Top 5: Opening Sequences

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeGafSaJTNoOpenings to films are very interesting – they serve a purpose, they hook us in, and often act as a microcosmic representation of what is to follow. This is a list of five of the most striking and effective examples of this, with a strong focus on the collaboration between cinematography and score.

I’ve tried to choose a varied mix here. Kubrick, or course, is famous for his brilliant openings, but for the purpose of variety, I picked just  one.

Taxi Driver

A taxi emerges from the steam rising from sewers in the street. The camera looks up at the metal car, illuminated by neon lights and made monstrous through the camera’s angle. The music rushes in – a heavy orchestral score punctuated by ominous heartbeat-tempo thuds on the timpani that speed up before culminating in a crushing final chord from the orchestra. The camera pans out, and we see Travis’ bloodshot eyes and more of the taxi’s surroundings – signs reading ‘xxx live girls’ and grindhouse hardore cinemas. The accompanying music changes to a quasi-romantic saxophone drawl, before the orchestra and percussion come rushing back in. One of the most impressionistic and grand openings ever committed to cinema, it sets the tone for the entire film, and would go down as one of the most famous openings in history.

Enter The Void

Huge san-serif lettering appears on the screen. The text flickers, then the credits begin to flash on screen in a variety of fonts, all to the tune of British acid electronica band LSF’s ‘Freak’. It’s very intense, and hard on the retinas. This, of course, sets the tone for the rest of the film – a hallucinogenic dive into a neon-lit Tokyo.

Funny Games

Michael Haneke’s sadistic shocker Funny Games opens with a car snaking its way through the countryside. The family inside are playing various classical CDs and guessing the composer. This establishes two things: that they are educated, middle class people (important if you see Haneke’s Funny Games through a Marxist lens); and that they are driving deeper and deeper into the countryside – they are isolated. The calming family scene is suddenly and jarringly interrupted by blood-red san-serif lettering reading ‘FUNNY GAMES’ in classical exploitation horror-film style. The classical music is replaced with abrasive grindcore metal (played by John Zorn’s New York band – Naked City). We watch the family in the car whilst the credits roll and the music continues – they (of course) are oblivious to the change in tone. I don’t think an opening has ever said ‘something bad is going to happen to these people’ more than this one.

Persona

The opening of Ingmar Bergman’s art-house masterpiece has received much critical analysis since its release in 1963. The introduction consists of a series of seemingly unconnected images that flash onto the screen in quick succession. We see a film projector – it flickers into life; we see upside-down words, a quick still of an erect penis – excitement; then a cartoon flickers on the screen –childhood; then terror as a tarantula crawls across the screen, followed by an animal being butchered. This is followed by images of people – an elderly person’s face, a child on an operating table. He wakes up and the ominous music increases in volume as we head towards the most famous scene: the child faces a screen with a blurred image of a woman’s face on it, which contorts into another face, then back again. The child slowly reaches out towards the face. The music intensifies and we are given a close-up of the child smiling, before the film’s title appears on the screen: PERSONA.

2001: A Space Odyssey

We see the outline of a sphere – possibly earth – coming into view. A white light – the sun, slowly appears behind the sphere, illuminating its edge. As the camera pans up, Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra reaches a climax; and, as the sun comes into view, the film’s title appears: ’2001: A Space Odyssey’. Simple, striking, and majestic, it is perhaps the most well known and most celebrated film openings of all time.

Honourable Mentions

Apocalypse Now, Jaws, The Lion King, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Trainspotting, Manhattan, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Saving Private Ryan, Cabaret, Vertigo, Watchmen, Mean Streets, Alien, Blue Velvet…

42 thoughts on “Top 5: Opening Sequences

  1. Thought I might find 2001 on here :) Also, megalolz at Lion King! One of my biggest problems is that I have a rubbish memory when it comes to films and I can’t actually remember most of what happens after a few weeks of watching! I’m sure there a loads of openings that I love but can’t recall right now! Nice piece Georgina :)

    • Thanks for reading! I just HAD to have Lion King on here, haha! Glad you liked the list. Let me know if i’ve missed any classics when you do recall them…they’ll come back to you :)

    • Thanks for reading :) I know, Kubrick is just the master of striking openings, it’s hard to be strict and pick one!

      I’ve been called up on Apocolypse Now, so added to honourable mentions. Blue Velvet – good coice there, will add to the honourable mentions too :)

      I’m sorry to say that i’ve never seen Magnolia, so will have to check that one out asap!

      • Magnolia probably won’t hit the right note with everyone – but i’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s one of the movies that got me in to screenwriting. Hope you like it if you get round to watching it.

  2. Nice list. It’s funny, that intro to Funny Games was important enough to Haneke that it used it in both versions of that movie. It’s so abrupt and abrasive but it sets the right tone for what’s ahead.

  3. Nice topic….I think I would have to go with your honourable mention….The Shining. That intro just creeps the hell out of me everytime. The winding roads, the tense score. Yikes.

    • Thanks for reading :)
      It was really tough picking just one Kubrick to include, I just had to go for 2001 because of it’s iconic status.

      I know what you mean about the Shining though, a independent cinema near me showed it recently & I went along – seeing it on the big screen is even more terrifying, especially when those creepy synths come in, ugh!

      • I’m with Hipster – I just watched The Shining a week or so ago and that opening scene did the trick setting the tone for me : )

        Great post!!

        No Mordum!!

  4. Thanks for reading :)
    Haha! Too right no Mordum ;) I don’t think that even has an opening, it just dives right in *shudder*
    I know, it was really hard choosing between The Shining and 2001. Both are great :)

  5. Very nice choices here Georgina. 2001 is an absolute classic but I’m happy to see Enter The void get a mention. Also nice to Private Ryan and Trainspotting feature in the honourable mentions. I’d also include Amelie and Drive. Loved the opening of those two as well.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mark!
      Ahh i STILL need to Drive!! I will make sure I watch it in the next week, I’ve heard such good things.
      You’re right, Amilie is a gorgeous film…I can’t remember the opening, i’ll check it out on youtube :)

      • Drive’s a brilliant film and the opening sequence sets it up well. I loved Amelie only because it captures the imagination of a child so well. It’s delightful and, again, I thought it set the film’s tone brillainty. Beautiful music as well.

      • I loved Drive on 1st and 2nd viewing but on 3rd I developed a whole new appreciation for the opening. The synchronicity between soundtrack, image, and tone is amazing. Its the cinematic eqivilant to a Beethoven sonata ; it plays out flawlessly, hits every note perfectly, and raises the bar for subtle sophistication.

  6. I recently did this same list and these all made my cut! So obviously, I think your list is awesome :)

    I will never forget any of these opening sequences for as long as my movie freaked self shall live. All amazing for very different reasons.

  7. Nice list! I could have put most of Kubrick’s up here, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining are great and nice to see Funny Games too! I’d add Apocalypse Now and something by Tarantino and Leone :)

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