How to Name Your Movie: The Lawless Land of Movie Titles

The titles of films often result from hours of deliberation in which highly-paid professionals toil in studio marketing departments. After pulling a name from the magic marketing hat, they attempt to gauge the appeal, potential brand equity and even longevity of title before christening a multimillion dollar proposition with it. In the world of independent filmmaking, the process is a tad less cynical but often no less grueling.

The Odyssey of Lawless

Consider the titular odyssey of the name ?Lawless,? which is now successfully appended to the Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy Depression-era bootlegging flick. Originally, the film took the name of its source material, a novel titled ?The Wettest County in the World? before briefly flirting with ?The Promised Land? and then finally a distillation of its original title, ?The Wettest County.?

None of these titles sat right with the producers, however, who preferred the less descript but more broadly marketable ?Lawless,? which works better internationally where the stateside booze slang ?wet? means little more in translation than being moist. Continue reading “How to Name Your Movie: The Lawless Land of Movie Titles”

Title Blight at the Movies

Pre Fab FourThere is a phenomenon that occurs with enough frequency in cinema that it might some day merit its own film studies class. I am, of course, thinking of that portentous breed of upper division course stitched together from the dross and shavings of previous lesson plans and festooned with such grandstanding titles as ?The History of the Mustache in Cinema? or ?Eisenstein?s ?The Battleship Potemkin?: Why We Yawn.?

The course description of my class would read something like ?The grating practice of alluding to the titles of historically-based character?s creative work in lieu of credible dialogue.? Example: In ?Backbeat,? a bio-pic based on erstwhile artist Stuart Stutcliffe?s days with pre-fab four Beatles? days gigging Germany?s Reeperbahn,? the Ringo Starr character?s dialogue is spotted with song titles Lennon-McCartney had yet to pen. After a grueling set: ?It?s been a hard day?s night.? Been working hard? ?Eight days a week.? It?s a marvel the screenwriters didn?t have Ringo do something as distasteful as strolling into a Hamburg synagogue and saying ?Hey, Jude.? One would think that the (no fewer than) three screenwriters could take a sad line and make it better.

Admittedly, drubbing a forgotten flick may seem a rather twee preoccupation for a writer, especially since its the heads of other writers that I?m ultimately hammering. Indeed, I can usually tolerate a single overtly self-conscious reference (I mean, it happens to me every time I introduce myself), but as Diana Ross might have said in her star turn as Billie Holiday in ?Lady Sings the Blues,? ?God Bless the child that?s got its own.?

?Title blight,? as I?ve decided to call it, borrows from the world of literature as well and is equally effective at constipating a movie. In Alan Rudolph?s exploration of 1920s Parisian expatriate life ?The Moderns,? poetess and salon granddame Gertrude Stein reproaches freshman novelist Ernest Hemingway with the pithy ?The sun also sets, Hemingway? a riff on the title of his breakthrough novel ?The Sun Also Rises,? itself borrowed from Ecclesiastes 1:5: ?the sun also ariseth? (who knows where the biblical scribe cribbed his notes, but then, shouldn?t it have been the ?Son also rises??). The fine arts are also pillaged for dialogue, as when in ?The Taste of Yellow,? an actor playing Vincent Van Gogh is asked what has caught his eye as he glowers out a moonlit window. ?Starry, starry night,? he replies, which is particularly grating since the phrase is the title of the Don McLean song inspired by the artist, not the actual name of his painting ?A Starry Night.? I cringe doubly.