06 March 2012

Closing credits: type on the big screen

Being a letterpress-dork, the thing that really caught my attention the first time I watched Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (which I love) was the title sequence. I said, "Wait a minute! That was letterpress type!" Isn't it gorgeous? Very clever of him.


But this isn't even a new idea in the world of movie title sequences. While re-watching a favorite of mine from a previous decade (before my induction into the world of printing), I noticed the same thing. Although in Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York, they used wood type instead of lead type. But the effect is perfectly striking and really helps capture the historical atmosphere of the movie.


So what is it about the physical look of wood and lead type rather than the inked impressions they create? Maybe their very physicality is part of the draw. Both of these movies are set in the same historical time period, right around the American Civil War. Maybe it is a metaphorical link to the backstage of history that these films are trying to recreate. The idea that written (and printed) history is stagnant and lacking the grit and color of the daily life in that time. And the idea that these films are trying to bring it back to dirty, grimy life. Sherlock Holmes is set in the heavily industrial, steam-powered belly of nineteenth-century London. Gangs of New York is of the still-forming, wooden rafters of Civil War New York City. And these tactile titles say all of that. 


Note: If they wanted to be even truer to life, these letterpress block letters and sorts would be backwards. But I have a strange feeling that that would affect readability, which is, rightfully, more important in this case than strict accuracy.

2 comments:

  1. They wouldn't have to be backwards if the printer wanted inverted type.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, John. You WOULD want inverted type, wouldn't you? lol

    ReplyDelete