Are cameos in movies worth it?

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo right after his "directed by" credit in North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in North by Northwest

This fall, fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series wondered if the show’s original stars would have a cameo in a new film version underway. Some fans were vocal, arguing that of course they should.

It’s not known if such a cameo took place for the U.N.C.L.E. movie. (Robert Vaughn said more than once he’d welcome the opportunity; David McCallum made comments suggesting he wouldn’t participate.) The subject though got this blog to thinking: are such cameos worth it, or are they more of a distraction for a finished film?

The king of such cameos was director Alfred Hitchcock, who made a cameo in his more than 50 films. They can be something of a mixed bag. In North by Northwest, he appears right after his “directed by” credit as a man missing his bus in New York City. The appearance, in effect, is an extension of the main titles designed by Saul Bass. At this point, the viewer hasn’t been watching the actual story of the film.

In other cases, Hitchcock’s appearance almost draw attention to themselves. In 1969’s Topaz, there’s an airport scene. The viewer is drawn to Hitchock, in a wheelchair, guided by a nurse. Hitchcock meets a man, abruptly stands up and shakes the man hand before walking off. By this point, more than 20 minutes of the story have been told. You could argue it’s a distraction, although it’s over pretty quickly.

In the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions, co-boss Michael G. Wilson has been performing cameos for decades. Again, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. In some cases (Skyfall, The World Is Not Enough), they’re fleeting, something for the hard-core fans while more casual 007 cinema goers aren’t likely to notice. In others (Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale), they draw attention to themselves. Here are some:

The interest among U.N.C.L.E. fans whether the movie has cameos is different. Vaughn and McCallum established the original show’s popularity. There’d be no movie if there hadn’t been a television show in the first place. If one was filmed, would it distract from the Guy Ritchie-directed story? The counter question: do you owe it to the original actors if they’re interested? (Especially since Ritchie appears to have squeezed former soccer star David Beckham into the movie.)

None of these questions have right or wrong answers. Fan tastes vary. Hitchcock fans, for example, take pleasure in trying to spot the director’s cameos. In any case, it’s likely such cameos will continue in movies.

Daniel Kleinman discusses his influences

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) self portrait


Daniel Kleinman, who has designed the main titles for six James Bond movies, did an interview in April with the ART OF THE TITLE Web site. Kleinman discussed the titles and what has influenced his work. A few excerpts:

Bond title sequences obviously carry a huge legacy and they often present the themes and settings of the film they precede. What’s the starting point for a new Bond sequence? The script? A cut of the film?

The starting point for me is always the script; I am usually brought into the process before the film has started shooting or at least in very early stages of production. I read the script and get a sense of the main themes of the movie, perhaps start to have a few ideas, brainstorm with myself a bit, write lists, get excited, look for reference, and start sketching. Next I meet with the producers and the director of the film to get a clear idea of the vibe of the film and be aware of any input or requirements for the title sequence. Then, I explain how I see the tone of the titles perhaps with rough sketches and reference. I rarely see a cut of the film until quite late in the process but I do see some individual scenes particularly the ones that lead into and out of the title sequence. There is a back and forth process.

What were some of your stylistic influences?

I have very eclectic tastes! I trained as an artist and designer, so I love painting and film. I collected comics as a boy and was drawn to Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, Saul Bass, Windsor McKay, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Magritte, Bosh, Géricault, George Grosz, Hokusai, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Holbein, Dürer, Arthur Rackham, Heath and Charles Robinson — actually the list is fairly endless!

One of Kleinman's influences

One of Kleinman’s influences

What are some of your favorite title sequences in general, whether film or television?

As a child I loved the opening to The Man From Uncle. The way Napoleon Solo stands behind the bulletproof glass being shot at perhaps subliminally influenced my mirror scene in Skyfall. Get Smart was a good one. Man with the Golden Arm was a great visual. Oddly, I’ve never really taken a great deal of notice of title sequences. I didn’t set out to do them and I don’t do any other than Bond, which I do for fun. I’m really an advertising director and therefore shoot a lot of disparate types of things. I suppose I don’t think of myself as a title sequence director.

To read the entire interview, CLICK HERE.

To view the Jack Kirby entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

To view the Steve Ditko entry on Wikipedia, CLICK HERE.

007 heirs putting on airs

William Boyd

William Boyd

The heirs to the literary 007, at times, seem to be putting on airs.

This week, Ian Fleming Publications unveiled the U.K. COVER and U.S. COVER. for its new James Bond novel, Solo.

“We are delighted to finally unveil the stunning UK cover,” the one announcement read, adding it was inspired by the late graphic and movie title designer Saul Bass. The U.S. cover has “a bold and eye-catching design, perfect for the iconic character of James Bond,” that separate announcement said.

This came about three months after author William Boyd PROCLAIMED that “the simple beauty of Solo as the title of the next James Bond novel is that this short four-letter word is particularly and strikingly apt for the novel I have written.”

So, we have IFP suggesting one of its cover designs is akin to the work of one of the greatest title designers in movie history and its hired author discussing how perfect Solo is as a title.

First, with the covers, comparing oneself, even indirectly, to Saul Bass means you have a lot to live up to. Bass designed the titles for films such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Spartacus and Vertigo. He also did corporate design work, including revamping the AT&T logo in the late 1960s. Purchasers of the Solo novel will have to decide whether the covers are really up to that standard.

Also, as noted here before, Solo isn’t unique at all to James Bond-related matters. Ian Fleming used Solo as a character name in Goldfinger. The author also was involved in a television show which originally titled Solo, but ultimately titled The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

If IFP, operated by the heirs of Ian Fleming, approved Solo as a book title in jest, they’re doing a good job of hiding it. Anyone who had done the least bit of research about Ian Fleming would know about the Solo history. But don’t expect IFP to acknowledge it.

As for that other Solo chap that IFP is ignoring, the Fleming heirs would have stood to make money off a planned U.N.C.L.E. movie — had Ian Fleming not signed away his rights in June 1963. The author did so under pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to exit the Solo TV project.

APRIL 2013 POST:
OPEN CHANNEL D: WILLIAM BOYD’S FLEMING RESEARCH GAP