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   avant-garde movies, motion graphics, and theory
 
 
reasearch and publication
 

These are previews Michael Betancourt's current research, as well as excerpts from his publications:

   

His trilogy of studies on film theory using title sequences as a model uniting avant-garde, documentary and commercial motion pictures were published in the Routledge Studies in Media Theory and Practice series: Semiotics and Title Sequences, Synchronization and Title Sequences, and Title Sequences as Paratexts.

The History of Motion Graphics: From Avant-Garde to Industry in the United States includes a thorough examination of the history of title design from the earliest films through the present, including Walter Anthony, Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, Pablo Ferro, Wayne Fitzgerald, Nina Saxon, and Kyle Cooper. This book also covers early abstract film (the Futurists Bruno Corra and Arnaldo Ginna, Leopold Survage, Walther Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, Len Lye and Norman McLaren) and puts the work of visual music pioneers Mary Hallock-Greenewalt and Thomas Wilfred in context. It is the essential textbook and general reference for understanding how and where the field of motion graphic design came from and where it's going.

More articles and translations are posted on MichaelBetancourt.com


 



Realism and the Credit Sequence

story © Michael Betancourt | published October 1, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Motion Graphics

This is an excerpt from my book Title Sequences as Paratexts published by Routledge.

Hollywood has viewed the credits or title sequence as a distraction for decades, an interruption interfering with the dramatic realism of the motion picture. This conception can be seen in the ideological force of realism that promotes the elimination (or minimization) of the title sequence to start the fabula immediately. However, the invisibility of titles has been an ideal for commercial cinema since the Silent Period, as the film historian and documentary theorist Paul Rotha observed in 1930: a well-titled film is one in which the titles harmonize with the visual images so perfectly that their presence as titles is not remarked. The crediting function for openings cannot be avoided. Since the title sequence conventionally signifies the start/conclusion of the narrative, the role of narrative in title sequences is always already a given, unavoidable because narratives must begin and end. The conception of text on-screen as a abstraction, stylized, explains the elided title sequence in motion pictures such as Sherlock Holmes (2009) that leaves only the required credits which start the story, the production company logos, but embeds them within the diegetic space on screen; an elaborate main-on-end designed by Danny Yount comes at the conclusion, providing a dramatic ending beyond what appears in the narrative. It is a formal construction guided by the ideological concerns of realism. The attempt to disappear the credits into the narrative demonstrates a desire to produce motion pictures comparable to reality, able to displace lived experience and in the process make its idealized fantasy real.

Danny Yount, studio logo graphics from the opening to Sherlock Holmes (2009)

How the audience understands the distinction between the credits and its role for narrative when watching any title sequence is not an either/or opposition. The propositional conflict between peritext::text makes the degree of realism the critical focus, conceiving of the audience as passive, easily manipulated, uncritically accepting and embracing whatever they encounter in the motion picture, the ideological and political aspects of traditional viewership makes the manipulated complicit with their own manipulation, but powerless to challenge it, and possibly even unwilling to consider it is happening. It reifies this historical assumption that audiences are not sophisticated readers consciously choosing their critical or uncritical engagements with the text. Such a passive conception of viewership is incorrect. The audience interprets these designs as part of a state of information where meaning develops from the lower-level dcoupage. These articulations form the title sequence as a particular enunciation in the motion picture as a whole. The range of naturalism::stylization is another lower-level marker for these same issues of narrative function. How closely integrated peritext::text are determines whether the audience will interpret the title sequence as a distinct section, as a introduction flowing into the narrative, or as entirely absent. The relationships between these sequences identify the ideological dimensions of realism::stylization as an interpretive constraint.




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Design in Film Exhibition - Block Museum, Evanston

story © Michael Betancourt | published September 30, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Motion Graphics

I will be attending a day-long conference that is to help organize the 2018 Designers in Film exhibition at the Block Musuem of Art in Evanston on October 5. It looks like a great exhibition and I'm glad to see they will be publishing a catalogue to accompany it. The exhibition presents the work of Chicago-based design firm, Goldsholl Design Associates, (Morton and Millie Goldsholl and the associates affiliated with their firm) showing these practitioners extensive impact on design and film nationally from the 1950s through the 1970s.

image: Millie Goldsholl, Morton Goldsholl, Wayne Boyer, Larry Janiak, and Dick Marx, Still from Kimberly-Clark Corporation Fortune and Faces, 1959, 16 mm film, 12:48 minutes. Mort and Millie Goldsholl Collection, 19421980, Chicago Film Archives.






 

Traditional Conceptions of Title Sequences

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 1, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Motion Graphics

The title sequence has been a common element in the presentation of motion pictures throughout their history in the United States. The organization of title sequences has varied greatly in complexity, duration and distinguishability from the central drama over the more than 125 years of motion picture production in the United States; the earliest examples were produced by Edison's Black Maria studio in the 1890s. These title sequences were minimal, a simple title card that served as a unique identifier for purposes of copyright registry; however, with the shift to dramatic, feature length narratives the need for text on screen became increasingly necessary to present dialogue and other narrative information.




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The Calligram and the Title Card

story © Michael Betancourt | published June 29, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Motion Graphics

The design of motion picture title sequences in 1930s Hollywood employs one of two approaches: (1) the figure-ground, where superimposed text where the background is independent of the typography, (2) the calligram, where the integration of the type and background imagery to produce a single, composite effect. The title design for the 1936 film The Big Broadcast of 1937 enables a consideration of how these two approaches intersect with the structure and role of the title sequence in relation to the main narrative that follows, and the interpretative modes employed in deciphering this exemplary title sequence.

"The Calligram and the Title Card" was published in Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, Volume 2015, Issue 204, Pages 239-252
ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998




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Analysis of the Titles for Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 7, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print



Motion Graphics

My article discussing the title sequence for Dorish Wishman's 1965 film Bad Girls Go To Hell is out on Bright Lights Film Journal.