zigzagwanderer's picture

so i'm currently trying to complete on essay on intertitles.

mainly on intertitles in silent films. i know that for the most part they were there for communication purposes, but does anyone know of any 20s films that used intertitles/type in a more expressive manner? i was thinking along the lines of un chien andalou...though i'm not sure how expressive that really is.

also if anyone can think of any good modern examples...i know kubrick liked his intertitles to be futura extra bold.

anyway, if theres any experts...speak up!

ps sorry to make a "HELP ME WITH MY HOMEWORK" type topic. i hate those.

billtroop's picture

Do the fraktur intertitles in the Nibelungenlied count?

Dav's picture

'Silentia', by Ray Larabie / Typodermic..


( I think that there also was another thread, related to Intertitles / Silent Movie Type, on the 'old' Typophile, but I dont seem to be able to track it down.. )

Jackson's picture

Check out the work of Guy Maddin. He is contemporary but might be exactly what you want.

There is a nice typographic study of one of his best short films here:

Most silent movies have pretty typical hand lettering ranging from restrained to ornate deco. I've seen a number with pretty fancy ornaments and borders. I'm not sure how expressive any of that was in regard to the plot and themes in the actual movie. I can't think of any good examples off the top of my head.

hrant's picture

FYI, David Berlow (FontBureau) is a big fan of intertitles and has made some interesting fonts in that area. He could help you out a lot.


nsps's picture


I'm not a type expert, but Stewf sent me this thread for my film expertise.

The most expressionistic intertitles are probably found in, appropriately, German Expressionism. This can be seen in Hollywood productions like "Sunrise," by the movement's greatest director, F.W. Murnau. In "Sunrise," the intertitles are in many instances animated, alternating size or at one point taking on the form of water. (Guy Maddin, mentioned and linked above, obviously took inspiration from these styles in his intertitles.) Among silent film scholars, these intertitles are a point of contention with purists, who prefer them stationary, and there is debate over whether or not Murnau was actually involved in those titles since he generally made an effort to use little to no intertitles in films like "The Last Laugh."

A restoration of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" from a few years ago tried to make titles in the same distorted type (or at least the spirit of it) as the German original. I don't know if you can get your hands on the original German, as I've only seen English versions, but you might be able to get the feel for it if you find the quality transfer. Many films don't have their original intertitles because their only surviving copies were found in other countries, where they were re-shot in a different language, but those are generally easy to detect, especially for typophiles.

Also, due to problems with copyrighting early films, a monogram was often used in the intertitles (and in some films, especially Biograph productions, built into the sets). This tradition continued after some of the legal issues were resolved.

rs_donsata's picture

Yeah The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it's creepy intertitles are so dramatic.


zigzagwanderer's picture

wow, thanks very much, you have all been extremely helpful! ah, i should have thought of dr caligari, i've been meaning to watch that one for i have an excuse to.
but yes...thank you again, kind people you are.

Miss Tiffany's picture

How about Novella?

dberlow's picture

>but does anyone know of any 20s films that used
> intertitles/type in a more expressive manner?
See "The Thief of Baghdad" (1924, as opposed to the 1940 or 1978 versions), for something expressive, ((and specializes (indirectly) in film fonts, if you're reeeally interested;))). The type think I am working on, as encapsulated in the presentation I gave at ATypI in Rome, is ongoing and has expanded, but the font based on the font in this film is still part of it. is based on this era as well. . .

I think each studio had its own staff or hired from the foundries, to create fonts on film for film. I wish someone would catalog them all but...

There's also this guy named Joe Clark(.org), but you might need some help figuring out what's goin' on there, or at least I did. He's primarily interested in Captioning fonts, which he seems to think are "totally different" from intertitles, or to come to my extreme, screen fonts. I think, they are all the same because of their intent, which is to bring the dialog from the screen to the user via type. . .

hrant's picture

> I think each studio had its own staff or hired from the foundries

Not directly related to "bringing the dialog from the screen to the user via type"*, but Gerald Lange once told me that some TV shows -notably The Twilight Zone- used actual metal type for their titles: they'd directly photograph the type in a special way (apparently by sticking some sort of film to the face) to get "lettering" out of it.

* More related to the technical dimension of the issue (that I suspect Joe is concentrating on - maybe indeed too much though).


joeclark's picture

I suppose it is inevitable that David Berlow would imply that captions and intertitles are pretty much the same thing when you get right down to it.

Joe Clark

Nick Shinn's picture

As well as intertitles, Murnau used pages from old books (in blackletter) and letters written by the characters, in Nosferatu (1921), to advance the plot.

The monoline art-deco round-nib script for the intertitles contrasts nicely with the archaic fraktur in the pages of the old Book of Vampires, and with Hutter's letter to his fiancée.

In this scene Knock, one of Orlok's (Dracula) minions has received a cryptic letter from the Master.

NB the Kino version has the original German graphics.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Great images, Nick! I have only seen the Herzog remake but would love to check out the original!

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

also if anyone can think of any good modern examples...i know kubrick liked his intertitles to be futura extra bold.

Er... I'm not quite sure that this example qualifies as intertitles, but Woody Allen references that "style" (white type on a black background) for the credits of most of his films, starting in the mid-70s... I believe they all use the same face, too -- Windsor.

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