Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 259: Mr. Robot and Title Sequences

Christian Slater and Rami Malek in

I am always grateful for an invitation to rub elbows with the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew. All your favorites are there around the table this week: Intrepid host Linda Holmes! Indefatigable regular panelist Stephen Thompson! Inexhaustible other regular panelist and Pal-for-Life Glen Weldon!  And then there’s me. The four of us merrily dissect the paranoid charms of Mr. Robot, showrunner Sam Esmail‘s much-discussed USA Network series about a brilliant but also probably off-his-rocker sometime-vigilante computer hacker involved in an anarchistic conspiracy.

I think I got to say more or less everything I meant to about the show, though none of us had seen the season finale when we recorded the episode, as it had not yet aired. Wait, no: I didn’t mention how clever I think it is that we, the audience, are cast as Elliot-the-hacker’s paranoid delusion. In voiceover, he addresses us as “you” while acknowledging that we’re imaginary. Smart. I also like that he disguises his data archives of the people he’s hacked as home-burned audio CDs. The fake labels he Sharpies onto them often suggest a connection between the album and the person: His psychiatrist’s archive is labeled as the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues, for example.

You may recognize the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, featured prominently in Mr. Robot‘s pilot episode, from this very website.

Our B-topic was title sequences. I figured the others would have the great TV show titles covered, so I focused on movies. In fact, inspired by Glen’s breakdown of the various types of TV title sequences the last time this topic came up, I attempted a rough taxonomy of the various kinds of film credit sequences.

The Tastemaker — A purely sensory introduction to the film that gives a sense of what the director likes in terms of music and graphic design, but doesn’t communicate more than that. (Other than, you know, who’s in the movie and who made it, duh.) Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is as good example of this type of title sequence, with Saul Bass’ titles and Bernard Herrmann’s score in full, intoxicating flight. Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, which Linda cited as a favorite title sequence, is another good example of this species.

Lewis Gilbert’s 1967 You Only Live Twice will stand in here for all the James Bond title sequences. I just picked it because “You Only Live Twice,” as performed by Nancy Sinatra, is my favorite Bond title song.

The Expositor — Wherein the title sequence provides essential world-building for the story to follow. JCVD, which opens with a long-take fight sequence performed by Jean-Claude Van Damme ends with the reveal that the character he’s playing is, in fact, Jean-Claude Van Damme, faded action star. The opening credits of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’,” lets us see how the half-century between the mid-30s and the alternate 1985 in which the movie is set intersected with  and diverted from the same period in our world.

Gareth Edwards’ very good remake of Godzilla from last year made it clear that many of the events explained away as nuclear weapons tests from the 1940s to the present were in fact kaiju attacks. Clever girl. Boy. Whatever.

The Music Video — Maybe the song was written for the film; maybe it’s an extant gem the music supervisor unearthed. Doesn’t matter. (Obviously, there’s overlap between this type of credit sequence and others.)

In Gordon Parks’ Shaft, from 1971, we learn a lot about our protagonist, Detective John Shaft (Richard Roundtree), just during the credits. Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning theme song helps out with the descriptive lyrics — without those words, we wouldn’t find out Shaft is a “sex machine to all the chicks” until later — but even before those kick in have a good idea what kind of guy Shaft is. (I’m talkin’ ’bout Shaft.)

The Music VideoQuentin Tarantino‘s opening credits for 1997’s Jackie Brown reintroduce us to a classic jam — Bobby Womack‘s “Across 110th Street” — but it’s not just a great song; it’s a perfect introduction to Pam Grier‘s Jackie, a character who, like the prostitutes Womack is singing about, feels trapped in an awful job without options.

The Curve Ball — No one was expecting the sequel (prequel, actually) to Raiders of the Lost Ark to open with a production number, which is one reason it was such a great idea. The song is Cole Porter‘s “Anything Goes,” from the musical that debuted in 1934. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is set in 1935, so it works perfectly. It is not at all clear from these first few delightful minutes (or from the terrific action set piece that immediately follows) how annoying Kate Capshaw would become in this movie.

The Impressionist — This is the artiest kind of title sequence, the kind that only makes sense in hindsight, once of you’ve seen the movie. James Cameron‘s Terminator 2: Judgment Day has a classic opening title, with an evocative, frightening image of a playground on fire. Only later do we realize the imagery is from the recurring nightmares about the coming nuclear war that haunts Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) when she tries to sleep.

The opening credits of David Fincher‘s Se7en are in this category, too. If you don’t already know the premise of the movie you won’t understand what’s happening.

When Linda asked listeners on Twitter to name some of their favorite credit sequences, almost every David Fincher joint came up. He’s good at credits.

As for What Was Making Me Happy this week as of the beginning of the week, here’s that Oliver Sacks profile by Steve Silberman that I mentioned, and here’s the Octopussy episode of James Bonding.

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