FILM / The Last Detail: The logo motive: The logos of most big studios have a long history. David Barrett details their evolution and Gilbert Adair wonders whether some have become badges of dishonour.

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The Independent Culture
BATMAN Returns and Casablanca, released and re-released last week, have only one thing in common: each is preceded and, as it were, protected by the shield of the Warners logo.

In the Beginning was the Logo. Remember them: the Metro Goldwyn-Mayer lion, Paramount's snowcapped mountain enhaloed with stars like a Zurbaran Madonna, Twentieth Century-Fox's pseudo-classical facade, Universal-International's leisurely spinning globe, Columbia's glamorised Statue of Liberty and RKO's radio transmitter (uncannily similar to the BBC's Nine O'clock News trademark). There was a time when, along with credit titles, trailers and posters, such studio logos would serve not merely to orientate the moviegoer towards a specific house style but actually quicken his anticipation of the pleasures awaiting him. So much so that, if some prankster of a projectionist were to have tacked the MGM logo on to a film noir with, say, Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell, the sort of velvety nocturnal thriller which in the late forties was very much a Fox specialty, the experience, for an unsuspecting cinephile, would have been as unnerving as tasting coffee when one had ordered tea.

To be sure, there's no shortage of studio logos around these days, but they tend to be wholly unevocative in themselves and are almost impossible to retain in the memory. Just off the top of my own head, for example, I find I'm able to conjure up that of Guild (an interlocking lozenge motif suggestive of an insurance company rather than a film studio), Tri-Star (a snow-white horse galloping across the expanse of the screen) and a third one (a shifting constellation of stars) to which, without any forehand research, I simply cannot put a name. (Orion? Touchstone?)

But the first two examples are perhaps revealing enough in their way. The Guild logo strikes one, as I say, as more appropriate to an insurance company and Tri-Star's white horse is reminiscent of nothing so much as the galloping black horse of the Lloyds TV commercials. Far less gaudy and flamboyant than their predecessors, far less memorable too, these are logos designed not for moviemaking studios but moneymaking corporations, and as such neatly encapsulate everything that is wrong with the contemporary American cinema.