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 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.



  1. Hello Anne,

    3 things:

    1) Talking about titles, I wonder if they will ever release Sssssssssnake on DVD? Now that's a memorable title.

    2) Nice to see you have the Criterion edition of Videodrome on your shelf. I hope Criterion release more Cronenberg.

    3)I have read your article on French actresses and was struck by these imitations of Adjani in Possession you and your fiends used to do – I'm jealous, I wish I had friends like that! It also reminded me of the time in 98 or 99 when Zulawski was going to appear at a screening of Possession in Islington, I asked a handful of friends if they wanted to come with, but would not take the 40 min train trip into London. Anyway, I went on my own and got lost. I could not find that damn cinema! I remember that night vividly still.

    Andy D Wright

  2. Hi Andy, thanks for your comment. Love the story about you getting lost. But perhaps your experience ended up being even more quintessentially Zulawski-esque than the film itself? Anyhow, I'll always remember walking home to Camden from the Screen on the Green at about 3am in the morning after a midnight screening of Fellini's Toby Dammit, and terrified every step of the way that the scary little girl ghost from the film would appear in front of me…

  3. Hello Anne,

    Three things:

    I never thought about my getting lost and frantic in London as Zulawski-esque, but now you mention it, it describes that moment perfectly, and somehow makes it seem less of a failing, now. However, I don't think the same can be said for my 2nd Zulawski mess-up: I bought L'Important c'est d'Aimer a few weeks ago (studiocanal's release) only to find it has no english subtitles. At least MondoVison has released a subtitled version – if only I waited a month!

    I can totally empathise with your Toby Dammit tale: when I was a kid I had the same experience when I left a friend's house in the early hours after watching Critters; what was that rustling in the hedge?!

    My new year's resolution = purchase a criterion dvd once a month, starting with Repulsion, Wings of Desire, Battle of Algiers, Carnival of Souls, WR Mysteries of the Organism, Dazed and Confused, Cocteau, Cluzot, Fellini etc etc (I guess that's my new year's resolution for the next few years – ideal!

    Andy D Wright

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