|The 20th Century-Fox logo: a great curtain-raiser to Star Wars|
When the Star Wars films were made available to download earlier this month, many fans were disappointed at yet another change to their treasured movies.
The films may be beyond George Lucas’s tinkering since he sold his company to Disney. But the sale had led to one more change: The 20th Century-Fox logo and fanfare had disappeared from the Star Wars sequels and prequels, in favour of a new fanfare edited together from the last moments of the end title music from The Empire Strikes Back.
The Fox logo is still on the original, 1977 Star Wars, which is the one film in the series that the studio fully bankrolled by itself. But the outcry about the change to the other movies shows just how important those few seconds of film are.
Why do fans care so much about having the Fox searchlights and fanfare in their proper place at the start of the movie? One reason, I’ll admit, could be that many of them are obsessives like me, who can’t stand it when they don’t experience the original film from the first moment to the last. But another is that those opening moments were an important part of the Star Wars experience.
The Fox ‘monolith’ and the searchlights surrounding it were painted in 1933 by Emil Kosa Jr, who – as this Hollywood Reporter article notes – later created the ruined Statue of Liberty for another Fox science fiction classic, Planet of the Apes. The monolith originally bore the words ‘20th Century Pictures, Inc’, until the company merged with the Fox Film Corporation.
|The 20th Century (later 20th Century-Fox) |
logo as designed in 1933
The music accompanying the animation was written by Alfred Newman, who would become one of Hollywood’s greatest and most prolific composers, and who as head of Fox’s music department would help nurture a new generation of composers, including John Williams.
Both the logo and the music had an overhaul in the 1950s with the advent of the CinemaScope widescreen process. Rocky Longo of Pacific Title repainted the logo, tilting the ‘0’ in ‘20th' in the process, and Newman would compose a few more seconds of music to accompany the CinemaScope credit.
|The widescreen Fox logo which |
appeared from the 1950s to
the early 1980s
Surprisingly, the Fox fanfare was dropping out of use before Star Wars came along. As Mike Matessino notes in his liner notes for the 1997 release of the Star Wars soundtrack, “other widescreen formats had superseded CinemaScope, and the fanfare was not used consistently”. It’s a surprise to watch Fox films of the late 1960s and 1970s and often see the Fox searchlights appear in silence, or to the accompaniment of the particular film’s opening title music. (For a while, in 1970-71, the logo itself disappeared.)
|River of No Return, from |
which Star Wars 'borrowed'
its Fox Fanfare
As Matessino says of the fanfare: "It was George Lucas’s inspired creative stroke to reintroduce it when Fox released Star Wars in 1977.” However, according to Chris Malone’s excellent account of the Star Wars recording sessions, no one could find a master recording of the fanfare to use in the movie’s Dolby Stereo soundtrack. Instead, the fanfare was copied from the four-track soundtrack to River of No Return and remixed for two-channel stereo.
Both the Fox Fanfare and John Williams’ Star Wars Main Title are in the key of B flat major, and Malone notes that the difference in recording quality between the fanfare and Williams’ music only made the opening of the film more dramatic.
Since the Fox Fanfare had pretty much fallen out of use by 1977, I’m sure lots of young cinema goers, like me, only knew it through TV. What’s more, I had never seen the Fox searchlights on a big screen, and had usually only seen them in black and white. So when I saw Star Wars in early 1978, those opening moments were something special. An image I associated with the glamour and excitement of old Hollywood was suddenly projected in front of me on a huge screen, in vivid colour. It was the perfect prelude to a movie that drew on that classical Hollywood tradition and rendered it big and exciting again for a new audience.
To some, it might seem that fans are overreacting to the Fox fanfare business. But, brief though it is, that little bit of animation and music is powerfully bound up with the life-changing excitement of seeing Star Wars for the fist time.