THE CLOSING CREDITS of the 1939 “Gone With the Wind” consisted of six words: “The end. A Selznick Intl. picture.” Nearly 30 years later, Stanley Kubrick’s technical ground-breaker “2001: A Space Odyssey” concluded with a roster of 39 actors and 38 techies. Nearly 30 years after that, “Titanic’s” end credits list 93 actors, 67 companies and 1,294 behind-the-scenes workers.
When did credits get to be so extensive? For decades, the lengthiest rollcall at a film’s wrap consisted of a dozen or so actors. But in the late 1970s, along came “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters” and “Superman,” and the producers evidently recognized that it wasn’t necessarily thesps who made the film see-worthy.
“Titanic” producer Jon Landau opines, “Credits are cheap and they mean a lot to people,” adding that he’s happy to list as many people as possible: “It’s recognition of a job well done.”
And reading credits provides hours of fun for audiences. “Species II,” for example, honors the contributors of a “Quadruped Splitting Head Design” and a “Chrysalis Boy Supervisor,” while “Lost in Space” has no fewer than eight “Blawp Puppeteers,” one “Proteus Hydroponics” and one “Conforming Assistant.”
This kind of jollity has been going on for years. In “The Fifth Element,” Winny Calissoni served as “Leeloo talent scout” and in “Twister,” Vince Miller was cited as “Weather consultant.”
The Eddie Murphy version of “The Nutty Professor” credits four people for “Fat suit,” but only one for “Body bladders,” and two “Hamster caretakers.”
For “Dante’s Peak,” the “3D Pyroclastic Cloud” was attributed to Jon Aghassian, Curtis Edwards, Keith Huggins and Zsolt Krajcsik. Well, hey, if it takes two people to handle hamsters, how many people did you think it would take to manage a 3D Pyroclas-tic Cloud?
“George of the Jungle” cites a “Gorilla choreographer,” which is almost as evocative as a “South Pacific” credit in 1958: “Boar’s Tooth Ceremonial Number choreographed by LeRoy Prinz.”
However, sometimes credits can be confusing. On “Mercury Rising,” Harry Haase was “head painter,” while on “Mars Attacks” Patrick Sweeney was “miniature director of photography” — which conjure up images of cranium-coloring and a very short cinematographer.
But there are credits that serve as useful information to Mr. & Mrs. Consumer. “Amistad” cites “Fine china dinnerware provided by Spode U.S.A.” And “Mad Dog Time” featured the note “Mr. Goldblum’s hair stylist: Patrick Jagaille c/o Jose Eber Salon.”
Actors are also a source of fascination for credit-watchers. In “Major League: Back to the Minors,” the roles include “Boll Wee-vils Announcer” and “Tutu Man #1,” while “My Giant” features “Tough Guy #1,” “Peasant Woman #2” and “Steven Seagal.”
Credits also give a peek into off-screen situations. “Primary Colors” lists one “exec assistant to Mr. Travolta” and three “assistants to Mr. Travolta.” (By comparison, “Mr. Nichols” had one exec assistant but only two assistants, meaning the Oscar-winning director had only slightly more attention than the hamsters in “Nutty Professor”).
Sometimes credits seems inevitable: “Paulie” lists seven bird trainers, and “Primary Colors” credits two political consultants. But while “The Boxer” lists “sparring partners,” “boxing trainer” and “masseur,” it also has the inexplicable credit of Vinne Boles for “fire engine.”
Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker were the masters of jokey credits, such as listing actors by their dialogue (e.g., in “Naked Gun 2-1/2,” actor Raynor Scheine is ID’d as “You’re on my groin.”)
But other pics have included private jokes, such as “The Big Lebowski,” where Karyn Anonia is “Production Goddess.” And the Alan Parker-helmed “Evita” includes a brief sequence of the young Eva Duarte (Madonna) trying to act in front of the cameras. The film’s closing credits include “Tormented film director … Alan Parker.”
Some purists balk that “parking coordinators” or “helicopter pilots” shouldn’t be honored because they did not contribute creative work to a film. However, Landau counters that there’s a practical consideration to list as many names as possible: “There are so many data bases out there if you don’t name them, people won’t get credit for the work they do.”
“A big deal is made by studios on credits’ running time,” he states. “They’ll say ‘It should be X minutes.’ But if takes 30 seconds more to include 50-100 people, I think you should include them.”
PR maven Stuart Fink sums it up by saying that there’s no downside to lengthy credits: They provide movie patrons with a cue to run to the restrooms, and the six or seven minutes of credits provide nice background music for the ushers to clean the theater.