Sunday, February 22, 2015

Giving Credit to the Title Credits

How many times have you watched the X-Files? Hundreds or thousands of times? Or maybe you've lost count. No matter how many episodes you watched or how many times, who could forget the title credits at the beginning of each episode? For the first seven seasons of the show (excluding the Pilot episode), the same sequence of images accompanied by the X-Files theme music took us into the world of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully each week. Fans of the show have watched the opening numerous times, yet how many of us really take a moment to stop and think about the images?

Unlike the themes of other recent shows, the X-Files don't draw from a number of key scenes between the main characters, possibly because many of episodes were not filmed when the credits were created. Instead, the opening credits piece together like a puzzle of the mysterious and unusual. Although we may identify a few of the images that flash before us, it's doubtful that someone will pick up and fully comprehend all of them. Much like the show itself, the glimpses of the things shown don't give us all the answers, nor will all be revealed to those watching the episodes. Instead, the truth is revealed gradually, and sometimes even that requires multiple viewings to understand the fine details.

To guide other fans and perhaps to gain some personal insight, I'm going to give my best attempt to decipher the images. For the sake of this discussion, I'm only going to focus on the original opening credits which were changed for the later seasons. I may revisit the newer credits at a later time. As I've mentioned, there are no definitive answers, so please feel free to join in the discussion if you have another perspective.

The credits begin with the X-Files logo and the first few notes of Mark Snow's theme for the show. It shows us right up front with the colors of black and grey, indicating this show is not going to be flashy. In terms of casting, this is particularly true. Consider the guest stars in each episode. Most of them could be people you see in your neighborhood or at the local store. In the world of Hollywood where beauty and perfection seem to reign supreme, shows are often filled with  flawless, perfect-looking actors, but you won't find that in the X-Files. Chris Carter set the tone for this early on. While Fox wanted an over-the-top beautiful woman such as Pamela Anderson in the leading role as Scully, Carter pushed for another Anderson, Gillian Anderson. Not that Gillian wasn't beautiful, but considering her looks for the first season in particular, we see she is much more the girl-next-door, educated and sharp Clarice Starling-type Carter was looking for in this role. Had the Baywatch beauty been cast in the role, there is much doubt we would still be discussing this show today, but I digress...

Casting was perhaps not the only thing that wasn't flashy about the show either. The same might be said about the production as a whole. Now, I realize as popularity for the show grew in the later seasons, so did the budget. We do see more stunts, explosions, and flash once that happened, but the credits were created at a time when the show was in it's infancy. The first season was filled with investigations in the Vancouver woods, with simple sets in office buildings, hospitals, or regular homes.  Even the special effects we see in the first season are rather low-tech. This title slides sets up what is to come quite well.

We next see photo of a person pointing at an unknown craft in the distance. If you look quickly, you'll see writing on the bottom right-hand corner of this image prior to zooming in on the craft. Although the writing is partially obscured, you can make out "FBI Photo Interpretation" before the photo's coloring impairs your own interpretation of the writing. We essentially have 2 great bits of information here. First of all, the unidentified object in the sky, clearly the focus of the photo as enhanced by the dark figure showing it to us. Eventually the shot will zoom into this focal point for even more emphasis. For a show about conspiracy, cover-ups, and aliens, this image seems a natural fit. Adding in the information about the FBI Photo is a nice touch to tie in the agency that employs the lead characters and authorizes the investigations.

Then we fade to an illuminated purple sphere with a hand moving over top. Once again, the hand draws our eye into the photo much as the UFO we saw in the earlier shot. in the erie purple light, we see what appears to be some sort of hieroglyphics, obscure writing in an unknown language, or I've even heard suggestions this is a map of star constellations. Truth is, I'm not certain what this information represents. Still, the mysterious symbols provide a feeling of mystery which we will certainly see a lot of on the show. Personally, I like to think the information in this shot is the truth obscured in an ancient text. If we were to decipher it, we would gain powerful insight into the mytharc of the show. Although I'm certain the mytharc wasn't developed enough to do something like this at the time the credits were created, the idea that it could be something like that is powerful enough to draw you into the show.

