Where Credit Is Due
The other night, my husband brought home A Fistful Of Dollars from the video store. I was skeptical, but he insisted that it was a classic. Plus, the box said it was only 100 minutes long, which I figured meant 95 minutes plus five minutes of credits at the end. Not so! The credits were all at the beginning and were very short. I remember the same thing from other old movies: director, actors, costumes by Edith Head, and then BAM! The movie starts. So when did movie credits go from 10 names at the beginning of the movie to 10 minutes of scrolling at the end, naming absolutely everyone who worked on the movie?
I've been noticing, over time, that the opening-movie credits are getting shorter and shorter. I recall years ago having to wait, sometime agonizingly long,until the opening credits were over for the film to begin. Now it seems as if they are all saved until the end. So my question is, why and when did this trend occur?
Noel Murray responds:
This may seem like the same question, but there's actually two trends afoot here. The introduction of lengthy closing credits—as opposed to a short cast list, or a "The End" card—is generally traced back to Star Wars, though that wasn't the first film to put the bulk of its credits at the end. (The Godfather, for one, has no opening credits to speak of.) It's just that Star Wars, with its coterie of special-effects technicians, really began giving closing credits the kind of length that Vickie speaks of, prompting that popular cineaste pastime of guessing when a movie will really end.
Which segues neatly into the second trend: the lengthening of credits in general. The obvious answer to why opening credits are shorter is because all of the information that used to be up front has been moved to the back, and thanks to a variety of guild contracts and gentlemen's agreements, there's more information than ever that has to be imparted. In the studio era, only a handful of technicians and creative types merited mention. By the '50s and '60s, when Hollywood was mounting "road show" epics to offer a viable alternative to television, more names began to creep into the opening credits, in part because of union demands, and in part because it made the movies look more expensive and important. When the film-school brats emerged in the '70s, they put a premium on grabbing the audience and getting to the story, so rather than spend five minutes naming all the grips, George Lucas tried, "A long time ago…"
Still, Tim's right that even the few opening credits that remain have been getting shorter of late, ever since more and more directors started asking to have their credit go up right after the final fade-out, as a kind of signature and punctuation. Some major directors remain holdouts: Woody Allen has his series of name-packed black-and-white cards at the start of every movie, and Martin Scorsese's films usually have snazzy opening-credits sequences, ending with his name—often washed in blood red.
The big wait now at the beginning of movies comes courtesy of the multiple production companies that have a stake in each film. We have to sit through headers for three or four logo animations, only to get to an opening-credits sequence that begins, "Twentieth Century Fox presents a Cheyenne Enterprises film in association with Dune Entertainment." By the time I get through all that, I sometimes forget what movie I'm watching.
Satyr? I Never Even Met Her!
Here's another one of those questions about a vaguely remembered cartoon. In elementary school, our class was shown a filmstrip about Pan, the satyr-god. The style of the cartoon was on the cutesy side, and Pan himself was pretty cherubic-looking. I don't remember the plot or the lesson it was intended to teach, but I definitely remember the lyrics to the theme song: "Pan, Pan, Greek god Pan—One half goat, the other half maaaaan."
Donna Bowman replies:
We get a fair number of questions asking about filmstrips from readers' school days, and they pose a unique identification challenge. On one hand, filmstrips aren't exactly a mass medium. Any particular one might be used in hundreds of schools across the country without ever achieving the saturation level of even the lowest-rated basic-cable TV show. So web searches for the lyrics you quoted, Erica, as well as subsets and variants thereof, turn up scattered references on bulletin boards and blogs in the form of offhand comments—no discussion of the source. (The Internet turns out to be great at locating dozens of people posting "Oh yeah, I remember that! What the heck was it?" and zero people who actually know what it was.) On the other hand, unlike songs and TV shows, filmstrips are actually kept in the collections of libraries—whose catalogs can be searched with tools like OCLC WorldCat. There don't seem to be any cartoony filmstrips about Greek mythology that fit the bill, but one of those bulletin-boarders recalled that the academic subject matter was music. Paydirt!
"The Pipes Of Pan" is part of the Once Upon A Sound collection, five strips produced by the venerable Jam Handy corporation in 1971 to teach elementary-school students about musical instrument families—horns, drums, strings, and in this case, woodwinds. Since filmstrips became an outmoded technology, some companies have been repackaging them on DVD, and luckily for us, Clearvue & SVE did that for the Once Upon A Sound series in 2005. There's even a brief streaming preview, and although it's limited to the new framing video the Clearvue folks have packaged around the filmstrip, it includes a few screenshots of the filmstrip itself, confirming the "cutesy" and "cherubic" character design of the nature god. While I couldn't locate an mp3 of Pan's theme song, I'm confident that this is your memory. And if those bulletin-board posters are any indication, the memory of thousands of '70s-era third-graders like you.
Now if just one of those nostalgic yet tech-savvy 40-year-olds takes it upon himself to locate the LP that went with the strip at a flea market, digitize it, and make the song available for download, the rest of you can finally fill that aching void you've been trying to assuage with drugs and European sports cars. A potential utopia hangs in the balance, Gen-Xers, so get cracking.
