' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: Bowfinger, Opening Credits

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Countdown to the Oscars: Bowfinger, Opening Credits

A month ago my man Alex at And So It Begins broke down his favorite 15 Opening Credit Sequences. It inspired me. This is my favorite opening credit sequence.....

The screen is black. We receive the studio and producing and directing credits. An obviously soulful sorta song permeates the soundtrack. We fade in to small table with a lamp, a few pieces of filmmaking equipment and, most crucially, a framed photo advertising a production of "Once Upon A Mattress" by The Glendale Tent Players. "Tent Players"? Oy. That can't be good. The ad bears a beaming Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin), as if he has never been prouder of anything in his life.

The camera pans down and then slowly across as we receive the credits for the two featured actors, Martin and Eddie Murphy, and over a couch containing Bowfinger's trusty dog. On the soundtrack Johnny Adams is singing"No matter what you've been through / As long as there's breath in you / There's always one more time." And that is when we receive the title credit.

The camera keeps panning. The phone rings. The answering machine picks up (this was 1999). "Bowfinger International Pictures." It is AT&T. Their bill is overdue and they no longer need access to the home to disconnect the phone.

The camera drifts through the house and locates Bobby Bowfinger himself a ways back, in his kitchen, hovering over a script on his table, feverishly flipping pages as he skims it, with just the light of a reading lamp. Johnny Adams is still singing: "Cause it's funny 'bout dreams / Just as strange as it seems / There is always one more time."

Bowfinger flips the last page. He looks up. He says: "Wow. Great script." (Pause.) "Great. Script."

His dog we have just seen on the sofa trots in. Bowfinger looks at her. "Betsy? It's now or never. We're gonna make a movie."

The phone rings. The machine picks up. "It's Carol." This is the voice of Christine Baranski. "How do I say this? I have an offer to go to Edmonton to do 'Cats.' It's a small role but I've got to take it. You keep promising me work but it's been eight months."

"No!" Bowfinger cries out, leaps from his chair, races to the machine, puts the phone on speaker.

Bowfinger: "Carol, don't take that job. We are gonna make a motion picture, I promise you that."
Carol: "But you've promised before."
Bowfinger: "I know. But just be here tomorrow at 10 AM. Please?"

She disagrees. He reiterates his plea. Then he hangs up, implicit in his faith, and dials another number. He calls up his friend, a backlot errand boy (cinematographer). He calls his accountant (screenwriter). He calls Slater, the layabout (leading man). He pleads for all of them to attend his meeting at 10 AM.

He leans back in his chair. He looks to his dog. "You believe in me, don't you, Besty?"

Betsy trots away. The credits end on Bowfinger sitting at his desk, all alone, as Johnny Adams tune pounds to its natural conclusion, one final declarative statement of "There is always one more time."


If you listen to the director's commentary on the "Bowfinger" DVD it is revealed that originally the opening credits sequence the film was intended as an ambitious helicopter shot high above Hollywood, symbolically whirring from the hoity-toity, well-to-do portion of La La Land to the down-and-out, ramshackle side of the Movie Capital of the World which is where the home/office/movie studio of Bobby Bowfinger resides. But Frank Oz, director, and Steve Martin, writer, eventually decided this was the wrong intro.

Well, of course, it was the wrong intro. Bowfinger International Pictures is not about fancy-schmancy, million dollar helicopter shots. Bowfinger International Pictures is about hiding in the bushes outside a Hollywood mansion with a camera stolen right off the lot ("I have to have it back every night or it's a felony") to film the world's most famous action star for a movie he does not actually know he's in. Bowfinger is about those romantic, hopeful, naïve schlubs on the periphery of the place they want to be, but they want to be there so desperately that they do not/refuse to know any better.

Near the end, after realizing the film they have been working on for months was a fraud, that their "star", as mentioned, did not even know he was being filmed, and the entire project has crumbled, everyone sits around that same bungalow bemoaning their fate. They all turn to Carol, the lead actress, the wise elder, who has been sitting quietly, for her opinion. She smiles, disappointed but gracious, and says: "I think it was a beautiful lie."

It was a beautiful lie. The best kind of lie. And the opening credits are the best kind of lie, too. He says "It's now or never" but, of course, it's always now or never for a moviemaker. It does not matter that the phone he is calling his merry band of moviemakers on is about to be disconnected and it does not matter that no one - not even his dog - believes in him. Because this film.....this film will be the one.

And even if it's not, well, hey, there's always one more time.


Alex Withrow said...

I remember you mentioning this opening to me a few months ago, and I immediately sought it out and rewatched it. Great stuff. Bowfinger is actually a damn funny film that definitely does not get discussed enough. Shame.

And thanks for the shout out! Glad I could be of inspiration, my friend.

Nick Prigge said...

I actually typed up this post shortly after I read yours but wanted to save it specifically for today. And then, lo and behold, yesterday afternoon Bowfinger was re-running on TV. I re-watched quite a bit of it. Never gets old.