, signed with a flourish in beautiful, custom-designed script, we’re dropped straight into the worlds of childhood, family, and growing up, set up throughout the sequence as major themes of the film. The opening shot emphasises the dolls house quality of Anderson’s set, meticulously crafted in his characteristic style, as Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ soundtrack introduces us to the ‘families’ of instruments. We are sucked into the quiet, insular family life by the rhythmic movement of the camera from room to room, character to character, and the precise symmetry of the framing. Yet, as Suzy interrupts each perfect scene, binoculars at the ready, she is the character we latch on to, as we wonder what she is looking at.