Seconds: The Title Credits

Features / 08 August 2005

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“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr Bass.” Cecil B. DeMille has nothing on Saul Bass during the title sequence for Seconds, in which Mr. Bass uses the camera lens like an operating tool - an appropriate choice, as John Frankenheimer’s tale is one of identity alteration via experimental surgery - poking, prodding, stretching, and generally warping the poor head of his lone male subject. The relationship between deformed features and a deformed psyche is captured by the frightened subject’s expression, while the importance of cutting in the forthcoming story is introduced both anatomically, as well as filmically: teeth are shown glistening, a screen is split in half, shots are cut together briskly. As a whole, these titles match the narrative progression of the film it introduces: a man begins as unrecognizable, is interrogated by an instrument, turns out to be Rock Hudson, then finds himself in bandages as the film concludes.

John Frankenheimer, screenwriter Lewis John Carlino, cinematographer James Wong Howe, and Saul Bass were ahead of their time with Seconds. All four filmmakers anticipated the panicked and uneasy relationships which inevitably develop between celebrity-obsessed cultures and the false promises plastic surgery offers, the horrors of wanting to be a movie star as well as the horrors of actually being a movie star, and the effect that a camera’s excessive scrutiny can have upon a person’s well-being, famous or otherwise. Bass’ extreme close-ups of orifices - mouths, ears, eyes, nostrils - reveal the inherent horrors contained in the human face, while simultaneously pointing out the hollowness at the center of the film’s experiment.

Jason Wolowski | © 2005 notcoming.com

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