Time again for my annual screening of a film that continues to mean so much to me. If it didn’t, why use a key character quote from it as this blog’s title, now I ask you? Arguably, a paltry few films of director Michael Mann’s might be better — friend, blogger, and Michael Mann enthusiast, J.D. believes The Insider may be his best. Personally, I don’t think any have the same impact as the 1995 masterwork that is Heat. And since I’ve examined opening title sequences, and their music, of late, might as well put this into perspective, too.
Even though it is initially a straightforward credit sequence, it sets everything in motion nonetheless as it has far greater magnitude than at first glance.
Michael Mann’s opening to his Los Angeles crime saga1 is not flashy, but it remains quite an elegant exercise. A sterling mix of the filmmaker’s well-known priority on realism and detail, and all with his unique sense of style to burn. Right from the start, after the Warner Bros./Regency emblems make their appearance, this is highlighted by the titles themselves as they fade in and out of the background. The wraithlike leitmotif of credits in evanesce chaperones viewers for the duration of the excerpt.
Furthermore, the font used for the titles in this sequence, seemingly based on the old-style punch label typeface, coyly emphasizes contact… even compression. This is classic Michael Mann…hinting at the pressing confrontation to come from the outset by an effective design choice of type used for this small facet. Even if most will overlook it, or simply dismiss it as some thoughtless, empty style point, the man overlooks nothing. More so, it’s presented before the first scene arrives, which follows the main title.
Mann’s gateway scene opens upon a night location he’ll use more than once2, one of the uniquely “L.A.” whereabouts the director will focus attention on throughout3. The colorfully eerie elevated metro train stop, hauntingly shot by longtime collaborator Dante Spinotti, brings into focus another feature of Heat — the director’s emphasis on his widescreen framing4. Imaged by using Panavision telephoto lenses that delivered the other remarkable characteristic exhibited from here on out.
Almost every shot on film caught as if from a distance…like what you’d see were from a police stake out, as it were.
This is how we first eye Neil McCauley, as he exits the train, the master thief who’s “mystified” local law enforcement with the “scores” he’s taken while living right under their noses. The flip side of the coin of who will pursue him, and the crucial object of the pursuit. Neil the essence of the film, and the reason Michael Mann’s introductory progression begins with this character. The predator who’ll become the prey of the elite in LAPD, and what the like-minded Lt. Vincent Hanna hopes will be his own “score.”
From here on, the rest of way the audience observes the professional in his element as the titles continue their prophetic ghostly act. Always in whatever character needed to blend into the background as the final pieces for his next job come together; the armored car robbery that is the lynchpin act of the story. An ambulance from a hospital’s lot, including the following scene of cohort Chris Shiherlis purchasing construction explosives in a bordering state5, key for the heist.
All of this given an ethereal accompaniment from the start by composer Elliot Goldenthal, whose credit shows up as McCauley augers past the statue of Michelangelo’s ‘The Pieta’ on his way into the ER6. This the first of a number of needle-dropped instrumentals used to punctuate Heat‘s soundtrack and augment his distinctive score7. The contemporary classic string quartet, Kronos Quartet, supplied the sequence a quietly brooding ambiance with their piece, fittingly titled, “Heat”.
A moody musical backcloth that supports what is essentially a subtle segment…that is, till the mortal reality of an emergency room’s din drowns it all out.
- L.A. Takedown (1989) was Michael Mann’s first attempt at telling this story of a police detective tracking down a master criminal, which makes this film a remake — the only one in the director’s filmography. ↩
- The south end of the “Marine/Redondo” stop, part of the Metro Green line, and the very same train station used at the end of his 2005 film “Collateral.” ↩
- “Filmed in 65 locations around Los Angeles, without a single soundstage.” ~ IMDB ↩
- Aspect ratio 2.35 : 1. ↩
- The Arizona construction depot shown was actually a heavy machine supply and rental agency in the City of Industry, near the Rose Hills Cemetery. ↩
- The same location, St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, will be the setting used by Lt. Vincent Hanna later when he comes here for an entirely different purpose. BTW, that full-sized copy of ‘The Pieta’ replaced their “Holy Family” statues for the movie. ↩
- Ever the auteur, Michael Mann would make a couple of key changes, repositioning Moby’s two contributions to the soundtrack. His cover of Joy Division’s “New Dawn Fades” swapped for the closing credits with the more cathartic and heartrending “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters”. Elliot’s own piece, Hand to Hand, originally meant for that spot pulled back and later reused for Michael Collins. ↩