Friday, October 02, 2009


Mark Simonson, the artist who designed my "Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner" banner, has hooked me on typography. Here's are some examples of interesting film lettering gleaned from the links on Mark's site. See what you think.

I'll start with a fairly normal title card (above) from the 40s. It's straight-forward, flat poster art (above)...very effective when accompanied by good music.

More exciting were the titles that were laid over action. Usually these occurred at the end of trailers. The titles at the beginning of the film itself were usually more conservative.

I love how dramatic titles (above) often were done in a tiki style, as if they were ripped from canoes on cannibal islands. The incongruity of stark, primitive lettering over modern city backgrounds promised a story filled to the brim with raw emotion.

I assume this title (above) is also from the trailer, and not from the film. The title floating over the crowds and cars seems to convey a point that's not emphasized in the film, i.e., that we're going to see a story about grimy, sweaty, but somehow tragic and heroic urban man. It's a manifesto that declares the filmmaker's belief that modern man is a fit subject for great literature. I love manifestos. A film should convey passion. It should grab you by the collar and try to convince you of something.

I also love it when a film's graphics make points that aren't overtly contained in the script. They're best when they address the subtext rather than the text.

Here's a common Noir technique: The title appears over a city background but is framed by fuzzy black borders. You get the feeling that we're looking out at the world through malevolent, satanic eyes. Or maybe we're pulling down the slat of a blind to look at a scene in Hell.

I said that trailers usually contained better graphics than the film, but there were exceptions. Here's (above) a perfectly fine trailer end title...

...and an even better title graphic that appears at the start of the film. Once again the typography conveys weird, primitive, psychological energy, but it's laid over a classical, Rubenesque color scheme. The card promises thrills, but assures us that we're safe in the hands of a master storyteller.

Here's (above) the end title. In a comment Lester said the constable seems to say "Alright, folks, move along. There's nothing to see here. Nothing to see," and that's exactly right. It's a terrific counterpoint to the high-intensity drama we just witnessed.

I would add that there's something weird about the shot. The graphic seems to say, "The story is over can go home and relax...but impish, malevolent magic is still at work in the world, so don't relax too much. "

BTW: The link to Mark's site and the Annyas screenshots that Mark linked to:


Rick Roberts said...

The size of the letters always were bigger in the trailers to snag your attention, always an effective technique. That what I love about old trailers, they were always a film in itself because they were brilliantly cut to give you enough but not give away the continuity.

By the way, I saw Key Largo recently. Eddie G. and Bogey were great and it's possibly the secound best hostage film ever made. Number one I believe is The Petrified Forest with Bogey,Leslie Howard, and Bettie Davis.

I.D.R.C. said...

Great collection, thanks for the links.

Mark Simonson said...

Nice choices, Eddie. And thanks for the link.

You might like this, too:

We Love Typography

Tip: Try typing in the name of a color, like "orange", in the search box.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mark: Wow! Thanks for the great link! I spent an hour typing every evocative word I could think of into the search box!

Rick: Trailers were an art form. They should have let the trailer makers make some films.

IDRC: You're welcome. I just went back and looked at the glasses link you put up. I just might get the kind you said were best!

RooniMan said...

I love how old trailers never give away much to leave you clueless about the outcome, unlike today's trailers.

Lester Hunt said...

That last end title, with the shot of the English cop, seemed to be saying, "Move along folks. There's nothing to see here. Nothing to see."

Good examples and astute comments, as always, Eddie!

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Hey Ed!:)

Would you like to take a look at my blog? And if you'd like, give me some constructive critique?


One more thing, could you tell me(us) about how you got to do what you do now, and what your job is all about?
I think things like that are so exiting to hear about, because I hope to be apart of the animation industry!:)

Cheers my man!

Craig said...

Off-topic for a sec, but a while back you talked about different studios, and what they look like.
Thought you might like to see our former puppet studio from 2005. Scroll down further and there are a couple more shots as well.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thomas: I posted lots of stuff about myself in the first couple of years that I did this blog. All you need to know about me is there. Sorry I didn't tag anything.

I took a look at your blog, and it's great. I can't think of anything to criticize, except maybe that the pictures as they appear on the blogger page would lok better if they were bigger.

Lester: That's a better analysis than the one I did. Thanks!

Rick Roberts said...

Eddie: That reminds me, I was lucky enough to catch the trailer for Psycho on TCM which starred Alfred Hitchcock. The man knew how to sell you a film. Alfie always came off as a person that you could see living in your quiet, suburban, neighborhood but he happened to have an interest in the morbid. Like many character in his films, he probably was the one in real life who could carry intellectual conversations about how to kill someone at fancy dinner parties.

Here is the trailer:

Psycho 1960

He just loves to tease.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Craig: Sigh! That shot at the top fills me with envt for people who get to work in such interesting workspaces. Many thanks!

Rick: That IS a classic trailer, and you have a good analysis of why the man is so magnetic on screen.

Rick Roberts said...

Thanks Eddie. :o)

Ken Mitchroney said...

All hand lettered on glass. It's a lost art and i love it. Thanks Eddie.

Justin said...

I've never seen the movie, but you've convinced me to, Eddie!

By the way, I took a break from the internet while you did those posts on film titles, typefaces, juxtaposition, etc., and was wondering, what do you think of Chip Kidd? I like his covers, and thought it would be interesting to hear your opinion.