If you’ve seen Skyfall, you’ve witnessed the wrong-headed update of the venerable MGM logo, zooming out from the iris of Leo the Lion’s eye! Apparently no one reminded the powers that be that “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” That’s why I was happy to receive the Criterion Collection’s set of Gainsborough Pictures DVDs, in one of its no-frills Eclipse editions, not only because I like those 1940s films (The Man in Grey, Madonna of the Seven Moons, The Wicked Lady) but because I love their logo!
It isn’t one of the more famous movie trademarks, but it’s certainly one of the most distinctive, with a gracious woman inside an ornate picture frame smiling and bowing slightly, as if to acknowledge us in the audience. Nowadays moviegoers are inundated with logos for every production company that has a hand in financing a film. This ridiculous trend, which obliges us to sit through three or four logos in a row, was even parodied a couple of years ago on The Family Guy.
As much as I cherish the well-loved trademarks for MGM, Paramount, Universal, and 20th Century Fox, and like other diehard buffs can cite chapter and verse about their variations over the years, I have a special place in my heart for their odd and obscure counterparts like the Mascot Pictures tiger or the marksman’s arrow hitting its target for The Archers, the name of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s production company. Of course, the British film industry’s J. Arthur Rank gave us the unforgettable giant gong.
In recent years Germany’s Studio Babelsberg, which has been home to many productions from Hollywood as well as Europe, has adopted a streamlined rendering of the robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as its logo. Any company that acknowledges film history as legitimately as this gets my approval.
Then there’s the Pathé rooster, who’s been going strong for more than a hundred years and still turns up in silhouette at the end of the current Pathé “mobile” logo. So far as I know, that rooster has had the longest life of any movie symbol, in part because he originated with the Pathé Frères in France during the late 1800s, was registered in the U.S. in 1902, and adorned a record label (“I sing loud and clear” was the original slogan) as well as newsreels and feature films over the decades. It’s nice to see the company still respects its longtime mascot.
You’ll even find a snazzy color interpretation of the RKO Pictures logo at the head of the current release A Late Quartet with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken. Dedicated enthusiasts know that there was briefly an RKO Pathé trademark when the companies merged in the early 1930s, showing the familiar rooster on top of a spinning globe.
One of my favorite logo stories may be apocryphal, but I cling to it all the same. When Paramount Pictures was about to celebrate its 25th anniversary, an office worker suggested adding a 25th star to the ring of stars that surrounds its famous mountain peak. At first, executives thought it was a great idea, with tremendous promotional possibilities. Then reality sank in: it would mean re-designing every wall plaque and piece of stationery worldwide, at considerable expense. The 24 stars remained.
But Paramount did “go big” when they adopted a special introductory logo to herald its VistaVision process in the 1950s, with special music composed by Van Cleave. It remains one of my all-time favorite movie openings.