On a side note: after writing this analysis, Agent M from the X-Files Truth contacted me and suggested yet another possibility for the purple symbols above. He suggested it may be an air traffic controller's radar screen. For comparison sake, see the photo at on the right and make the judgement for yourself. Given the military involvement in several of the conspiracies along with use of radar screens in a few of the episodes, I'd have to say, it's pretty close to the photo above and definitely a strong possibility.
From one unknown object to anther we progress to a orb with what appears to be light or possibly electricity randomly pulsing out of the orb. The object floats in the same sort of purple haze as we saw in the previous image. The orb may appear to be spinning, but actually it's a trick of the light moving, not the orb itself. There has been some speculation that the round object is a Van de Graaf generator which produces static electricity, of which I am certainly no expert except for unintentionally shocking a few people from time to time while wearing rubber-soled shoes.  Looking into the devise, it appears most have a base which is noticeably absent from the image in the credits. However, this also could be in our perspective. If we're viewing the Van de Graaf generator from above, the base may be obscured. Although never having seen one in operation, from what I have learned about the Van de Graaf generator, this seems to be the most logical assessment.
Ah...that distorted face. Chris Carter used the face of a video operator to create the effect. For many years that image reminded me of Duane Barry. While obviously not Steve Railsback who portrayed Barry in the credit photo, the anguish and torment the face seems to show could certainly be said of the disturbed Duane Barry's character. With the open mouth likely screaming and the terror in the man's eyes, this photo in my eyes has always been that of an alien abductee. In many ways, the distortion you see could symbolize the experiments done on the nameless victims by aliens, doing unnatural things to humans for their own knowledge. The image could also show us the horrors that await in the unexplained phenomena we see on the series.

Next we see a mirror image of a sprouting seed as the words Paranormal Activity flash in front of them. No question why the words paranormal activity was used since much of the show centered around this, but why seeds? Certainly there is no huge mystery about seeds. They've been known to humans for centuries and used to grow plants of all varieties. So there must be some underlying philosophical reason for including the in the credits.
With seeds related to growth, it's possible the seedlings were metaphors for something growing in the show. Several possibilities presented themselves such as a growing terror, growing conspiracy and mythology, and growth in complexity. While these are plausible, it occurred to me the image has two seeds. Why two? Perhaps because the show focuses on 2 FBI agents. We certainly see both agents grow in their understanding in the course of the show. Mulder, although never loosing sight of the paranormal, comes to value the skeptical eye and need for collecting evidence. Likewise, Scully comes to realize over time that some things can't be explained through science. However, if this is a metaphor for the two agents, I think it goes deeper than simply growing in understanding. Perhaps the growing seeds are meant to show us the growth in the relationship between Mulder and Scully. Think about how far the two agents have come since the Pilot to the final episode of the series. They've gone from strangers to an unlikely pairing of partners earning trust along the way until the relationship between the two formed an unshakable bond. Certainly if the seeds symbolizes anything, the growth of the relationship between Mulder and Scully which was the heart and soul of the series would be the focus. Then again, it could just be a couple of seeds that looked cool, and I'm reading WAY too much into this.

Now we get to the part of the opening that focuses on Mulder. First, we see Mulder's badge appear, framed by a pair of handcuffs. The words "Starring David Duchovny" flash over the badge as it zooms in on Mulder's photo. Fairly self explanatory. Showing our main character and highlighting the actor portraying him.
A shadowy figure walks in a non-descript room with the words Government Denies Knowledge with the same purplish color that seems to connect the majority of the images in the opening. In a show that is based so much on conspiracy, the chosen words we see are quite fitting. The shadow, however leaves a little mystery and is open to interpretation. Could this possibly be a ghost? Although I've never had the experience of seeing a spirit, the misty shadow shown doesn't seem too far off of what's been reported. If we were to create a list of top paranormal phenomena, ghosts certainly make the list, so for a show about paranormal it isn't too far off to assume that's what the image could be. However, it's possible the figure is another metaphor? Obviously, a shadow government wouldn't be out of the question, especially given the text.
Now it's Scully's turn. We get a close look at her badge as Gillian Anderson's name crosses the screen and the same zoom in to Scully's photo. Again, self explanatory for presenting the female lead and the character. On a side note here, I wanted to point out that although we see Scully/Gillian Anderson go through different hairstyles and wardrobes through the seasons, her photo on her badge in the credits doesn't change for the first 7 seasons. (I suppose the same could be said of Mulder, but the changes the male lead goes through are less obvious over the years) It's a small point, but it would seem at an agency that focuses on law enforcement, you would have an annual update to your photo on the badge for security reasons. However, we do have to keep in mind this is pre- 9/11, so things may have been a little more lax when it comes to little things such as this.
Then we get a shot of Mulder and Scully going into Eugene Victor Toom's apartment on 66 Exeter Street in Squeeze shown in almost a stop-animation style. The opening credits made their it's first appearance in Deep Throat, so by that point filming had already begun for the third episode, Squeeze. There's nothing particularly extraordinary in the two agents walking into a door to investigate a case. We see no aliens, no mysterious creatures, or other aspects of the paranormal, but simply Mulder and Scully. It's something we will see repeated many times in the series at different locations for different reasons. The two agents are the constant in the series, so giving us this moment really shows what's to come. Once again, there could also be a metaphor attached to this image as well with the open door. Essentially through their investigations Mulder and Scully open doors to the paranormal, giving attention to cases that are often overlooked and forgotten.

