Bright Lights Film Journal

Lardani’s Signature: Technical Mastery and Apparent Glitch in Eugenio Lardani’s titles for Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

“These features distinguish Lardani’s credit from the rest of the sequence in a very dramatic way — unlike the other titles, which are immediately obvious as credits, it is possible to miss his credit entirely, a strange distinction to choose given his role and, according to his son, complete freedom in creating the design. It is almost as if his title card is hidden in plain sight.”

Eugenio (aka Iginio, “Gigi’) Lardani is known to have designed only a limited number of title sequences; of these, the titles he produced for the trilogy of “spaghetti westerns” written and directed by Sergio Leone — Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) — are his best-known works, even though he is only credited in the last of these three sequences. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is his first on-screen credit for a title design; it is not, however, a stand-alone design, and while he is uncredited in the other films, the cast and credited production crews remain the same for the whole trilogy. The title designs for the first and last films are linked through the reuse of common elements, and the sequence grows in complexity, moving from graphic animation (Fistful of Dollars) to animated typography that has been “mapped” onto the landscape and moves like cloud shadows over an extreme long shot (For a Few Dollars More), until in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the titles employ innovative live-action masks created by shooting with the high-contrast film stock (HiCon) essential to the compositing used in For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This last design is the first sequence where Lardani receives on-screen credit for his work, but his title card contains a surprising error specific to optical printing — newton rings (below); however, rather than being a technical mistake, this “glitch” may be an attempt to emphasize his authorial role as title designer.

The rest of the sequence has a number of differences from his title card: it is shorter in duration, running just under three seconds, while other titles are five+ seconds long; the text is in black rather than created by a white mask (see below image for comparison); it is not composed to use the “type hole” — that portion of the image typically left empty for typography — rendering it difficult to read his credit due to a lack of contrast between the type and the image behind it; the image chosen for this card has a distinctly comical character in a dramatic, even dour, montage of actors and Civil War imagery; it contains an error, when no other shot in the sequence has any apparent “error.” These features distinguish Lardani’s credit from the rest of the sequence in a very dramatic way — unlike the other titles, which are immediately obvious as credits, it is possible to miss his credit entirely, a strange distinction to choose given his role and, according to his son1, complete freedom in creating the design. It is almost as if his title card is hidden in plain sight.

The optical “error” in the card stating “TITLES | LARDANI” is especially striking because the sequence itself unfolds as a virtuosic execution of optical printing to create multiple, complex composites, a dramatic aesthetic and technical expansion over his earlier title sequences. The design for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly contains three different kinds of material — animation, composited masks/text, and hold frames tinted with a colored filter — all created by precise, careful work on an optical printer. The technical glitch in Lardani’s own credit is the most obvious indicator of a conscious choice in the on-screen appearance of this card. To understand this distinction requires a recognition that the entire sequence is the product of elaborate optically printed effects that contribute to the finished design in several distinct stages: the static background shots are made from “holds” on live-action imagery from the film itself that have been optically printed with a film stock that would accentuate their grainy texture such as HiCon. In the final sequence, these posterized frames were rephotographed again with a colored filter to tint the shot, and composited with other HiCon masks made by filming a brush painting, smoke swirling, or sand being poured to create the distinctive (and dramatic) white transitions that resolve into the typography itself (below).

This “glitched” card is also the only comical image in a title sequence otherwise composed from serious, dramatic materials. Shots of the three leads with serious expressions and images evoking the US Civil War are hardly imagery capable of provoking laughter, yet Tuco (who is the “Ugly” from the film’s title) is a comic figure in the background image chosen for Lardani’s credit: he is firing a canon with fingers in his ears and eyes clenched shut, suggesting a denial of what he can see and hear. The choice of this picture for this specific title card is suggestive, inviting an allegorical interpretation. Tuco’s appearance here may be an allegorical stand-in for Lardani himself, the newton rings (error) an indication of what can happen when the designer doesn’t watch what he’s doing, thus acknowledging the precision and attention to detail required in compositing with an optical printer.

The comic metaphor of the inattentive designer is doubled by interpreting Tuco as a stand-in for Lardani, not just as a statement about how the title designer must pay attention to his craft or it will go wrong, but also specifically because this is Lardani’s own credit — the announcement that Lardani is figuratively and literally responsible for the mistake. He is the designer of these titles. This assertion of authority over the design comes during the period when title design was receiving a great deal of popular attention and special emphasis in films made by Hollywood.

The return to giving on-screen credit to title designers, starting with Saul Bass in 1954 (for Carmen Jones), happened in context with graphic designers such as Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand actually including their signature as an essential feature of their designs. In film, the appearance of the credited title designer had previously only been an occasional feature of Hollywood title sequences in the 1920s and 1930s (with designers such as Walter Anthony and Jack Jarmuth). Like the signature in graphic design, receiving on-screen credit as a “title designer” is a feature of how the important, serious Modern title designers such as Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn, or Pablo Ferro identified their work as different from the (often uncredited) work of designers working in the studios, or at independent “optical” companies such as the Pacific Art and Title Company, better known as “Pacific Title.”

The allegorical interpretation of Lardani’s first on-screen credit therefore suggests that he seeks to join this elite group “with a bang” — a reading reinforced by the location of his credit at the base of the cannon, where the its fuse is located. Cannons reappear as animation throughout this design performing a very specific function. In the beginning of the sequence, the main title was introduced by firing a cannon three times at a tiny horseman crossing the screen, with the words “The Good,” followed by “The Bad,” and finally “And the Ugly” each replacing a tiny cowboy and his horse; the final credit, announcing “Directed by SERGIO LEONE,” follows a similar format of the cannon firing to make the words appear. The inclusion of the glitch (newton rings) in Lardani’s own title card then simply becomes a part of his signature, a demonstration of mastery over both the technical apparatus and the design process through his inclusion of what would otherwise be a basic technical mistake.

  1. Vlaanderen, Remco, editor. “Iginio Lardani” on, Forget the Film, Watch the Titles. Retrieved April 16, 2013. []