Thursday, November 17, 2011

Undue Credit

Until the 1950s, credits at the end of a movie were usually limited to the words The End or some other foreign language equivalent. Occasionally the credits would repeat the cast.

Nowadays, when the convention of ending a movie with the superfluous words The End has been abandoned and when even opening credit sequences can go on for several minutes, end credit sequences typically crawl on for an unconscionable time, giving credit to everyone involved in the smallest capacity in the production, as well as numerous people who have nothing at all to do with the movie, except as a provider of some service to the cast or crew.

End credits also contain disclaimers that read things like "any resemblance between the people and situations you have just witnessed and actuality is completely unintentional" or "no animals were mistreated during the making of this movie merely to increase its entertainment potential." Information like the actual locations where the movie were shot are helpful, even when they sometimes put me in mind of Gene Shalit's comment that "The Blue Bird was shot in Russia, and it should've been buried there." Since filmgoers rarely stick around to watch end credits, filmmakers sometimes indulge in additional scenes and outtakes to get them to sit through them.

For no particular reason I watched the end credits for the 50 Cent movie Setup (2011) and noticed a credit for the "Honeywagon".* I realize that a credit like this could have been included out of respect or gratitude for the people who kept the location port-o-potties clean. Or it could have been put there because of some kind of union requirement. Since too many films treat end credits as a joke, it's probably a mistake to take them seriously. But including people like personal assistants, caterers, drivers, and honeywagon operators in a movie's end credits is a discredit to the movie and to all the people who are directly involved in its making.

But why is it that many classic films, particularly from abroad, eschew end credits altogether? Breathless, for example, has only three titles at the beginning: "Visa de contrôle cinématographique Nr 22275", "Ce film est dédié a la Monogram Pictures", and A bout de souffle; and the word "FIN" at the end. And yet we know it was directed by Jean-Luc Godard, written by him from a story by François Truffaut, photographed by the great Raoul Coutard, and has delightful acting by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. Even if we didn't know all this from the dozens of reference books published since 1960, anyone can find it at Setup, which was instantly forgettable, has 28 producers and (coincidentally?) 28 stunt people, lists 42 actors in its credits, 35 camera and electrical technicians, 14 drivers, and 39 "other crew", which includes a set medic, animal trainer, payroll accountant, chef, and various interns. Maybe this is nothing more than a side-effect of democracy?

*Chris Musick drove the honeywagon.

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