Zippy, imaginative, and sometimes just plain gorgeous, opening-credit sequences those three-minute films within films that are sometimes more memorable than the movies they precede are enjoying a renaissance. Now playing at your local theater, these chefs d'oeuvre from new and classic talent. (Additional reporting by Laurence Lerman)
An explosion segues into an elegiac sequence of a man falling in slow motion through fire and neon. ''Casino is about Las Vegas in the '70s, but it's really the story of the Mafia descent into hell. We tried to create a visual metaphor for that idea,'' explains Saul Bass, 75, who, with his wife and creative collaborator, Elaine Bass, conjured up Casino's opening credits. The old master of the genre (The Man With the Golden Arm, Vertigo), Bass, along with Elaine, has also created openers for Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, Cape Fear, and The Age of Innocence. ''Marty's so generous,'' Bass says. ''Once we've talked it through and agreed on a point of view, he just lets us roll.''
When he agreed to do the most recent Bond title sequence, Daniel Kleinman knew he had a hard act to follow: The trademark sequences that for decades were designed by the late Maurice Binder are considered classics of the genre. To honor the form but add a '90s twist, the 39-year-old British music-video director ''updated the basic Bond look'' with a lush fantasy in which the fall of communism is depicted by silhouetted babes smashing Communist iconography. The three-minute sequence took almost three months to make. ''I wanted the titles to be symbolic as opposed to particular,'' says Kleinman. ''Dreamy and sexy and with a wry sense of humor in the Bond tradition.''
''Director David Fincher wanted this to be a frightening foreshadowing,'' says Seven's credit director, Kyle Cooper, 33. A creative director at RGA/LA, a commercial production company, Cooper also directed sequences for Dead Presidents and The American President. To achieve the degraded look of Seven's sequence, he scratched the film and superimposed jumpy credits (made by jostling the camera as it filmed the words) over shots of killer John Doe's notebooks. Much harder was getting into the mind-set of a psychopath: ''I had some moral objections to using a shot where a razor blade is cutting the word God out of a dollar bill,'' Cooper says. ''But then I thought, John Doe would do it.''
To Die For
After test audiences drew a blank about To Die For's plot, Pablo Ferro whipped up a witty montage of fictional tabloid headlines and stories that quickly established Nicole Kidman's character. ''They needed to find out who she was before they met her,'' he says. An award-winning director of '60s commercials (''I made sinks sexy''), Ferro, 60, also designed Dr. Strangelove's stringy hand-lettered titles and once employed Michael Cimino as his assistant. More recent feats include the title sequences for Darkman and Philadelphia. ''I'm able to tell a 10-minute story in a minute,'' he says, explaining why directors entrust him with valuable screen time. ''It would take them weeks and years to do that.''