Flaming Nudes And Liquid Skulls: A Look At The Evolving Iconography Of The Bond Title Sequence
The James Bond franchise is perhaps the most famous of all the filmic dynasties in cinema’s notable history. The formula of fast cars, kick-ass fighting, beautiful women (and men), and bad guys that want to destroy the world is celebrating 50 years and will probably be around another 50. But just as important as the girls, the gadgets, and the various actors who play 007 are the unforgettable title sequences. Sequences that set the mood for each film amongst a backdrop of intricately woven and intertextual Bond iconography—and a theme song that can be either iconic or rather dull.
The opening titles for the first Bond film Dr. No (1962), starring a debonair (and hairy) Sean Connery, established the stylistic conventions that have been used in every film since. This included the barrel gun sequence created by film title designer Maurice Binder, who used a pinhole camera to create the detailed definition. After a shot is fired, the screen drips red, the song comes in, and the shadows and outlines of exotic women dancing, shooting, and performing all kinds of activities come spinning before the viewer.
Dr. No opening title
Binder utilized the technology of the time in his visual experiment mixing animation, light filters, and shadow play. As the decade progressed so too did the imagery, with moving shadow projections (Thunderball, 1965) and the female forms being used to project credits onto (Goldfinger, 1964).
The techniques that Binder established were bold and innovative, combining traditional film with animation, lasers, and other experiment effects, leaving behind a body of work that would be very influential. Not least to his successor Daniel Kleinman who cites him as inspiration: “He [Binder] was quite fascinated with modern techniques and technology.” Kleinman told Hollywood.com. “I think he used the laser when lasers were first invented. He used it in a title sequence. He used florescent paints. All sorts of mad experiments that made it seem different and fresh.”
GoldenEye, (1995) opening title
In 1995 Kleinman took over for the film GoldenEye—known for his commercial work and music videos, Kleinman ushered in the digital era. Shooting real footage of the latest James Bond actor—Pierce Brosnan—and the women, Kleinman augmented the film using CGI creating a videogame-like sequence that put his stamp on the franchise.
But while Kleinman updated the franchise using modern animation techniques, he was also mindful of the lineage of this visual tradition. Happy to pay homage to Binder, Kleinman references his predecessor’s first film (Dr. No) in the Casino Royale (2006) opening titles. The stunning motion graphics reference the flashing colored circles of Binder’s Dr. No, but as the sequence progresses the card suits begin to look grander and the minimalism turns to calculated chaos unfolding amongst a symphony of CGI.
Casino Royale opening title
Kleinman’s latest title sequence is for Skyfall (2012) where he mixes the classic nude silhouettes with a darker psychology and impressionistic, fluid effects, giving the sequence a morbid and moody edge that continues the story set up in the opening scene. “It’s quite a macabre and dark sequence,” Kleinman told Movieline.com, “because I think the film is about Bond coming to terms with things that have happened in the past and with [Judi Dench’s M], it’s a very emotional story—more so than most Bond films. My intention is to set up an atmosphere that gives you little clues, little hints, but is not too specific."
Skyfall opening title
Kleinman incorporates some of the iconic shots that Binder made famous in his credit titles—close-ups of female eyes, kaleidoscopic and Rorschachian imagery, and slowly shot standstills of Bond’s body and gun—interjected with Escherian surroundings, ethereal and abstract imagery (reminiscent of Luka Klikovac’s work), and the iconography of death. So we get a graveyard with smoking skulls, blood, tombstones, and maze-like environments where Bond seems lost and hunted before descending into unknown darkness. It’s a sequence that mixes old styles with new, CGI with shot footage, to create a new benchmark for the Bond title sequence, an aesthetic that evolves the established conventions while mapping out a possible path for their future.