FILM / The Last Detail: What's in a name? Initial thoughts on the letters of the law and the numbers game

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The Independent Culture
L 627. That, as it happens, is the technical term for the Article in the French Public Health Code relating to the police custody of detainees, specifically drug addicts. Let's see it again, this time in italics: L 627. That, now, is the title of the new procedural thriller by Bertrand Tavernier which opens here in January. Odd, isn't it, how much snappier it sounds when you know that.

But then, by a dual process of isolation and italicisation, movie titles have frequently contrived to glamorise the most unpromising source material. The alphabet, for example.

The most celebrated of alphabetically derived titles is unquestionably ET (and we're still waiting for Spielberg's first successful treatment of Ts, or terrestrials). Yet, in an inventory with no claim to exhaustivity, one could equally cite DOA, F for Fake, G-Men, JFK, M (two versions: Lang's and Losey's), Dial M for Murder, The Story of O and Die Marquise von O . . ., Phffft] (supposedly the sound of a marriage dissolving) PT 109 (the number of John F Kennedy's wartime PT-boat), Q Planes, Q and A and Q, SSSSSSS and Gas-s-s-s, The Tall T and THX-1138 (which sounds more like a car registration number than a movie), W, X the Unknown and soon Spike Lee's X the Well-known (ie, Malcolm), X, Y and Zee, A Zed and Two Noughts and, of course, Z.

A title can be a number: 5, 8 1/2 , 10, -30- (which used to be how American reporters denoted 'the end'); a date: 1492, 1776, 1860, 1900, 1919, 1941, 1969, 1984, 2001, 2010; an acronym: M*A*S*H, FIST, SPYS; an address: Ten North Frederick, 10 Rillington Place, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; a telephone number: Butterfield 8; a temperature: Fahrenheit 451; a symbol: dollars ; and a signal: SOS.

It can also represent an attempt to instil cultishness into a movie even before it opens. That, certainly, was the case with Jean-Jacques Beineix's recent Ile de Pachydermes 5, on all of whose publicity it was designated simply IP5, presumably in the hope that that was how the hip young public it was targeting would nonchalantly come to refer to it.

There is, in fact, a thesis to be written on the typically post-modern manner in which the semantic laconicism of such titles, intertextually over-determined as it appears, may ultimately claim to have narrativizZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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