Friday, August 18, 2006

A Crap Movie By Any Other Name Would Stink Just As Badly

I'm on vacation this week, having opted to leave New York during the greatest period of weather in its history in order to venture to south Texas where it's a balmy 103 today. Good times.

As I'm wont to do in all my travels, I snagged the local alt-weekly newspaper which, in this case, is the San Antonio Current. Generally I do this for a few reasons: I like to check out local arts coverage, compare it to the places I work at, and, since the consolidation of the Village Voice and New Times chains, there's always a good chance that no matter where I am, I can pick up a newspaper and see a review I've read elsewhere.

The Current isn't a part of Village Voice Media, so I was in uncharted waters. Their lead this week is a full page thinkpiece by associate editor Brian Villalobos entitled "How (Not) to Name Your Movie." Over the course of a lengthy essay Villalobos highlights what he considers to be a bad period in Hollywood for good movie titles. Citing The Ant Bully, Lucky Number Slevin and The Descent amongst others, Villalobos complains about what he considers an pervasive laziness from the Hollywood marketing machine.

It's a pretty lengthy list and, frankly, it doesn't really include much in the way of constructive criticism. For the first three columns of the article, it seems that no title could please the author (What's wrong with the title of You, Me, and Dupree?). Eventually, he gets to describing what makes a good title:

"What, then, makes a good or effective title? Well, I'd venture that such a handle ought to serve at least two of the following functions: (1) relates in an intimiate way to the story, (2) stokes interest in the story, and (3) has a touch of the pithy or the poet in't. It can be longist (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), not (My Left Foot), or in the middle (The Shawshank Redemption)


Here's where Villalobos loses me. How is The Shawshank Redemption a good title? By Villalobos own definition, a good title must grab the potential viewer and get them fired up about the movie. The opposite was the case with Shawshank: the title was a big part of why what has now become one of the most beloved movies of the 1990s grossed under $30 million at the box office. Nobody knew what the movie was! Eventually word of mouth starting buzzing and turned the film into a cultural phenomenon but it was despite its title not because of it. That's because a good title also needs a certain amount of clarity: since you're basically selling the movie with a couple words, those words better be plenty clear. Here are some examples of this year's best, most precise titles:

-Monster House
-World Trade Center
-Superman Returns

Granted it's not cut and dry: Miami Vice is abundantly clear about what the movie should be, but director Michael Mann trumps expectations with a different sort of film entirely. Of course, the most important title of 2006 — and maybe the best too — goes completely unmentioned in the piece. What happened to Snakes on a Plane, opening today nationwide?

4 Comments:

Blogger jesse said...

"World Trade Center" is an awful title! It's somehow both vague and on-the-nose, possibly because it's an obvious title despite not even really describing what the movie is about.

9:19 PM  
Blogger brian said...

ever do a google search for yourself? it's a shamefully indulgent little exercise in wanton, unmitigated narcissism - which is to say, reasonably fun every once in a while. my point: thanks for taking the time to pick us up while you were down texas way, and for reading/commenting on a certain 'lengthy essay' by one 'villalobos.' as you may've gathered, he is i; i am he. just another 25-year-old, year-of-the-monkey film critic - and it appears, mr. singer, given our opposing views concerning film titles, that i may indeed be the dreaded 'bizarro you' [or.. might it be the other way around..?] again, sincere thanks for bothering, and moreso, for disagreeing, which enables discussion. briefly: 'shawshank,' i'd submit, fulfills aforementioned criteria (1) and (3). indeed, the title isn't slam-bang. to me, though, it's moderately elegant, and fits the rather epic tone of the picture. 'dupree,' on the other hand.. clunky. but then, we seem to have a fundamental difference in taste and definition - i'll agree that the direct, purely descriptive titles ['world trade center,' 'my super ex-girlfriend'] may be more marketable or accessible, but i generally find them unimaginative. granted, a movie about spiderman should not be named anything more complicated.. but we can do better than 'click,' can't we? [shoot, i'm wiping my brow with relief that 'cars' wasn't taken a step further and called 'talking cars who are animated in a movie,' or 'citizen kane' similarly christened 'dude, where's my sled?'] ah, well. i've said my piece. again, very much appreciate the read. and i don't imagine you're convinced, nor should you be. our schools of thought can't really compete; they don't seem to belong to the same athletic conference, as it were. which is precisely part of what makes film fantastic.

oh, and re: s.o.a.p.: i didn't want to bludgeon people with it [reserved that for the next week's issue], but it does garner a mention. [check the last line.]

thanks again,

brian

4:41 AM  
Blogger Matt Singer said...

Dear Bizarro Me -

First off, we all google ourselves. My problem is there are a lot of Matt Singers, so many I've thought we should start some sort of Alliance, like The League of Matt Singers or something.

I will give you that CLICK could have had a better title (though I am ashamed to admit I liked that movie until the last act). But I stand my comments on SHAWSHANK -- maybe it's just nothing more than my own opinion but that is a great movie with an indecipherable title. Sure, if you've read the King you know, or if you've, y'know, spent time in Shawshank, it makes sense, but to anyone else (i.e. me when the movie came out) it's a real head-scratcher.

Keep on keeping on, dude. It's always nice to see people of our age actually getting printed.

4:05 PM  
Blogger brian said...

thanks, man. you too.

happy weekend.

3:10 AM  

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