Thursday, May 14, 2009

Taking Credit

I like old movie credits. TCM's movies are run with the credits first, so I know in advance that I'm going to love the music since Leo Forbstein is the Music Director. Natalie Kalmus is listed as the color coordinator for almost all the Technicolor movies we watch; I remember this because I had a classmate in elementary school named Marlene Kalmus so Natalie's name jumps out at me from the credits every time. I note dresses by Adrienne and Irene and wonder why Edith Head used two names. Then, the movie starts and, having "read the introduction" through the credits, I'm well prepared to enjoy the show.

Occasionally, the credits are actually part of the film. Juno is a great example of this; video snippets allow all the characters to update their status (I especially like the track team) as the main characters sing and the credits roll at the end. Out-takes during the credits are often some of the best parts of the movie; watch Jamie Lee Curtis try to keep a straight face during the Trading Places credits and see if you don't agree.

Staying for the credits can also tell you about your audience. Waiting in line on a cold Chicago night in 1975, outside a huge and trendy theatre on Oak Street, we watched a small crowd of people leave the prior showing of Robert Altman's Nashville with trepidation. There weren't any smiles. There was a lot of head shaking. Grumbling was the main verbal motif. Had we frozen ourselves in vain? Was the movie going to disappoint us? And why were there so few people? For a big theatre, there hadn't been much of a crowd. All of a sudden, the mood changed. Hordes of giggling, singing, hugging and laughing people were sashaying out the doors. After we'd seen the movie, the discrepancy was clear. The first group hadn't stayed for the credits - they couldn't wait to get out the door. The ones who stayed til the end, as we did, found the stories connected and the warmth continued. Without the credits, the movie was unfinished. The viewers who liked Altman's style knew not to leave.

These days, though, staying for the credits is more of a test of endurance than anything else. They run forever, and most often too quickly to really read them. Living in Marin, there were often members of the audience who'd worked on the films, since ILM and LucasArts and Skywalker Ranch and Pixar are all right there. It was fun to watch small groups suddenly erupt into wild cheers; it must have been their names on the screen. But other than that, what possible joy can a viewer get from sitting through listings of the 1st Assistant Accountant, the 2nd Assistant Accountant, the 2nd 2nd Assistant Director and the Inflatable Crowd Supervisor?? All of those job titles were listed as members of the 1st Unit; the credits ran through the 2nd unit's listings but by then I had had it. (The movie will remain nameless to protect the guilty.) It's too hard to look for the connections that made the smaller lists such fun, and the oddities - director's family members, the dog handlers - are lost in the blur.

Is this an extension of "show up and get a trophy"? Does everyone who breathes in the general vicinity of a film production deserve to have her name immortalized forever? Isn't there something to be said for separating the wheat from the chaff?

Apparently, the answers are yes, yes and no.

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