An Unforgettable "Cinematic Overture"

I've definitely got cinematic (and televisional) openings on the brain this week.

EXHIBIT A: This post highlighting a cool little video essay on the historic, massively-influential title sequences of the great Saul Bass.

EXHIBIT B: My (somewhat atypical) instinct when reading through this book preview on the "Balder & Dash" blog at

"Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes" is the latest book written by Annette Insdorf, a professor in the Graduate Film Program of Columbia University’s School of the Arts and host of the Reel Pieces series at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. The book will be published by Columbia University Press this October. Here the official synopsis for the book:
A great movie’s first few minutes provide the key to the rest of the film. Like the opening paragraphs of a novel, they draw the viewer in, setting up the thematic concerns and stylistic approach that will be developed over the course of the narrative. A strong opening sequence leads the viewer to trust the filmmakers. Other times, opening shots are intentionally misleading as they invite alert, active participation with the film. In "Cinematic Overtures," Annette Insdorf discusses the opening sequence so that viewers turn first impressions into deeper understanding of cinematic technique.

The moment I read that paragraph, an opening sprang to mind. It's not one I typically think of, to be honest, but the fact that it was a near-instantaneous response must have been a sign of ...something? (Reading a bit further, I was pleased to note that Insdorf includes it).

Which opening, you ask?

This one:

And then, I stumbled across this Jim Emerson piece, courtesy of (once again), though on the "Scanners" blog, this time. Clearly, there was some cosmic convergence at play here. (Or not. Could also just be a coincidence. But where's the fun in that?)

JE: Gorgeously evocative description, Nadia. You're absolutely right about how the humans are dwarfed, and made insignificant by the scale of the mountains and the mist. The people on the trails look like squiggly lines of ants. (Years later, Herzog would make another film called "Where the Green Ants Dream." Perhaps this is their dream. And the beginning of a human nightmare.) The haunting, echoing Popol Vuh music -- almost like jungle sounds, reverberating through the trees and off the mountains -- is equally unforgettable.
Also, the intro speaks of beginning "our descent" -- and the camera movement (in this and several shots in succession -- is steadily, relentlessly downward. They're going beneath the clouds, into some kind of Underworld. For Aguirre, the journey of the film is a descent into madness, one that will end with him swirling in his own delusions, adrift on a raft where he declares himself the captain of a swarm of tiny monkeys. "Aguirre" was one of the first films I reviewed for my college newspaper (the University of Washington Daily) in the 1970s. I still remember the Poe-inspired headline I wrote for the review: "A descent into the maelstrom."