The Quay brothers have called their new film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Big mistake. It may well be a masterpiece, but I’m sorry, that title is pretentious and whimsical and goes straight into my Sin Bin, next to The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.
The history of cinema is replete with off-putting titles. Painful experience has taught me that the words “Hotel” or “Circus” should be approached with caution since they’re invariably Metaphor Alerts, but I’m also allergic to folksy-sounding possessives as in How Green Was My Valley and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (additional points lost there for use of the word “tender”, which brings me out in a rash).
I frown on present participles such as Being Julia or Finding Forrester, though we’ll allow Being John Malkovich, since the movie actually is about being John Malkovich and not just trying to sound important. And then there are titles I hate simply because they’re journalistic nightmares; no matter how many times you write To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar or Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, you always find yourself having to check that dratted punctuation yet again.
The ideal title is short, sharp and memorable. You know where you are with Jaws and The Godfather, while Barfly works unexpectedly well as an adverb. But my current favourite is a Samuel L Jackson thriller, now in post-production, called Snakes on a Plane. How’s that for a title! Let us just pray it doesn’t turn out to be a metaphor.
This article was first posted on thefirstpost.co.uk February 16, 2006. At which point, as you have no doubt already surmised, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes had just come out, and Snakes on a Plane had yet to be released.