Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Movie Week: Credits

"They worship these old houses. They're people down here that spend every cent they've got to keep up these old mausoleums. And, of course, there isn't a single plaque anywhere with the names of the people who actually built them."
Ellen Gilchrist, The Annunciation

Most of us in this world get little credit for what we contribute to it. Not only don't carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians get their names on the buildings they build, as Amanda McCamey observes in Ellen Gilchrist's novel, but workers in most other fields go unheralded. There are exceptions. Some people, like clerks and nurses, wear nametags. Bank tellers usually have their names at their windows. Journalists have bylines. Even so, most workers are nameless most of the time.

It's not that way in Hollywood.

When the credits start rolling at the end of a movie, patrons usually get up to leave. The names are often too small to read, even on a big screen, and move by too quickly to read anyway. Yet I am glad those names are there and will be attached to movies they had a part in making for as long as those movies are shown. It may not be immorality, but it's close.

In the early days of film, credits didn't amount to much. Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, made in 1921, listed only the main cast at the beginning of the picture. At the end, it simply said "The End." Gradually movies had more credits added at the beginning, generally just the major contributors. The opening credits for Ben-Hur, made in 1959, lasted a couple of minutes, but there was just "The End" at the end. Some films, like 1947's Life with Father, repeated the names of cast members at the end.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point the credits moved to the back of movies. Some modern films, in fact, don't even give the title of the film until the end. Other films list the major stars and the key people involved in the production at the beginning, then repeat those names along with the names of everyone else even remotely involved at the end.

Modern pictures often have curious and confusing credits like these at the beginning of Life of Pi (2012):

Fox 2000 Pictures presents

in association with Dune Entertainment

and Ingenious Media

a Haishang Film/Gil Netter production

an Ang Lee film

Obviously there are a lot of fingers in the pie, each sharing the credit (and profit) or blame (and losses).

End credits last several minutes in today's movies, and hundreds of names go by during that time. Many of the jobs people get credit for performing have been around for decades, like gaffer, best boy, electrician and so forth. Others seem really strange. Life of Pi lists credits for Swing Gang, Prosthetics Sculptor, Data Wrangler and Cleaning Assistant. True Grit (2010) lists Table Person, Ager/Dyer, Mechanical Horse Effects, Corpse Creation/ Effects Make-up, The New Duke, Lead Green, Greens and one called Serious Matters. The King's Speech (2010) has credits for Floor Runner, Camera Trainee, Costume Standbys, Armourer and Walkie-Talkies.

Watching the credits can actually be fun, and it can really be rewarding if you recognize any of those names. The son of a former editor of mine went to Hollywood after college and got involved in animation. He was one of those involved in producing the detailed hair seen on the creatures in Monsters Inc. When my wife and I watched that movie, we made it a point to stay for the credits so we could see the name of this man I had known when he was a little boy. Imagine the thrill that name in the credits must have given his parents and others who know him and love him. You can multiply that love for each of the many names in those endless movie credits.

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