The variety of forms in which movie titles and credits come is virtually endless. Some are presented in simple white font because it serves the film, some are stand alone title cards against a black backdrop, while others creatively blend into the scenery of a given shot. Suffice to say, the world is a filmmaker’s oyster when it comes to designing a film’s titles. As fans know very well, the James Bond films have done things quite differently over the years, opting to produce wholly original music videos that last about 3-4 minutes in length during which most of the film’s major credits are highlighted. To top it off, famous singers and musicians have lent their hand in the creation of these videos by writing original songs. This had been baptized as the ‘credit sequence’.
The design of these sequences is now the stuff of legend, what with silhouetted women, scantily clad of course (if not entirely nude from the waist up), dancing about and typically wielding pistols. Sex appeal is the name of the game. Unquestionably, the most famous name associated with the 007 title sequences is Maurice Binder, who steered the ship an impressive 14 times. If prompted, the second name that might come to a fan’s mind is Daniel Kleinman, whose work has appeared in all the films since GE, save for QOS, for which design studio MK12 was hired at the behest of director. The one name that generally comes last is Robert Brownjohn.
Brownjohn does not hold the same iconic status as Binder or Kleinman. The latter redefined the title sequences at a time when computer generated enhanced imagery took flight whereas the former produced a steady, quality, and occasionally memorable body of work. Brownjohn, in contrast, only partook in two films, FRWL and GF, yet it can be argued that his input also helped pave the way for how the title sequences are designed to this very day.
Born in New Jersey in 1925, Brownjohn’s ability and finesse as a graphic designer was noticed very early on when admitted into the Institute of Design in the city of Chicago (what was known back then as the New Bauhaus. The school not the city!). He briefly worked as an architectural planner before properly spreading his wings in graphic design, working for impressively large clients such as Columbia Records. It was after moving to London in the early 1960s that Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli approached him to work on the 2nd official 007 film.
DN’s titles are without question colourfully attractive, in addition to serving as the all-important inspirational launching pad for the other sequences that followed. No one is going to belittle Maurice Binder’s talents or influence on the franchise. That said, the technique of displaying humanity’s better half in the most luscious, voluptuous, and suggestive poses whilst showing the names and job descriptions of the film’s creative team originates in FRWL. In it, a belly dancer, adorned in a costume suggesting she may be from the Gypsy camp encountered later in the film, struts her stuff while a powerful orchestration of the title song roars through the audio track. Not all of the names are easy to read, as the dancer’s gyrating body sometimes produces a blurred effect, but suffice to say that the most important effect is that left by the brilliant lighting and the lady herself, less so the bland font used to credit the filmmakers.
Speaking of lighting, the FRWL title sequence is resplendent in some of the most evocative, tantalizing cinematography that strike me as more naturalistic whilst delighting in sexual suggestiveness. Binder’s efforts are often gorgeous, yet come across as evidently artificial. Whether the aesthetic decision for FRWL is due to a limited budget, Brownjohn’s artistic sensibilities or a little of both, the fact that the sequence sports a more grounded, simple look as it allows sexual content to parade unashamedly makes it quite different from most of the others in the series.
GF furthers the style from FRWL, albeit with greater polish. The credits themselves are cleanly displayed, white font on black background, as snippets of the film about to unfold are projected onto model Margaret Nolan’s body. What’s more, her impressive physique was painted in gold, thus lending a brilliant golden sheen to the moving images. Brownjohn had his team go a step further by applying ironic or highly suggestive action from the movie on specific parts of Nolan. The twirling licence plates of Bond’s BD5 over her mouth, Pussy Galore looking fantastic over Nolan’s abdomen and left breast, and of course the golf put that sends the ball down the model’s cleavage. In essence, it’s the concept taken from FRWL and taken up a notch as far as efficiency and inventiveness are concerned.
Brownjohn only worked on the two aforementioned Bond films. Some sources say there was following out with Harry Saltzman (not the first or the last time Saltzman would fail to preserve a proper working relationship with colleagues and partners) resulting in Maurice Binder returning as soon as TB. While the latter film has a nice title sequence, it is my humble that Brownjohn’s ambition and efforts far surpass it.
Sadly, Brownjohn left this world far too soon, dying of a heart attack at the age of 45 when still living and working in London. His legacy to the Bond franchise is not to be overlooked, nor shall it every time anyone watches the 2nd and 3rd 007 adventures.
For a full account of the history of the various title sequences, visit the fine folks at artofthetitle.com. To be fair, some of the content in this blog post comes from them, after all.