Story & Storyboards 21 Jun 2006 07:52 am

Starting Off With A Punch

One of the most violent films I can think of is Raging Bull.

The show starts with an incredibly lyrical, slow-motion sequence in B&W with blood-red credits, in small type, (designed by Dan Perri). Over this very slow motion footage of a brutal fight an operatic aria plays on the soundtrack, and the live action cutting flows beautifully with the music.

(All of these images from the opening of Citizen Kane – another brilliant opening sequence – can be enlarged by clicking them.)

We have been pulled into the story, we’re captured by the imagery – actually the images mixed with the beautiful vocal. Because of the slow moving images, we’re not thrown by the violence we see on the screen as Robert DeNiro gets beaten violently. It’s sublime poetry.

Finally the credits end, the last image hits us with a JOLT – normal speed and the loud smash – as DeNiro’s face gets brutally punched. We’re into it.

From this we cut to the story of Jake Lamotta, DeNiro’s character. We’re slowly drawn into the story of the fighter, and we’ve already adjusted to the violence we can expect to come. But it’s not going to be in slow motion anymore.

Martin Scorsese knows how to open his film. He slowly pulls us in, allows us to adjust to the incredible violence we’ll see, and then introduces his characters – slowly.

We haven’t been hurled into a violent film and been expected to sit patiently with an unlikeable character for two hours. It doesn’t work that way. We have to learn who these characters are, see their vulnerable spots and then be allowed to watch them be heels.

The topical sentence, the first sentence of a novel is probably the most important. The same is true for film; that opening sequence sets the tone for the whole movie. Crash! Boom! Bang! or lyricism.

Making films is a difficult proposition. Anyone can assemble images, but complex difficult storytelling is an art. Scorsese is one of our greatest artists.

Enough about Art Onto another subject: Money.
The grosses for Cars may not be as overwhelming as Disney had hoped, but it’s obvious that it will be a smash in merchandisiing. Per the Jim Hill article I linked to yesterday, Disney guessers had hoped for $300 million domestic from the Pixar film but have now lowered their sights to $200 million for the film that cost $125 million. But the real money will come from the merchandising per this Daily News article. They expect to wrangle $600 million this year. Should Michael Eisner be thanked now?

2 Responses to “Starting Off With A Punch”

  1. on 23 Jun 2006 at 1:01 am 1.Paul said …

    Great post. It’s hard not to be inspired by the opening of Kane.

    I know your not a fan, but the opening to Kubrick’s 2001 is pretty amazing and quite lyrical for a science fiction film. It doesn’t quite get right into the sci-fi proper, but it comments on things to come with the interaction of the apes (men in costumes.) And you can’t deny it contains the biggest time compression cut in recent film history. As with all of Kubrick’s films the imagery is top notch.

    I also enjoy Welles’ opening for Touch of Evil. Although it’s not quite as poetic as Kane, the rough edges of the tracking shot and the grittiness of the set and sound design put you right on the border with the Mexican Chalrton Heston…oh well, everything can’t be prefect..

  2. on 23 Jun 2006 at 8:06 am 2.Michael said …

    Both the films you mentioned do come off as pretty close to perfect openings. Both films really took their time to get the audience into the characters but pulled you in immediately. 2001 has one of the most unique structures ever, but the cold Kubrick characters were all well developed for the purposes of the movie. You were frightened for both Keir Dullea and HAL.

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