something about text in films

am i the only person interested in the title cards in weimann’s the cabinet of dr caligari?

let me start again

i finally watched the cabinet of dr caligari.  it’s fantastic.  let’s start with the sets:  the sets are incredible — dark, menacing, crowded.  it’s kind of like the opposite of those habitat preference tests.  you know, we evolved in savannas so we naturally prefer those types of habitats for their features — some  covering (as a protection from the elements and predators) looking over large open spaces (which is beneficial for hunting or something).  in other words, the sets are biologically scary  (if i can misappropriate a misunderstanding of a dated evolutionary theory).

i mean these sets are threatening.  they seem to be actually engulfing the characters in the movie.  in this way, the characters are all like the somnambulist — controlled by outside forces they may not even be consciously aware of.  what’s more interesting is how those same jagged, aggressive lines are reproduced in the title card.  i couldn’t find any images off the cards on line (which speaks to my initial question at the beginning of this post), but you can imagine: like those same same invasive branches show up as drawings behind the written text on the cards (ps, this is a silent film).

and the written word doesn’t end with the title cards.  dr caligari controls the somnambulist by refering to an older manuscript.  one that is shown at length on the screen.  visuals of written words permeate the entire film.

but with silent films, words in the films must be represented visually.  but more importantly, the filmed words are as much a part of the film (the visual film) as any other scene or shot.  what fascinates me about dr caligari is the way those words are used stylistically — the title cards are used to reinforce and reproduce the eerie imagery of the rest of the film.

then the silent era ended and text in film was banished to the opening and closing credits, the occasional close up of a letter (usually with some corresponding audio that actually reads the letter) and that one part in the red shoes where they’re waiting for the ballet to begin and “45 minutes later” scrolls across the bottom of the screen.

then came godard.

(i’m sure tons of other directors prominently use text in their films, but none as much and with such force as godard.)



Filed under Brian

6 responses to “something about text in films

  1. Yes, I love the inter-titles in Caligari. Eisenstein’s Strike does some rather interesting things with its inter-titles too, some of it inspired by constructivism, some of it playing off of Russian puns that don’t really translate (so I’m told).

    The only modern American films which come to mind (Star Wars and Woody Allen’s Bergman homages aside) right now as having an importantly cool title sequence would be the prologue to Texas Chain Saw, and the end credits of Night of the Living Dead.

    I’m just upset that Lost has started to use inter-titles when it changes time periods. JJ’s other show Fringe uses titles in an interesting, but ultimately annoying way.

  2. The credits of movies these days are sometimes the best part. Like, I really hated 300, but the credits made to look like cutouts were pretty rad.

    I read this book a couple months ago (I actually listened to it) where one of the characters was studying half-words in films. When a sign is cut off on the edge of the frame he was finding all sorts of meanings and symbolism. It was supposed to be funny (I think. it wasn’t a very good book), but I thought it was really interesting. Someone like Godard does that on purpose.

  3. brian

    i’ve been secretly hoping that credits some day disappear. unless you do fake credits. but, with the internet, you can just look it up online.

    let me start again. credits can be great, but i dont see why they’re necessary for every film. like you have to look at film conventions and decide when to and when not to use them. it needs to be a decision rather than like well everyone has credits at the end of the movie. in the early days, they never had credits at the end.

    but worse, in my opinion, is credits at the beginning. not all the time, mind you (i really like the saul bellow ones he did for hitchcock , spiderbaby’s opening credits and dont forget the blob which features the best song i’ve ever heard), but just the obvious shot of the city or the sunset or driving in a car with some boring john williams score.

  4. brian

    and whitney, i never told you, but i watched apoclyptico a while ago and realized that mel gibson may be the most extreme filmmaker ever — major motion picture releases that are nothing but straight violence.

  5. I know. And the craziest violence ever. Like, why would you film a guy getting shot with an arrow in the chest? Instead you should film him getting show with a cross bow through the ear and out the neck, puncturing the jugular and spurting blood everywhere.

    did you hate the ending as much as I did?

  6. brian

    i have a hard time remembering specific acts of violence in that movie because there were a million of them. but wasn’t there a part when someone gets shot with an arrow through his mouth and it’s like shown from behind and the arrow comes out the back of his throat or something.

    the ending was strange. but what was intereseting is the guy that survived, he took off into the jungle. deeper into the jungle and then was probably resisted european colonization until herzog made his fitzcarraldo movie.

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