The brief flash from this episode also shows us what is likely a trademark of the show, flashlights. Numerous times we see the two agents explore using the lighting devices. The image also implies the show is going to take us to some dark and creepy places which fits nicely with the opening sequence.

Now we see the image of an outline hand with roughly human-shaped white image seeming to fall into the hand. The hand is outlined in a bluish glow save for a small portion we see in red, and is a striking image in itself. This frame of the credits has always made me curious, and is actually the inspiration for writing this post. Doing a little research, I stumbled across this information about the Kirlian photography hand. The hand was created by passing an object through an electrified field.  From an artistic point of view, it certainly creates a eye-catching image! There have been theories surrounding the Kirlian photography that it captures an aura, however the theories have never found any definitive proof. Talking about researching theories with no proof, is anyone else reminded of a certain show's battle of a skeptical female FBI agent trained with an eye for the scientific going against a male agent who will believe just about anything? The idea of Kirlian photography being at the fringes of science pushes it exactly into the zone that we will see over and over again in the X-Files.

Of course, there's more to this photo than just the hand. What about the human-like figure? Could we assume yet another representation? Of course, seeing the figure fall, we can make assumptions about falling deeper into the conspiracy. Still, if you take a more holistic approach and view the figure falling into the hand, it could perhaps be viewed slightly different. The hand appears to catch the figure, so one  might consider how the characters are there for one another or "catch" each other in the series. Mulder repeatedly has Scully's back, even going so far as to trade a woman he thinks is his long-searched-for sister for his partner. Scully risks her job and life on multiple occasions to protect Mulder and also saves him throughout the series with her science. As Mulder himself puts it, "As difficult and frustrating as it's been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over!" I couldn't have said it better myself.
We now get the slide for the show's creator, Chris Carter, simply showing us a close-up view of a human eye. Throughout history, eyes have been powerful symbols. Just look into the ancient Egyptian's Eye of Horus, although there are more examples if you look for them. We've all heard the saying that eyes are the window to the soul, so perhaps there's a connection here to a show that we really do come to know the characters so well. However, why an eye for Carter's information? It struck me that perhaps this is like the Eye of Providence. This eye which appears on some American currency has an eye that seems to be looking through a triangle to show that symbolizes an all-seeing eye of God. Although some fans may elevate Carter to the level of deity, I doubt the series creator ever places himself in that category. Still, there is something to be said about his creative control over the series. No matter who is directing, acting, or writing, Chris Carter will likely have a watchful eye over the entire process.
Fade into a thunderstorm that strikes as the tagline of the show is revealed. Most often, the tagline is "The Truth is Out There", but as fans know this has been changed a few times to show something related to the episode. Truth is certainly a huge part of the show and the darkened landscape seems to suggest the uphill journey the show will take. As for the storm, it may suggest struggles along the way, or could have been added merely for dramatic effect.

So...that's the opening credits which opened the show for the first 7 seasons. I've even heard it suggested there was some superstition among the producers that it was bad luck to change the credits. Given the end of the series shortly after changes were made, they might have been on to something.

As fans, we may not take pause to consider the brief introduction to the show. The credits really do set the tone for what's to come. Unfortunately, there seems to be little explanation of each of the images available online, which is why I wanted to take the time to present my ideas to help other fans. If I've missed or interpreted something wrong (as I'm admittedly not an expert on everything), please let me know. Your thoughts, ideas, and expertise will help myself and other fans gain a deeper appreciation for the show!

No comments:

Post a Comment