Film title sequences are a pervasive, but little studied area of design. Maurice Binder (1925-91) was a famous designer of film title sequences who defined the style of the James Bond series.
Film title sequences are a pervasive, but little studied area of design. A title sequence is the section at the start of a film that displays the title and main credits. For the first few decades of film history, most title sequences were dull and unimaginative, but by the 1950s a number of designers used them in a more creative way.
Maurice Binder (1925-91) was a famous designer of film title sequences who defined the style of the James Bond series. Binder worked on 14 James Bond films, creating distinctive sequences featuring guns, girls and glamour. Binder created a consistent visual identity for Bond films that was instantly recognisable.
Binder was born in New York, but worked mostly in Britain from the 1950s. He worked on the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962). His title sequence is a polychrome animation resembling the flickering light on an Atomic Age control panel. The sequence is a Pop Art countdown to nuclear annihilation.
Perhaps more importantly, Binder created the signature gun barrel sequence that was used on every Bond film until Casino Royale, where it appears in altered form. The audience looks down the barrel of a gun, with the rifled lines resembling the iris of a camera, or the human eye. Bond walks across the screen; he shoots at the viewer and blood cascades down the screen. It is very similar to Saul Bass’s titles for Vertigo. This sequence became a trademark of the Bond films, turning Bond into a brand.
Binder created main title sequences for most of the following Bond films, but not From Russia with Love or Goldfinger (these were designed by Robert Brownjohn). His titles feature recurring elements. Semi-naked women are ever-present. The Bond movies are essentially male fantasies about sex, style and escapism. Guns figure heavily, using phallic symbolism to suggest Bond’s virility and physical power.
The imagery of Binder’s sequences is remarkably varied because it’s derived from the content of the films. The villain of You Only Live Twice has a secret base hidden inside a volcano, so the title sequence used volcanic imagery of molten lava.
Live and Let Die was the first Bond film to star Roger Moore. The narrative deals with a voodoo cult, so the sequence features voodoo imagery, including skulls and tarot cards. There is also a strong influence from contemporary Blaxploitation cinena (hence the presence of Juluis Harris and Gloria Hendry in the cast). The theme music was by Paul McCartney and the Wings.
Binder’s titles reveal the influence of contemporary trends in art and design. The 1960s examples often use Pop Art imagery and bold, splashy colours. Binder also designed the infamous title sequence for Barbarella (1967), a far-out science fiction sex comedy starring Jane Fonda. The titles consist of a striptease in zero gravity, in which the letters of the title spill out and obscure her body.
Maurice Binder died in 1991 and was succeeded by Daniel Kleinman as the title designer for Bond movies. Kleinman is a British commercial and music video director. He’s directed adverts for Smirnoff, Guinness, Levi’s, Johnnie Walker, Durex and Audi. He’s also directed music videos for Madonna and others. In 1989, he directed a video for Gladys Knight’s title song for the Bond film Licence to Kill, and this led to him being chosen as the replacement for Maurice Binder.
His first Bond title was for GoldenEye in 1995. This was the first Bond film since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The sequence includes imagery of scantily clad women demolishing Soviet monuments, physically destroying the iconography of Communism. This brings the Bond series up to date, acknowledging that the film set after the Cold War. A key sequence in the film is set in a Russian dumping for redundant statues of Lenin and Stalin. The titles also feature a two-faced woman, an allusion to the two-faced Roman god Janus. Janus is the name of the terrorist organisation in the film.
Kleinman’s sequences are distinct from Binder’s in two ways. Firstly, he uses modern technologies such as computer-generated imagery. Secondly, he places greater emphasis on integrating plots elements into the sequences. The titles for Tomorrow Never Dies turn the Bond girls into anthropomorphic symbols of technology - circuitry and telecommunications – because the plot is concerned with the power of the mass media. He also uses the image of satellites in orbit, which turn into diamonds. This is reminiscent of Binder’s sequence for Diamonds Are Forever.
The World Is Not Enough is about the exploitation of the world’s natural resources. The titles feature images of the globe, massed ranks of pumping oil derricks and the usual silhouettes of women. In this case, the women are formed from oil. Kleinman uses the rainbow effect of oil on water.
Die Another Day’s titles show Bond being tortured during his imprisonment in North Korea, complete with beatings, dunkings and scorpion stings. The alluring women are represented as elemental figures – water, electricity, fire and ice. They represent the various means of torture used on Bond.
In 2007, the James Bond franchise was revitalised with Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig. Kleinman designed a unique sequence for this film. For the first time, the women are entirely absent. Instead, he uses angular silhouettes of men in action, achieved with rotoscoped animation. Bond appears in black-and-white, fighting a series of attackers whom he dispatches as he works his way to Double-0 status, again advancing the plot. This is all set against a stylised background of card-game symbolism to reflect the film’s central theme. This is reminiscent of the original paperback cover for the novel. The sequence concludes with a focus on Bond’s ice-cold blue eyes.