Sunday, September 30, 2012

SE7EN: The Godfather of Cool Opening Credits

gotta/enk's own Bryan Enk takes you back to 1995 with a retro-look at the work of titles artist Kyle Cooper. Learn the hearts filthy lesson.

David Fincher's now-classic crime thriller, Se7en, started a lot of trends.

Perhaps the ultimate portrait of the nihilism that pervaded a lot of cinema in the '90s, Se7en made for a dark, despairing, bleak experience where both the innocent and the guilty are harshly punished just for being part of this mortal coil. Soon after its release in September 1995, horror films and thrillers started becoming a lot leaner and meaner.

Se7en also made flashlights piercing through the darkness look super-cool, and its use of shadows and light to create mood as well as establish location made for a unique "look" -- soon, student filmmakers and studio directors alike were telling their DPs and art directors that they want their film "to look like Se7en."

However, one trend pretty much jumpstarted by the film that is often overlooked is the somewhat unfortunate phenomenon of the "cool credits."

You remember the opening credit sequence of Se7en: the fractured images of John Doe writing in his notebooks, creating his various dastardly props, the scratched-on lettering, the flash frames of police evidence photographs, all set to the soothing sounds of a thumping remix of NIN's "Closer." The credits sequence immediately set the tone for the rest of the film to come: the anxiety, the startling imagery, the sense of impending doom. And yeah, it was cool as hell.

Except that everyone wanted "cool credits" after that. Kyle Cooper, who designed the sequence, suddenly had a lot more work, creating the opening titles for The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Spawn (1997), Mimic (1997) and Arlington Road (1999), all of which looked more than a little familiar.

There were Cooper copycats, too, including the opening titles of Oliver Stone's U Turn (1997). Alternative rock band Garbage wanted a "Se7en look" for their music video of "Stupid Girl." And suddenly a lot of student films had "cool" opening credits, even if the film that followed looked cheap.

The problem was that, more often than not, these credit sequences were cool for the sake of being cool and didn't really have any reason for being so cool.

Ah well. At least they were cool. And Se7en remains the coolest of them all.

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