' ' Cinema Romantico: A Trip through the Title Drop

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Trip through the Title Drop

Earlier this month video montage maker ‘Roman Holiday’ released an impressive four and a half minute celebration of the Movie Title Drop – that is, a movie character saying the name of the movie he or she is in aloud, like the lead-off track to Holiday’s mini-film which finds Will Smith declaring “What, we some kinda ‘Suicide Squad.’” This montage, as it must, got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about my personal favorite movie title drops and, even more, the way in which those title drops were implemented and/or uttered and what truly made them stand out.

If movie title drops might seem of a very big piece, that is not necessarily the case, and which is why, say, “Casablanca” is re-iterated again and again because, hey, they are in Casablanca, while “Chinatown” only drops its title a couple times, most memorably right at the end, when they are in Chinatown, yes, though Chinatown in this case is a manifestation of the main character’s regret. Colin Farrell as an Irish hitman with a strict anti-Belgium bias “In Bruges”, meanwhile, memorably drops his film’s title by wondering: “Maybe that’s what hell is. An eternity ‘In fucking Bruges.’” I love that, an obscene title drop.

The title drop, as Farrell and Joe Mantell who told Jack Nicholson to forget it because it was Chinatown go to show, is very much about delivery. Think of the esteemed Christopher Lloyd bellowing “Tomorrow night we’ll send you” - and then giving it just the right pause - “‘Back to the Future!’” while also accentuating the title drop by dramatically Pointing Into The Distance, and looking into the distance too, as if he can see into the future. Robert Redford as a stranded solo sailor in “All Is Lost” is Lloyd’s taciturn opposite, heard in the film’s beginning aboard his leaky raft in the Indian Ocean. “‘All Is Lost’ here,” he says with a ring of a man who has come to terms because he’s out of options.

Several characters refer to Tom Cruise’s sport agent “Jerry Maguire” by name and Tom Cruise refers to himself in the third person several times, though never more memorably than when he, down and out, bellows, drunk, wearing sunglasses at night, as if he is still on top of the world, “but let me tell you something about ‘Jerry Maguire.’” The emphasis he places on each syllable of his own moniker evokes a desperation comically, and somewhat unknowingly, cutting himself down to size. It’s like a satirizing of the Cruise persona; it’s kind of wonderful. Then there is Bogart, who, if anyone had realized it at the time, probably could have made an entire career just dropping titles. Consider when Aldo Ray says “Even the girl herself called us angels” and Bogart says with his peerless seen-it-all world-weariness “‘We’re No Angels.’” Indeed. (I also like imagining Clint Eastwood making a career out of dropping titles. Malkovich: “And where do you think you’re standing, Frank?” Eastwood: “Right where you want me to be. ‘In the Line of Fire.’”)

The self-aware movie title drop can be fun, though I confess I remain resistant to the forcefully self-aware movie title drop, like Craig Robinson looking into the camera after he says “Hot Tub Time Machine”, which, frankly, blunts some of the gratifying kitschiness of the title drop by vainly calling attention to it. I have nothing wrong in principle with breaking the fourth wall, but make it count. Think of the title drop in “There’s Something About Mary” which is singer/songwriter Jonathan Richman, the comedy’s Greek Chorus, singing a song called “There’s Something About Mary.”

They’ve tried to set him up with Tiffany and Indigo
but ‘There’s Something About Mary’ that they don’t know.

Then there is martial artist Steven Seagal, whose late 80s, early 90s thrillers all sort of bleed together in my mind even though his delightfully disinterested inflection made way for the greatest of all self-conscious title drops. “You guys think you’re ‘Above the Law.’ Well you ain’t above mine.” Boy how I love the thought of Seagal Law. One of the best self-aware movie title drops didn’t even make it into the movie, limited it to the trailer, marking it as something like The Basement Tapes of title drops and worth the little build-up to hear it if you haven’t heard it before. See directly below (just stay for the first 60 seconds):

Long live Wesley Snipes.

In “The Perfect Storm”, Christopher McDonald was seemingly hired just to provide the title drop, his role amounting to a cameo, though his is nevertheless one of the best of the form, standing before a computer monitor as he charts the progress of various storms on a collision course. “You could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this,” he says in immaculately hushed yet reverential tones. “It would be a disaster of epic proportions. It would be…‘The Perfect Storm.’”

Fewer details are more important to the perfect title drop than context. McDonald’s might be (perfectly) over the top, but it comes from somewhere, relaying exposition as the lead-in to the title drop. In “Top Gun”, stalwart James Tolkan drops the title in the midst of chewing out the principals even as he reluctantly gives them their “dream shot”, unforgettably declaring “You characters…are going to ‘Top Gun.’” Then he explains what Top Gun is. Somwhere in the middle, providing not exposition but a mission statement, is Robert DeNiro, opining with such eloquent gravitas where the title “Heat” comes from: “If you want to be making moves on the street, have no attachments. Allow nothing to be in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the ‘Heat’ around the corner.” That line was written by Michael Mann, a stickler for details and so it is no surprise that he carved out space for one of the best title drops as well as another, the title drop that brought home my favorite movie of all time. You know it, recite along if you want to…

“Great Spirit, Maker of All Life. A warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Welcome him and let him take his place at the council fire of my people. He is Uncas, my son. Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one – I, Chingachgook – ‘Last of the Mohicans.’”

Damn, that is just so good. RIP Russell Means. And longtime (frustrated) readers of Cinema Romantico probably assume I will end it right there. Won’t I? Surprise! I will not. I appreciate Michael Mann maximizing title drop drama by waiting until the literal end of his movie to spring it, but there is something I appreciate even more from a seemingly extemporaneous title drop. Consider “Jump Tomorrow”, a generally forgotten romantic comedy from 2001 that for all its predictability was nevertheless conveyed with an earnestness that warmed my heart. And the title drop occurs when meek George (a pre-TV on the Radio Tunde Adebimpe) is trying to convince his sudden new friend, of sorts, the love-stricken Gerard (Hippolyte Girardot) not to throw himself off a building, telling him, desperate for something, anything to say, that Gerard can’t, he just can’t jump tonight. And so George blurts out: “‘Jump Tomorrow!’” Gerard laughs so hard he steps down from the edge of the roof. He keeps laughing. He can’t get over George’s plea to not jump tonight and just jump tomorrow instead.

It’s the one title drop that feels as if it really was made up right in the middle of its own movie.

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