Give us credits: Why do so many movies now take 40 minutes to start? | Movie

IIf movies didn’t need to be announced in advance, audiences might feel completely fresh, well, fresh. They could spend the first half hour savoring this tongue-in-cheek take on the frustrations of modern dating, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan, not realizing the film was about to transform from Sleepless in Seattle to Saw. At least director Mimi Cave has a trick that seems subtly disorienting even though you know it’s coming: she holds off the opening credits until the 33rd minute. This delineates the two contrasting parts of the film, while also expressing on a structural level the idea that something is seriously wrong. Yes this is the start of the film, so what exactly have we watched so far?

Anyone who’s gone the distance with Oscar-nominated Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car will know the thrill. I saw the movie in a crowded theater where there were discombobulation ripples when the opening titles appeared after about 40 minutes. In the days of celluloid there was always the possibility that the reels had been lined up in the wrong order so it was fun now to see those old analog habits picking up again with a few of us tossing and turning in our seats to wince at the projection booth.

By rearranging the cinema’s basic furniture, Cave and Hamaguchi bring a new form of tension to the art of the opening sequence. Acclaim has always tended to settle disproportionately on openings that feature obvious technical prowess, such as the single shots that launch Touch of Evil, The Player, and Johnnie To’s. recent news. The last of these begins with a fierce six-minute battle on the streets of Hong Kong, during which the camera repeatedly rises to sniper level before returning to a birds-eye view of the fray.

Johnnie To’s film Breaking News (2004) begins with a six-minute street battle filmed with a camera barreling high and low. Photography: Hirotake Okazaki/Media Asia Films/Allstar

Even a slight bewilderment can be enough to grab our attention, as is the nearly wordless opener to Billy Wilder’s 1972 comedy. Forward! Why on earth did Jack Lemmon persuade a stranger to swap clothes with him in the cramped bathroom on a flight to Italy? Seven minutes later, the lira drops. A serene show can also work on an audience like hypnosis. There are no bombs, bullets or bathroom shenanigans in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s eight-and-a-half-minute opening shot Shanghai flowers. The camera sleepily watches the various talkative characters crowded around the candlelit coffee table in a 19th-century brothel. Tea is served, games played, fans open gracefully – and we’re hooked.

The options for an effective opening sequence are plentiful, but what makes for a really great opening sequence? “The most successful openings are those that pique an audience’s curiosity or interest instead of providing information,” says the seasoned editor. Paul Hirsch. “But you have to be careful. There’s a difference between piquing someone’s curiosity and confusing them.

Hirsch won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope), though he doesn’t choose the beginning of this image as an example to follow. “Star Wars opens with this crawl of text rolling across the screen. I always thought if we hadn’t had that people would still have figured out what was going on. I don’t think the best way to start a film is to throw a mass of information in the audience’s lap.

More innovative are the 11 images Hirsch cut for Brian De Palma, including Sisters, Carrie and Blow Out. De Palma holds particular contempt for directors who waste those precious opening minutes. “When you start a movie with a helicopter shot of Manhattan, or those boring shots of a car driving towards a building — I mean, that’s not an idea,” he said in 2010. Especially the beginning of a movie when the audience is ready for nothing. Wasting that time with a boring shot of geography mystifies me. Hirsch recalls De Palma telling him, “If I ever shoot a drive-up, shoot me.”

Eighty years are condensed into 11 minutes at the start of Pixar's Up (2009).
Eighty years are condensed into 11 minutes at the start of Pixar’s Up (2009). Photograph: AF Archives/Alamy

Sisters begins with a man watching a blind woman begin to undress after mistakenly entering a men’s locker room; Blow Out begins with a long POV from a killer’s point of view. None of the footage is quite what it seems – the first turns out to be a clip from a Candid Camera-style TV show, the second a fake horror movie called Co-Ed Frenzy. De Palma staged more complicated opening sequences (Snake Eyes begins with a 13-minute traveling shot that introduces the dramatis personae and sets up the plot’s central conspiracy) but it’s its tactic of pulling the rug out from under our feet when we’ve barely walked through the front door that is so playful and enjoyable.

Many of Hirsch’s best opening sequences — he also edited Falling Down, which begins with Michael Douglas growing tense in a Los Angeles traffic jam — are around five or six minutes long. Is this the optimal time for a good intro, equivalent to the classic three-minute pop song? “I didn’t think of that,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “A streak will tell you how long it takes. When you cut, you keep coming back to it and playing ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ until you find nothing abnormal.

One of the benefits of a long opening sequence is that it is well placed to create a narrative break before the actual film begins. Think the heartbreaking prologue of the Pixar Up animation, which compresses some 80 years into 11 minutes, or the relationship that comes to life before dying in the 18-minute opener of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Back in fashion today, it’s the kind of long introductory flashback found over 30 years ago in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This dizzying eight-minute opener shows how the film’s hero (played as a teenager by River Phoenix) acquired his fear of snakes, his mastery of the whiplash, the scar on his chin and the felt hat on his head. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King begins with a flashback to the fateful day when Sméagol (Andy Serkis) began his transition into the monstrous Gollum. The most recent version of Death on the Nile begins by explaining why Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) first grew his distinctive mustache, making the film not just a thriller but a why-push it.

Teenage River Phoenix as young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
Teenage River Phoenix as young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

The most unorthodox use of the extended opening sequence in recent mainstream cinema was in No Time to Die. While it’s not the first James Bond film in which the hero is absent from the prologue (that honor goes to Live and Let Die), it’s the only one to start with a childhood flashback. of a secondary character. Bond fans are used to waiting forever for the opening credits, but Die Can Wait beat out its predecessors: 24 minutes elapse before the title hits the screen.

It wasn’t until this century that directors truly began to harness the power of holding back this traditional beginning marker. The credits to Rojo (2018) by Benjamín Naishtat, a story of political unrest in mid-1970s Argentina, does not appear until after 23 minutes. . “If a rule is changed, you naturally start thinking about why it exists, which is a school of thought that you suspect the directors of Rojo and Drive My Car would both applaud. After all, Drive My Car is about the need to do things differently – its hero features Uncle Vanya in different languages ​​– while Rojo talks about the insidious effect of blindly following the rules without thinking. [about] whose interests they serve.

Daisy Edgar-Jones, left, and Jojo T Gibbs in a scene from Fresh.
Daisy Edgar-Jones, left, and Jojo T Gibbs in a scene from Fresh. Photography: Courtesy of Searchlight Picture/AP

A break or indentation of this kind also invites us to catch our breath. “Delaying the credits can be a way to create an intermission,” says O’Sullivan. “It seems such an old-fashioned idea. But it’s a joy to have a moment to process information when there’s a lot to digest.

If the structural weirdness of Fresh and Drive My Car kicks in, that sweet spot between 30 and 45 minutes could become the new normal for opening titles. Apichatpong Weerasethakul arrived first, waiting three-quarters of an hour before playing the credits for his enigmatic 2002 drama Lucky yours; Yoshihiro Nishimura followed suit in his macabre Helldriver (2010). No one seems to have gone as far as Japanese provocateur Sion Sono: the titles of his indescribably crazy thriller-fantasy-horror-comedy love show (2008) drops to 58 minutes, with three more hours of action to play. Of course, the original 1940 roadshow of Disney’s Fantasia did away with convention entirely, which begs a philosophical question: if a movie doesn’t have opening titles, has it really started?

Fresh is on Disney+. Drive My Car is on Mubi from April 1st.

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