War of the Roses: The Title Credits

Features / 08 August 2005

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The Basses embrace the formalities of matrimony to prepare viewers for the experience of martial combat ahead. Black titles are set over expensive-looking and smooth white cloth. The camera descends slowly, reminding one of a wedding procession, as David Newman’s score welcomes guests to the ceremony. Visually, we could be looking at a variety of things: the train to a wedding dress, clean linen sheets signifying the unpolluted slate of a new life together, or the black titles as place cards over a tablecloth. As the sequence unfolds, the score remains constant, but the cloth gradually becomes crumpled, indicating the disarrayed marriage at the core of Danny DeVito’s black comedy. The cloth eventually becomes entirely crumpled, only to be revealed in a clever visual joke as a handkerchief, into which DeVito’s cynical lawyer character blows his nose. The spotless cloth of the Bass sequence sets up DeVito to introduce an effortless and appropriate reference to the stained hanky in Othello, the relevance of phallocentrism (DeVito’s spewing nose) within the overall context of the Rose’s tale, and the idea of marriage as something which starts off pristine, only to become easily soiled with time.

The folding of the cloth is also significant in that for one of the only times in their careers, the Bass’ embrace diagonal lines as a prominent stylistic element to their work. In the past, Saul Bass used the tension between vertical and horizontal lines as a symbolic divide between the sexes (see Psycho’s title sequence, as well as the contrast between horizontal and vertical buildings throughout Hitchcock’s film), but in DeVito’s film, the Rose’s inability to compromise retrospectively turns the gentle diagonals of the title sequence cloth into an overly-idealized and unattainable goal. Additionally, emphasizing a slowly wrinkling piece of material signifies the relevance of materialism throughout the film, including the joys of attaining material goods and, perhaps especially, the liberating joys of destroying them.

Jason Woloski | © 2005 notcoming.com

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Jason Woloski

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