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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) used stylised intertitles. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari intertitle.png
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) used stylised intertitles.
Cinema etiquette title card (c. 1912) Cinema etiquette title card.jpg
Cinema etiquette title card (c.1912)

In films, an intertitle, also known as a title card, is a piece of filmed, printed text edited into the midst of (i.e., inter-) the photographed action at various points. Intertitles used to convey character dialogue are referred to as "dialogue intertitles", and those used to provide related descriptive/narrative material are referred to as "expository intertitles". [1] In modern usage, the terms refer to similar text and logo material inserted at or near the start or end of films and television shows.


Silent film era

In the silent film era, intertitles were mostly called "subtitles", but also "leaders", "captions", "titles", and "headings", prior to being named intertitles, [2] and often had Art Deco motifs. They were a mainstay of silent films once the films became of sufficient length and detail to necessitate dialogue or narration to make sense of the enacted or documented events. The British Film Catalogue credits the 1898 film Our New General Servant by Robert W. Paul as the first British film to use intertitles. [3] Film scholar Kamilla Elliott identifies another early use of intertitles in the 1901 British film Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost . [4] The first Academy Awards presentation in 1929 included an award for "Best Writing – Title Cards" that went to Joseph W. Farnham for the films Fair Co-Ed ; Laugh, Clown, Laugh ; and Telling the World . [5] The award was never given again, as intertitles went out of common use due to the growing popularity of the "talkies". [6]

Modern use

In modern use, intertitles are used to supply an epigraph, such as a poem, or to distinguish various "acts" of a film or multimedia production by use as a title card. However, they are most commonly used as part of a historical drama's epilogue to explain what happened to the depicted characters and events after the conclusion of the story proper.

The development of the soundtrack slowly eliminated their utility as a narrative device (they were common for providing narration, but not dialogue, well into the 1930s), but they are occasionally still used as an artistic device. For instance, intertitles were used as a gimmick in Frasier . The BBC's drama Threads uses them to give location, date and information on distant events beyond Sheffield. Law & Order and its related spinoffs used them to give not only the location, but also the date of the upcoming scene. Guy Maddin is a modern filmmaker known for recreating the style of older films, and uses intertitles appropriately. Some locally produced shows, such as quiz bowl game shows, use animated variations of intertitles to introduce the next round.

Amateur use

Intertitles have also had a long history in the area of amateur film. The efforts of home movie aficionados to intertitle their works post-production led to the development of a number of innovative approaches to the challenge. Frequently lacking access to high-quality film dubbing and splicing equipment, amateur film makers must plan ahead when making a film to allow space for filming an intertitle over the existing film. Intertitles may be printed neatly on a piece of paper, a card, or a piece of cardboard and filmed, or they may be formed from adhesive strips and affixed to glass. In the early 1980s, digital recording technology improved to the point where intertitles could be created in born-digital format and recorded directly onto the film. Several specialty accessories from this period such as Sony's HVT-2100 Titler and cameras such as Matsushita's Quasar VK-743 and Zenith VC-1800 could be used to generate intertitles for home movies. [7] :20 Early 1980s video game consoles and applications catering to the demo scene were also adapted for the generation and recording of intertitles for home films. Among these were included the ColecoVision, the Magnavox Odyssey² (using programs such as the Type & Talk cartridge and the Voice module), the Bally Astrocade (using the built-in Scribbling program or the more advanced Creative Crayon cartridge), and the intertitle-specialized Famicom Titler. [7] :21

See also

Related Research Articles

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A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound. Though silent films convey narrative and emotion visually, various plot elements or key lines of dialogue may, when necessary, be conveyed by the use of inter-title cards.

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<i>Silent Movie</i> 1976 American satirical comedy film by Mel Brooks

Silent Movie is a 1976 American satirical comedy film co-written, directed by and starring Mel Brooks, released by 20th Century Fox in the summer of 1976. The ensemble cast includes Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman, Bernadette Peters, and Sid Caesar, with cameos by Anne Bancroft, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Marcel Marceau, and Paul Newman as themselves. The film is produced in the manner of a 20th-century silent film with intertitles instead of spoken dialogue ; the soundtrack consists almost entirely of accompanying music and sound effects. It is an affectionate parody of slapstick comedies, including those of Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett, and Buster Keaton. The film satirizes the film industry, presenting the story of a film producer trying to obtain studio support to make a silent film in the then-present 1970s.

A title sequence is the method by which films or television programmes present their title and key production and cast members, utilizing conceptual visuals and sound. It typically includes the text of the opening credits, and helps establish the setting and tone of the program. It may consist of live action, animation, music, still images, and/or graphics. In some films, the title sequence is preceded by a cold open.

<i>Hollywood</i> (British TV series) 1980 documentary series

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silent comedy</span> Genre of silent flim

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<i>Love and Duty</i> (1931 film) 1931 film

Love and Duty is a 1931 Chinese silent film, directed by Bu Wancang and starring Ruan Lingyu and Jin Yan. Long considered lost, it was accidentally rediscovered in Uruguay in the 1990s, and almost immediately hailed as one of the greatest Chinese silent films. Like many Chinese silent films, it features both Chinese and English intertitles.

<i>A Man There Was</i> 1917 film by Victor Sjöström

A Man There Was is a 1917 Swedish drama directed by Victor Sjöström, based on a poem of the same title by Henrik Ibsen. With a budget of SEK 60,000, it was the most expensive Swedish film made up to that point, marking a new direction in Swedish cinema with more funding to fewer films, resulting in more total quality.

<i>Scrooge, or, Marleys Ghost</i> 1901 film directed by Walter R. Booth

Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost is a 1901 British short silent drama film, directed by Walter R. Booth, featuring the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge confronted by Jacob Marley's ghost and given visions of Christmas past, present, and future. It is the earliest film adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1843 novella A Christmas Carol.

<i>Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman</i> (1917 film) 1917 film by George Irving

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Alva Lundin was a Swedish title card and credit designer and artist. Lundin began writing title cards when title cards first came to Sweden in 1919, several years after using title cards became common practice in the Hollywood film industry. Lundin has been regarded as a leader in the writing of title cards.


  1. Chisholm, Brad (1987). Marsden, Michael T.; Nachbar, John G. (eds.). "Reading Intertitles". Journal of Popular Film & Television . Taylor & Francis. 15 (3): 137. doi:10.1080/01956051.1987.9944095. ISSN   0195-6051. LCCN   80640493. OCLC   746948137.
  2. Nagels, Katherine (2012). "'Those funny subtitles': Silent film intertitles in exhibition and discourse". Early Popular Visual Culture. 10 (4): 367–382. doi:10.1080/17460654.2012.724570. ISSN   1746-0654. S2CID   194065623.
  3. The British Film Catalogue, by Denis Gifford (Routledge, 2016), page 142.
  4. Elliot, Kamilla (27 November 2003). Dickens on Screen. Cambridge University Press. p. 117. ISBN   978-0521001243.
  5. "The 1st Academy Awards (1929) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences . Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  6. "Best Title Writing". Awards and Shows. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  7. 1 2 Woodcock, Roderick (May 1983). "The TV Den: Understanding Techniques and Technology". Video . Vol. 7, no. 2. Reese Communications. pp. 20–21. ISSN   0147-8907.