Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Opening Titles and Song: Drive (2011)

“There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?”

Once again, to put right my near-total neglect of this blog, another fave will be shown the spotlight. At least this one will be from this same decade. A work our old parallel post series took a gander at some seven odd years ago. A voguish crime drama lifted from a James Sallis novella that brought the young and remarkable Dane director, Nicolas Winding Refn, and his stunning film, Drive, to the forefront. One that sparked a stylish and atmospheric tone via its movie title rendering.

And doing so after an opening sequence1 that delivers not only the driver’s mission statement but what that means for his clients care of a heist getaway through L.A.’s nighttime streets.

Afterward, when the movie credits manifest in earnest, DP Newton Thomas Sigel offers up the sight of the City of Angels at its nocturnal best. Leveraging the lessons Walter Hill, Philip Lathrop, Michael Mann, and Dante Spinotti imprinted upon filmmakers in previous decades2 for capturing my hometown’s self-illuminated cityscape. Painting the audience’s eyeballs with the lit lineaments this metropolitan is known for from above before bringing it down to the street.

The opening title sequence for Drive ushered in to the steady Daft Punk patter of Kavinsky’s Nightcall. The number’s lyrics hinting at what’s to come from the outset:

I’m giving you a night call to tell you how I feel
I want to drive you through the night, down the hills
I’m gonna tell you something you don’t want to hear
I’m gonna show you where it’s dark, but have no fear

A pitch-perfect pairing of subjective synth-heavy sounds and the unnamed Driver (Ryan Gosling) as they cruise the after-hours streets of Los Angeles while the distinctive typeface3 fuses and fades amongst the sights rolling by. As veteran title designer Jay Johnson noted and blueprinted for the Wildfire Titles and Graphics excerpt:

“This title sequence for ‘Drive’ revolves around the imagery of a street map, with all of its various lines and pathways, which we use to eventually reveal the silhouette of a scorpion, the animal which the Driver bears upon his jacket. We also want to bring up the idea that the scorpion represent the main character’s personality, which is mysterious and dangerous. As he keeps driving though out his whole journey, it starts to reveal his personality which hide deep inside him. The colors are reminiscent of 80’s glam and neon, contrasting bright pinks with the dark environment, which show the essence of time in the movie”

It’s those eerily pink titles, along with the driver’s boyish good looks, that’s in clear and playful contrast to the edgy world laying just beneath the glittery skyline and dark sprawl on display. Moreover, it is how the sequence uses the luminous gloom to transport an element of the unknown into play, one already built-in to the film’s genre. All in all, a visually masterful way to impose a sense of hidden danger using a mysterious sightseer, a striking song, and a scripted font.

  1. To watch the full sequence with title credits, click here
  2. The Driver (1978), 1995’s Heat and Collateral (2004). 
  3. “The typeface used for Drive movie is similar to the ever popular in the movie industry Mistral font. Mistral is a casual script typeface designed by Roger Excoffon for the Fonderie Olive Type Foundry and released in 1953 although another version released as well from the Amsterdam Type Foundry in 1955.” 

8 Responses to “Opening Titles and Song: Drive (2011)”

  1. johnrieber

    Terrific post…glad you included “The Driver”, which seems to have become quite the neglected 70’s classic…I’m torn about “Drive” – Gosling was too monotone for me, but I understand why that was their choice – just made it hard to connect to him…this post will make me tackle it again!

    Liked by 2 people

    • le0pard13

      Thank you very kindly, John. Glad to find another who appreciates THE DRIVER, it is a classic. Yeah, Refn’s need for a stoic lead fulfilled rather well with Gosling, heh heh. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Cindy Bruchman

    Is Drive Ryan Gosling’s break out role? Why can’t I remember anything? I think I watched half of it and got distracted and never went back. I bet I’d like it now a decade later…

    Liked by 2 people

    • le0pard13

      I thought he broke out with THE NOTEBOOK, but DRIVE put him in a broader category. Still, this definitely was against type for him, IMO. Try it again and stay for the second half. It’s darkly romantic. Yeah, that’s a reference to Refn’s trademark violence — warning. Thanks for the comment, Cindy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mann’s Night of “Fates Intertwined”: Collateral Film Review | It Rains... You Get Wet

    […] This director’s style is today a well-known attribute: exquisite plotting, cinematography, peerless music selection, and craft. I agree with film critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper on their point, when they reviewed it on the TV show [paraphrasing] no one films the Los Angeles cityscape better than he. Though, I must admit now Nicolas Winding Refn expanded that list in 2011 with the exemplary Drive. Collateral‘s use of night photography was especially effective, as seen through Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron’s high-def digital video camera. Its use was refined to a greater degree with 2006’s Miami Vice (see my good friend J.D.’s wonderful review of that misunderstood movie). The use of digital video brought an eerie clarity to the nighttime proceedings. The spectral views of the various neighborhoods and aerial shots only added to the beautiful contrast already in this film. As did Refn’s Drive, the film blended particularly well with a mesmerizing music soundtrack. […]



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