Subtitles (no, not those subtitles)

Frameworks FRAMEWORKS FRAMEWORKS!!!; Write All Nite’s keyword of 2021 continues into the new year!

It’s been a banner 365 days for cinematic subtitles.

And I’m not talking about movies in languages besides English (though they can have both types of subtitles!). The subtitles I’m referring to here are best encapsulated in the second, bolded part of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

If you think about it, a title is the toppest-level framework for a piece of art; ignoring all outside-art factors (an impossibility!), a title is the introductory — and overall — framework that audiences can use to engage with what they’re consuming. 

A subtitle adds more specificity to the mix, broadening the initial — and, hopefully, entire — interpretative conversation between audience and art. Though these subtitles are not always attached to the proper title, they’re usually some of the first words thrown at the audience after the lights come down. So, yeah, they’re important.

Also of note: whereas titles need to be concerned with selling the art, subtitles are free to let their freak flag of potential meaning fly.

My three favorites from the year that was, plus one more for good measure:


Titular fuckery is clearly on the menu in a movie titled Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Its subtitle: “A Sketch for a Popular Film.” How does bringing in our associations with concepts like “sketch” and “popular” change how we process the action? The second act makes the movie’s interest in textual juxtaposition apparent, when the audience must consider the connections between the on-screen text and the questionably-related accompanying images.


The Worst Person in the World starts with a title card promising a story in twelve chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue. In a movie about the decisions we make in life and their inherently unforeseen ramifications, how does this hint of inevitability alter our perception and conception of the movie? Do we respond differently by knowing exactly how much time remains? On a more micro level, each chapter title can reshape how we contemplate the events they adorn. And how does positioning the movie as a piece of art — a book! Her book?? — inform the proceedings?


Spencer labels itself “A Fable from A True Tragedy.” Where do I even begin?? Fable! True! Tragedy! From! Too much to unpack, because Pabloooooooooo.


Uno más: so this one doesn’t affect ongoing analysis as much as it harkens back to my treatise on the impact of establishing attribution. Simple Passion is an adaptation of an Annie Ernaux novel, but instead of going with the traditional “based on” citation, it opts for “inspired by.” For those familiar with the book, how does this switch prime your expectations?

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