The Last Last: A Memo About Your Most Recent Title

 

TO: Hollywood, et. al.

FROM: Us

DATE: The last time we were at a preview

RE: Final determination on “last”

We are writing with regard to the approval request on the title of your next project: The Last (noun redacted to circumvent embarrassment).

While we are loathe to interfere with your creative process, even though we do feel there should be a moratorium on certain topics (zombies, vampires, exorcisms, giant robots, notebooks, survival in the apocalypse), we are aware that originality is often rooted in the re-examination (and regurgitation) of ideas. But in regard to your inquiry, we must regretfully inform you that you have reached your last “Last.” We feel strongly that your title should be an original one unless its reference to something else has artistic merit.

Let us explain. In the last decade we have seen the following titles: The Last Days on Mars (2013), The Last Stand (2013), The Last Airbender (2010), The Last Exorcism (2010), The Last Song (2010), The Last King of Scotland (2006), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), The Last Mimzy (2007), The Last Samurai (2003), and even The Last (2012, 2007, 2002), which sounds as if an intern had expired while getting coffee at 3am. Note: Interns do occasionally expire. And it is regrettable that our own intern was discovered face down on a list of works entitled “The Last (insert noun here).” Of that list, 169 were films made within the last decade.

We are also aware that your film may be based on previously titled source material but that’s no excuse.

Let us be clear: we are not angry when a film tanks (as yours sometimes do.) These things happen. We will stand in your defense from the loop of confusing, CGI animated logos all the way to the final MPAA symbol if we believe in you. Cinephiles are a hopeful lot. We They carry snacks smuggled in from the local bodega, hoping the usher will not throw us them out. When they have chosen a seat, they hope a side-show attraction will not sit in front of them. As the previews begin, they hope the film which looks so promising is not scheduled to open in January.

Titles are hard. We get it. So are words, in general. We’d like to help by suggesting rules and some titles we like.

For starters, we believe your title will be better if it accomplishes at least two (2) of the following:

  1. Evokes atmosphere
  2. Hints at content
  3. Nods to the film’s secrets
  4. Uses precise, interesting vocabulary
  5. Offers multiple meanings
  6. Sticks with you after the film is over

Regarding the last point, we know this is vague — kind of like saying, “make sure your comedy is funny” — but in our last-ditch effort to help you, we wanted to make sure even the obvious is communicated. Your title doesn’t have to be the second coming of Long Day’s Journey into Night, but it does have to show some effort.

By the way, have you ever read any Eugene O’Neill? Playwright. Crazy as fuck. But those titles! How do you argue with A Moon for the Misbegotten, Mourning Becomes Electra, or Desire Under the Elms?

Long Days Journey Into NightAs with O’Neill, we want your title to be iconic and/or impossible to disassociate from the work. We know that’s a lot of pressure, but we will settle for the moderate use of a thesaurus.

You could also try looking at Shakespeare. Unlike O’Neill, Shakespeare’s titles are excessively boring but many a wise author and auteur has plundered his content for catchy phrases. Titles looted from Shakespeare are too many to count but hard to discount: Brave New World (Aldous Huxley; you read it in A.P. English), Murther and Walking Spirits (Robertson Davies), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury). Seriously! For crissake – even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a better title than The Last Unicorn. And we like unicorns. We really do.

Something Wicked This Way ComesEach decade has its own fashion in titles. In the 70’s we saw a string of espionage films with titles like The French Connection (1971), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975), The Parallax View (1974). These follow our suggestions about both vocabulary and mystery. They also bear a similarity to 70’s sci-fi novels and the films made from them: The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Mephisto Waltz (1971), The Terminal Man (1974). What do these even mean?? We have no idea but, man, they are interesting!

The Mephtiso Waltz movie posterBefore that, film noir was a cornucopia of titular doom and dramatic promise (catch that vocabulary?), sometimes culled from pulp fiction novels of the period: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950), Panic in the Streets (1950), They Live By Night (1948), Tomorrow is Forever (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Farewell, My Lovely (1944, a.k.a. Murder, My Sweet), Ministry of Fear (1944), I Wake up Screaming (1941). Then there’s novelist Jim Thompson who deserves a category of his own: The Killer Inside Me (filmed, 2010), After Dark, My Sweet (filmed, 1990), A Swell-Looking Babe – say what you will, that is one, sweet title!!! The fact that the title was changed to Hit Me for the 1997 film makes our souls weep.

The Ministry of FearMinistry of Fear??? Holy… This is fucking good. Another title, by the way, from a novelist. In this case, Graham Greene, but don’t ask us why they removed the article “the” for the film. Anyway, please, get out there and read something.

Narrowing down to our favorites, as you can see, is impossible. But these are the first five that come to mind AFTER the two dozen or so examples we’ve already provided.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers. What do you think this is about? Jesus. It makes us cry just saying the title aloud. The movie didn’t work but the title is genius.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter first edition coverWe Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson. Holy Christ! Who’s “we” and why “always” and what’s this “castle” We is talking about??? We’re terrified just knowing this title is out there giving people nightmares.

Postcards from the Edge – Also from a book. Carrie Fisher’s fictionalized memoir. Great flick. Hilarious book. Fisher’s damned funny. The title reeks of her self-denigrating humor, with a hint of sadness and longing. Comedy is serious. So is this title. But it also cracks us up. She wrote a play called Wishful Drinking. Enough said. Call her. I bet she’s got titles floating around in her head just waiting to get zapped by electroconvulsive therapy.

Days of Heaven movie posterDays of Heaven – Terrence Malick makes about one film every 20 years, give or take. This is a gender-reversed version of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove (also a great title) set in the American West. This title should make you want to shoot yourself for not thinking of it first.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Do we even need to explain why this title is so good? Milan Kundera. Also responsible for The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

We’re done here. Your title, The Last (noun goes here) sucks.

I think we’ve been clear.

Tom Gualtieri

About Tom Gualtieri

Tom Gualtieri (@TomGGualtieri)is a theatre artist with his hand in many disciplines: lyricist, playwright, performer, director, knitter. He maintains an ongoing collaboration with composer David Sisco. His solo play, That Play: A Solo Macbeth, was nominated for a 2013 Drama Desk Award.
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