' ' Cinema Romantico: An Ode to the Closing Credits

Thursday, November 19, 2020

An Ode to the Closing Credits

Recently on the news site Twitter dot com, the comedian Mike Birbiglia sent a social media open letter to streaming platforms, asking them to play the credits to movies since they are, after all, a part of the movies. The director Rian Johnson, whose Twitter spirit remains unbroken despite, I imagine, most of his time spent there getting DMs about his calculated destroying of so many childhoods, agreed: “Even beyond respect for the folks who worked on it, the credits are the cool down coming out of an ending, they’re part of a movie, and this shit with cutting them off or popping a “you might also like” thing up has got to stop.” You’re telling me. My observation is undoubtedly not new but the number of times My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I have tried, desperately, in the 10-second aftermath of some movie ending to stop the streaming platform from moving on to the next piece of content to consume only to come up just short is no less frustrating than galloping up the L platform steps only to have the train doors close in your face a split-second before pulling away. It’s like any time some stupid TV channel runs stupid advertisements over the closing credits of “Top Gun”, depriving us of seeing the actors’ names displayed over a clip of the character, an extra special kind of joyous culmination more movies should employ; “Logan Lucky” only could have been improved by going this route.

My first day on the job as a movie theater projectionist, the man in charge explained how to set the lighting cues for each film, ensuring that twenty or so seconds of darkness right after the movie ended precipitated the lights coming up just a bit which finally precipitated the lights coming all the way up. If logically I understood the progression, emotionally I never could quite square it, this notion of people needing light to flee before the movie was all the way over. There are infinite reasons I knew My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife was the only one for me, but chief among them was her desire to watch all of a movie’s closing credits. Boy, did that send my heart aflutter. 

Credits, after all, can be educational. Maybe some actor you don’t know thrilled you and you want to see who it was. Maybe the movie was set in Maine and you want to see if they really filmed in Maine or if Canada stood in for the 23rd state. Maybe the costume design impressed you and you want to see who was responsible for such solid work. Even Team ZAZ, the funnymen extraordinaire, knew outtakes could teach, utilizing their patented comedic credits for a little informative outreach.  

One of my earliest movie-going memories is “Ghostbusters.” Even now if you asked me to associate that comedy of paranormal investigators with an image or a phrase, I might say Sedgwick Hotel, if only because to my six-year old mind that whole experience was such a grand night out, a party in a movie theater. That’s why the closing credits were a party, underlined by the exploded marshmallow lining Sigourney’s Weaver’s head like a wedding crown, as if this was the reception. Ditto “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, replaying scenes from the movie just finished behind its end credits, which was magically apropos to my 9-year old heart since all I wanted to do was stay in the theater and watch that one all over again. Stanley Tucci’s “The Impostors” turned the closing credits into one big party too, the entire cast literally dancing off the set to Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Skokiaan.” 

As the credits roll at the conclusion of “Michael Clayton”, on the other hand, and the eponymous law firm fixer takes a taxi ride after doing the right thing, the camera sticks with him in close-up for the duration, unspooling the end credits the whole way, impressively rendering it as a moment of double-layered reflection. The end credits of “Calvary” revisit every location where Father Lavelle and his daughter Fiona had a conversation, this time showing those places devoid of people, as if the problems and questions of faith of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in the natural world. 

When “An Education” ended, totally unexpectedly (at least, to me) the familiar, wonderful warbling of Duffy appeared, singing her for-the-movie tune “Smoke Without Fire.” I was enraptured; it was like a show had broken out at no additional cost. It’s a reminder of how selecting a song for the closing credits can make or break you. See: “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Mistress America”, “Ocean’s Eleven.” 

Of course, most movie closing credits are not so creative and yet still entirely essential. As Johnson says, they are the cool down, an idea my main David Thomson also espoused years ago in the pages of Movieline, noting how at the end of “Million Dollar Baby”, everyone in his auditorium sat through to the end. This was out of respect for the names on the screen, sure, but also a way to recuperate, to dry their eyes and pull themselves together before heading out into the night. Perhaps the most people I can recall staying in their seats even as the credits rolled was “No Country For Old Men”, the wallop of “Wait, That Was The End?” prompting patrons to require a few extra minutes to come to terms. 

And that is why, even now, despite being overplayed and parodied to death, like the ratatouille transporting the food critic straight back to his childhood, whenever I hear Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, I am transported back to the River Hills/Riviera (RIP) in Des Moines, Iowa on the afternoon of December 20, 1997 and the closing credits of “Titanic.” I had to sit through every name to find the strength to gather myself to haul myself out of my seat and up the aisle and, even then, I still felt as if I were staggering, not yet ready to reface anything as taxing as the rest of the day, never mind the rest of life.

As such, in the end, no closing credits experience as ever been more emblematic than “From Here to Eternity.” Because like most classic Hollywood cinema, “From Here to Eternity.” front-loaded all its credits; when it ended, it ended. And because I was watching at home, alone, when the screen blank and the room went silent and I realized I still needed time to recover, I thought to myself, distressed, “Where are the closing credits?!”


Derek Armstrong said...

On reading this I was reminded of my take on this phenomenon, but it wasn't until I checked back on my own blog that I remembered it actually involved you: https://theaudient.blogspot.com/2013/10/netflix-breaking-spell-cast-by-good.html

Nick Prigge said...

Ha! That's awesome. I remember reading that. One of my friends mocked me for never turning off the autoplay on Netflix and that mockery is finally what led me to turn it off, leaving my credits undisturbed. It's a whole new wonderful world.