Thursday, April 15, 2010

Title Sequences: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

McTiernan's title sequences are unusually instructive. Not content with hanging these important names on a self contained mood piece or even an invisible wall through which the beginning of a film is usually seen, he places them in what seem more and more to be preludes to his visual strategies and thematic preoccupations.

The Thomas Crown Affair is where I first noticed this tendency. As the film begins, a grouping of three or four horizontally configured orange fields gently shift over and under one another. These brief abstract compositions are interrupted by similarly intermittent images of a human face accompanied by dialogue. The face belongs to Pierce
Brosnan and the dialogue concerns his distrust of women and his hesitancy towards relationships. The effect of this juxtaposition is a book-ending of what seem to be representations of natural landscapes, or at the very least, McTiernan's preoccupation with horizontal lines. This repeated bracketing of images also present us with a question, albeit an increasingly ambiguous one: Is Crown trapped by these landscapes or are these landscapes trapped by Crown?

The frequency and duration of these opposing images also seem to be creating a rhythmic consistency which one assumes Crown would (and does) oppose. During the first repetition, the opposing images share a relatively comparable frame count of around 240, which work out to 10 seconds each. After this, however, the orange fields plummet to an average of 72 to 96 frames, which work out to three to four seconds. While the human portion of the pairings tend to be about 240 to 480 frames, which work out to be between 10 and 20 seconds. While these minute details may not be of interest to anyone, there's no denying the architecture and care that went into a sequence that most people are trained to ignore. Besides functioning as an overture to the film itself, I don't think it too bold to view this sequence as something of sketch which outlines and re-establishes one of
McTiernan's key themes: the extent to which (spacial, psychological, environmental) circumstances define us as human beings (and, certainly, vice versa).