You Will Not Let Me Off 'Til I Go With This
I vaguely remember a movie that I saw as a kid about a family with a lifelike robot nanny. She looked like an ordinary old lady, but she could dispense orange juice and hot chocolate from her fingertips, and probably do many other fantastic and useless things that I can't recall. There may have been a Christmas theme, and it was probably made for TV. Thanks,
I swear I remember seeing this movie in school one day when it was snowing during recess. It was a cheesy made-for-TV-looking movie that was probably made in the late '70s or early '80s. (The colors were dull and the kids wore corduroy pants.) It was about a family whose mom dies, and for some reason, they replace her with a creepy cyborg granny. I remember three things about this movie: 1) the Granny-bot factory, with a conveyor belt of marble-like eyeballs that really freaked me out, 2) the kids called the Granny-bot out of the sky using a device that looked like the game Simon, and 3) the Granny-bot could squirt milk from the tip of her index finger. (But where did it come from?) I am the only person I know who has any recollection of this movie. Does it actually exist, or am I blurring the line between dreams and reality?
Tasha Robinson responds:
Clearly, Heather, you just need to meet some new people; you may be the only person you know who remembers this, but Kurt is proof that you aren't alone. In fact, neither of you are alone: This is yet another question we've gotten several times since we started the column. And like another of our perennial questions, the one about the little girl on Venus locked in a closet during the one sunny hour among years of rain, this one has its roots in author Ray Bradbury.
You're both thinking of the Emmy-nominated short TV movie "The Electric Grandmother," starring Maureen Stapleton and Edward Herrmann (who has played many, many roles, including Richard Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, but who will always be Dianne Wiest's evil love interest in Lost Boys for me). NBC produced "The Electric Grandmother" as a prime-time special for kids, under a banner called "The Peacock Showcase," after its mascot/corporate symbol. The story focuses on the robot grandmother Herrmann buys for his children, to help look after them after his wife dies; caught in various stages of grief, denial, and brattiness, they take a little convincing before they warm up to the robotic Stapleton, but various things (from the beverage-dispensing fingers to graphic proof that she won't just die and abandon them like their flesh mom did) persuade the kids to accept and adore her. And yes, the none-too-subtle subtext about robots being better love objects than flawed, mortal, non-programmable people is pretty creepy, even while the story itself is fairly charming and quirky.
Before I started researching this answer, I would have told you that "The Electric Grandmother" is based on Bradbury's "I Sing The Body Electric," a short story still in print as part of the Bradbury anthology by the same name. But a little digging suggests that Bradbury initially wrote the story for The Twilight Zone; his "I Sing The Body Electric!" episode aired in 1962, while the short-story version wasn't published until 1969, when it appeared in McCall's as "The Beautiful One Is Here," a reference to the meaning of the electric grandmother's first word upon activation: "Nefertiti." Still, it was "I Sing The Body Electric!" again in its eponymous anthology, published that same year.
All that aside, I'm positive you were both watching the TV movie rather than the Twilight Zone episode with the same plot—the TV movie won a Peabody award, toured children's film festivals, was distributed on VHS, and was recommended by the School Library Journal as an educational tool, so it's exactly the kind of thing that would have turned up in a classroom on a rainy day.
And in case you were wondering, no, the film didn't have anything to do with the much-covered song "I Sing The Body Electric" from the Fame soundtrack—except insofar as they both take their titles from Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass.
Once again, we've got a batch of questions that we couldn't answer… but maybe you can. E-mail us if any of these dreamy memories sound familiar:
Can you help? For years, I have been plagued by a memory of a book from my childhood (mid-'70s) but after so many people not recognizing my description, I'm beginning to think I may have dreamt the whole thing! The plot revolved around some children who had been cruel / bad (throwing stones at a cat was one example I remember) who were made to travel through a fantasy land to earn some sort of redemption. In addition, they each had to carry something like a small haystack on their backs, with the haystack actually gripping onto them with small, claw-like hands. As I recall, their progression through the fantasy land, and their standard of behavior therein, dictated how much of a burden this haystack thing was to them. That's all I can remember—can you help with the book title / author? I'm now the father of two daughters, and would love to read this to them. Obviously, if I did dream it all, I now have a great idea for my first novel!
In the "Did I Dream This" category:
Saw this movie on TV as a kid and never forgot the image, but can't remember the name of the movie. The scene was of a queen (perhaps Egyptian?) walking along a row of soldiers. The queen asks for a volunteer to commit suicide. One steps forwards and climbs onto a large slide with razors attached to it. He then slides down and dies. Vaguely remember it being a movie from the '50s or '60s in Technicolor, but not sure. Any help?
This is probably beyond obscure, but I'm trying to find a song I heard between 1993-1996. I saw its music video on British MTV—it was on pretty heavy rotation at the time. I think it was about the same time "Breathe" by The Prodigy was released. I remember the music video was sepia-tone. There were two women racing through a city to get a man. One woman, the singer, had dark hair, maybe in a bob. The other woman had short blonde curly hair, I think. At the end of the music video, the singer finds the man, and the blonde woman walks off into the sunset pushing a baby carriage. The hook of the song kind of sounded like the first seconds of the Star Wars theme if it were played on a street organ. Do you think anyone can help me find that song?
I've asked this many times over the years on various "guess the movie" sites. Hopefully, you'll be able to finally help me. This movie has haunted me for decades. I've watched some really bad movies just on the off-chance they might be this one.
This was the first movie I ever saw, and I must've been very young (under 5). It would have been from the early '60s, and in color. I can only remember a few individual shots. There's an artist killed with his palette knife, and a murder trial. The plot I think depends on whether his death was suicide. And toward the end there's a scene where a woman slashes at a framed painting on a wall, but we see it from behind the painting so as she continues slashing we see more and more of her. I hope someone knows what movie this is. Thank you.
Next week: Some of the many, many questions you've asked about us, our site, the critical process, and more. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.